Europe and Central Asia
2 May 2016

First national assessment of Danish protected habitats shows half are under threat

Barnacle Geese at Saltholm Island IBA, with the Öresund Bridge in the background. Danish NGOs got Danish and Swedish authorities to build the bridge around instead of through the island to protect the site. Photo: Ebbe Mortensen, local caretaker
By Thomas Vikstrøm

Any environmental NGO will tell you that one of the pillars of nature conservation is the support and involvement of local communities. This is why, inspired by similar examples from the BirdLife Partnership, DOF (BirdLife in Denmark) decided to establish a network of volunteers around each of their 129 IBAs and launch the Danish IBA Caretaker Project in 2003. Their aim was to build a local network of skilled observers to help them monitor and conserve those sites.

Happily, the Danish government had used the 129 IBAs to designate EU Special Protection Areas (SPAs) even before DOF’s project began. Today, only 15 IBAs of a current total of 130 have not yet been designated as SPAs. The Caretaker Project, which concluded in 2013, monitored and created awareness around the most significant Danish bird sites. It included 902 volunteers and covered all 171 of the country's most important sites for breeding, roosting and migrating birds (including the IBAs).

Despite the Caretaker project having officially ended, perhaps one of its greatest successes is that several caretakers, or Site Support Groups (SSGs), continue to work closely with local authorities, site owners and DOF to monitor and protect these sites.

The final report of the IBA Caretaker Project, published in December 2015, reviews several previous studies of the most important bird sites, the first time the Danish IBAs have been comprehensively assessed as a whole. The data comes from DOF’s online database of bird observations, among other sources. Each site has been assigned one of three threat levels and one of four protection levels. For most sites, the levels of significant threats and protection are based on assessments by local caretakers, together with assessments from the first site analyses (in 2006-07) and Natura 2000 plans (2011) of the Nature Agency of the Ministry of Environment.

The report has both good news and bad. The bad news: half of both roosting and breeding bird sites are in an unsatisfactory condition, especially in open country and on the coasts. The average protection of farmland and marine sites is significantly lower than that of other types of IBAs as they are less likely to be designated as EU Special Protection Areas. The good news: forests seem to be doing better. Expectedly, most of the IBAs that are in good conservation status are the ones that are protected by the law.

Human disturbance is a serious threat at almost 60% of all sites. Slightly less serious threats include vegetation overgrowth, problematic native species (mainly Red Fox Vulpes vulpes) and invasive alien species (especially American Mink Mustela vison. More than half of all staging sites are also threatened by eutrophication (water pollution by fertiliser runoff that causes the excessive growth of algae at the expense of native vegetation).

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But it’s not all doom and gloom. More than half of staging and breeding birds are in a satisfactory state in at least half of the sites and about 75% of the birds of prey and two-thirds of waders are in a satisfactory state.

For DOF, the next steps involve using the data collected for the report to improve ongoing conservation work in the country’s protected areas. The Danish government also needs to respond to the threats brought to light in the report and work with conservation organisations and local communities on neutralising these threats.

Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.