|Flying High in the Netherlands
The wide skies of Groningen, Netherlands, are once again graced with the majesty of the Montagu’s harrier. The story of the recovery of this magnificent bird of prey begins with a happy accident, but continues with the implementation of beneficial agricultural policies including agri-environment.
In 1990, in the open arable fields of the most north-eastern part of the Netherlands, Ben Koks, the founder of the Montagu’s Harrier Foundation stumbled upon a Montagu’s harrier nest. At that time farmers and conservationists had almost given up this harrier as a Dutch breeding bird.
A flurry of activity followed to ensure the nest survived, and to attempt to increase numbers in future years. The first step on the road to recovery was to protect nests from farming operations. The second was to make the area more harrier friendly.
The introduction of set-aside in the late 1980s was a great help to the harriers and may have encouraged them back as a breeding bird. Set-aside provided uncropped land and allowed common voles to flourish, giving the birds plenty of food-laden tables in the countryside.
Dedicated agri-environment schemes followed in the 1990s and have been fundamental to the harriers’ success. Field margins of between nine and 12 metres wide provide essential feeding areas. These features contain a variety of grasses and herbs of different heights, as well as some open patches – ideal for hunting. The patchwork of the wider landscape is also important. Around 7-10% of the area needs a covering of suitable features such as field margins for Montagu’s harrier numbers to really take off.
The Montagu’s harrier population of Groningen, Netherlands now exceeds 60 breeding pairs. With more of the right management, this bird is becoming a familiar sight.
Trees Robijns, trees.robijns(at)birdlife.org