Europe and Central Asia
3 May 2016

How local communities can save endangered birds and habitats

The IBA caretakers catch threats to habitats and species early and helps VBN take immediate action to prevent damage to nature. Photo: Gerard Hund
By Andrea Kuiper

During the winter, a maximum of approximately five million migratory birds are in the Netherlands. The Dutch wetlands and marshlands in particular attract large numbers of species. Many of them are Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) because the sites are strategically located on important migration routes and, in an average winter, the large fresh water lakes remain ice free.

The Veluwerandmeren is one such IBA. A collection of four lakes situated on the border between the Flevoland and Gelderland provinces in the Netherlands, the site is well known for the thousands of Endangered (in the EU) Bewicks Swans that stay there during winter. It is also designated as a protected area for – among other species – the Great Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus arundinaceus), a species that is on the Dutch Red List of Birds and rapidly declining in the Netherlands; in 2015 there were barely 100 breeding pairs left.

Martin Jansen, a local, noticed in 2015 that an area of reedbeds along the shore of one of the lakes (Drontermeer) was mowed every year, despite being a potential breeding habitat for the Great Reed Warbler.

Jansen contacted the local government to discuss the negative impact of the mowing management on the species. Within two weeks, he visited the site with local representatives. It turned out that the municipality of Dronten (which is responsible for the mowing management) wasn’t even aware that this specific site is so important for the Great Reed Warbler.

Thanks to Jansen’s intervention, the municipality took immediate action and cancelled the contract to mow the area. The result was a more suitable breeding habitat and improved management of the site for the Great Reed Warbler.

How was Jansen able to make such a tangible difference so quickly? Because of VBN’s (Vogelbescherming Nederland, Birdlife in the Netherlands) IBA Caretaker network.

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Although there is a good legal framework to protect nature in the Netherlands, there are still a lot of IBAs under pressure. Threats to wetlands can include infrastructure development, intensive agriculture, fisheries, some forms of recreation and windfarms.

VBN, knowing the importance of these sites for birds on a national and international level, has made the conservation (and restoration where possible) of wetlands one of its priorities. The organisation operates from just one national office located in Zeist, so working with local volunteers around the country is essential to protect the Dutch wetlands. This is why VBN started its IBA caretaker network in 1995.

In the last 20 years, the project has grown into an effective network of 85 active and experienced volunteers who focus on approximately 72 IBAs, all wetlands designated as Natura 2000 sites.

The main aim of the network is to improve the conservation of wetlands by monitoring possible threats and catching them early. The caretakers are the ears and eyes of VBN in the field. They alert VBN on developments that might have a significant negative impact on the quality of the site for birds and other species. The IBA caretaker takes immediate action, sometimes with VBN, to try and prevent damage to nature.

Besides the monitoring of threats, the IBA caretakers try to involve local communities to engage with nature, ensuring conservation of the site in the long-term. VBN helps by sharing knowledge and experience with the volunteers, advises them on how to deal with local conservation issues, and organises training days on advocacy, legislation and species protection.  

Does it work? The results speak for themselves. Thanks to Jansen’s intervention in Drontermeer, last breeding season the population of Great Reed Warblers on that lake remained stable with 13 breeding pairs. “The remarkable thing is that of the 13 breeding pairs, five of them built their nest in the [unmowed] reed patch, which wasn’t available last year,” said Jansen. “It’s great to see that it had an immediate effect.”

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.