Safe ground for redbreasts
BSPB (BirdLife in Bulgaria) has started a new LIFE+ Nature & Biodiversity Project, named “Conservation of the Wintering Population of the Globally Threatened Red-breasted Goose Branta ruficollis in Bulgaria”, with a budget of €2,656,608. The project will be implemented in partnership with the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (BirdLife in the UK). The project is one of the largest and most ambitious initiatives aimed at the conservation of a threatened wildfowl species to be conducted in Europe. It addresses all of the main threats facing the Red-breasted Geese in Coastal Dobrudzha, north-eastern Bulgaria, which supports 80-90% of the world population in winter. Project background There are a number of threats and sources of excessive disturbance at the project sites, which are among the most pertinent to waterbird conservation, including agricultural changes, hunting and development pressures. Agricultural change affecting food availability might be detrimental to the population if the new crops do not provide food for the geese. Moreover, the project sites encompass part of the Black Sea coastal zone of Bulgaria, and this is an area of rapid infrastructure development. This may result in reduction in the availability and quality of feeding and roosting habitat due to the development of wind farms, tourism, and urban expansion. Direct mortality from hunting is a key threat to this species, and mortality through collision with human infrastructure (wind farms, power cables, masts and other buildings) is of considerable conservation concern as well. Many of these threats are compounded by lack of awareness, understanding and/or appreciation of the threats and conservation status of the Red-breasted Goose and its habitat. The project will work with stakeholders at local, regional and national level to address these gaps. As well as working with target groups such as farmers and hunters addressed above, the project will aim for a ‘participatory management approach’ and develop a sense of ownership in work with school children and community groups. The project objectives: 1. Strengthen the strategic planning framework to minimise the detrimental effect of economic development on Red-breasted Geese in the project area. 2. Engage stakeholders to reduce anthropogenic mortality and disturbance of Red-breasted Geese at the project sites. 3. Engage stakeholders to develop sustainable land-management models for Red-breasted Goose conservation at the project sites. 4. Enhance community pride in and support for the conservation of Red-breasted Geese, and the Natura 2000 sites that they depend on. The project will make use of a range of best-practice interventions that have been shown to be effective in other contexts. These interventions will include:
- Satellite tracking: WWT will lead the implementation of this action, as they hava wide experience of remote tracking of wildfowl species, leading the first ever satellite tracking of Red-breasted Geese (in Kazakhstan) in 2009.
- Species action planning: This action will use best practice in the development of action plans for threatened species, building on the extensive experience of BSPB, WWT and the RSPB in this field. It will strengthen the planning framework for the conservation of the target species and the sites on which they depend.
- Solutions to minimise conflict between geese and agriculture: The project will draw on similar schemes in Western Europe, in particular the UK Goose Management Scheme, of which both WWT and the RSPB have in-depth knowledge.
- Map to guide developments & sensitivity map for windfarms: The RSPB will transfer best practice of developing sensitivity maps for threatened species, gained from groundbreaking work it has carried out in Scotland and elsewhere.
- Implementation of effective monitoring systems. WWT will transfer their experience of establishing and implementing wildfowl monitoring schemes. They are one of Europe’s leading organisations in this field.
Expected outcomes We expect that the project activities will result in the stabilisation of the Red-breasted Goose, the most threatened goose species in the world, in its wintering grounds in Bulgarian Dobrudzha. In the longer term, the habitat improvements and other beneficial changes brought about through the project will make an important contribution to efforts to increase the population of the target species. A particularly important outcome of the project will be the creation of a land management scheme favouring Red-breasted Goose. Securing safer foraging areas for this species is a key prerequisite for its overall success, and given that the entire global population frequently winters in Bulgaria, this project should contribute to increased survival at population level. The public-private partnership that will be established within the project between conservation NGOs and one of the largest land-management companies in coastal Dobrudzha will be maintained beyond the scope of the project and will thus secure optimal foraging habitats for the Red-breasted Goose in the long-term. This will make an excellent model for subsequent partnerships elsewhere in the country and will be an important catalyst for future conservation projects.