The project

What we do

Overview of our measures

The LIFE IP GrassBirdHabitats aims to improve the conservation status of grassland breeding birds along the East Atlantic Flyway. The project comprises measures to increase reproduction rates in Germany and the Netherlands, and to improve the birds' return rates from their wintering grounds in West Africa. Within the project area, habitats for grassland breeding birds will be optimised.

This optimisation is done through a bundle of measures, including raising water levels, low-intensity farmland management, keeping the landscape open, as well as predation management in the Netherlands and Germany.

At NLWKN, this project employs six site managers who coordinate measures in Lower Saxony. In the Netherlands, the project partners of Collectief Súdwestkust, Bond Friese VogelWachten and the Province of Fryslân also employ site managers. 

The site managers cooperate with local and regional authorities and NGOs to improve the breeding areas of meadow birds. Also, they develop proposals for the funding of additional meadow bird conservation measures.

In West Africa, our activities will focus on improving the habitat quality of the most important wintering areas, mostly in Senegal and adjacent areas. To some degree, these sites and the threats they face are yet to be determined. Furthermore, it is planned to improve water and land management of important national parks.

Insight into our field work

Wet and open grasslands depend on grassland management. A business model will be developed to maintain both suitable bird habitats and sufficient income for farmers. Socio-economic investigations will show the project's impact on local economy and population, including ecosystem functions and carbon sequestration.

Also, the impact of measures and environmental factors on our focus species will be analysed. For this purpose, we will determine the survival rates of birds and provide recommendations for improved site management. Our project partners in the Netherlands actively protect grassland breeding bird nests and chicks. Their impact and the effects of habitat improvement are monitored, for example by bird counts and by insect monitoring to estimate food availability.

Details about our measures

GrassBirdHabitats is a so-called Integrated Project (IP), which means that extensive activities have to be employed to complete the project. Some of them require additional capacities and funding. 

Find out more about our most important activities below.

Strategic Conservation Plan

To counter the alarming decline of wet grassland breeding bird populations in the Atlantic region of Europe, conservation projects need to be guided by a global strategy that addresses conservation challenges along the entire East Atlantic Flyway…

Read more about the Strategic Plan

Transmitter birds

In 2018, we started satellite-tagging Black-tailed Godwits in the scope of the precursor project LIFE Meadow Birds. The goal was (and still is) to find the exact migratory routes that the birds use, and to use that information to determine which dangers they might face along the way…

Read more about our transmitter birds

Business model

In the Special Protection Area Dümmer, large proportions of the grassland areas are currently in an insufficient habitat condition and are in danger of no longer being suitable as breeding grounds for meadow birds. The necessary habitat improvements can hardly be funded, since neither hardship compensation nor agri-environment-climate measures (AECM) are granted for public land…

Read more about the business model

Insect monitoring

Our mission is to explore the impact of land-use intensity and wetland restoration on insect populations, which are essential food sources for meadow bird chicks. We want to find out if the current insect population declines also occur in rewetted wet grasslands and, if so, how to avoid them…

Read more about the insect monitoring

Habitat optimisation and site management

Breeding areas for meadow birds do not maintain themselves. On the one hand, modern agricultural land use leads to a decline of meadow bird populations. On the other hand, abandonment of land use also results in habitat loss, because open meadows and pastures become fallow land…

Read more about habitat optimisation

Capacity building

Our project aims to establish a professional working team with experienced experts and young talents to fully implement the project goals and to share and spread specific knowledge on habitat optimisation for grassland breeding birds. The LIFE IP has personnel capacities and resources for starting initial measures and for developing and implementing concepts (see business model and Strategic Conservation Plan).

However, to achieve the project objectives (improve the conservation status of grassland breeding birds), much more comprehensive capacities need to be built. We need to create a sustainable network of like-minded responsible site managers, among other things. At the political level, the importance and impact of sustainable species conservation must be recognised and supported with appropriate regulations. On the technical level, the exchange with experiences from other regions is of great importance, so we can share existing knowledge and recent experiences in dealing with new challenges.

In this project, we put a strong emphasis on networking and expert visits to European and African areas to serve these purposes.

Rice cropping systems

Traditionally-managed rice fields provide suitable winter habitats for many wading bird species. However, modern rice field management shifted towards monotonous parcels, the usage of large amounts of fertilisers and pestizides, and a strict water management. As a result, modern rice fields lack insects and are no suitable habitats for Black-tailed Godwit and Ruff anymore.

Our project supports complementary actions that will test and develop strategies to combine modern rice farming and ecosystem services. Based on these strategies, a sustainable rice field management system for West Africa and also staging sites in southwest Europe will be developed. We will provide suggestions for long-term strategy plans that include co-funding of the European Union.

Additional funding

Raising water levels is the key factor for habitat optimisation in many areas. Water management that benefits meadow bird conservation can only be carried out permanently on public land. Thus, land acquisition is an essential requirement to achieve the project goals. Further funds must be raised for this purpose. We aim at purchasing 2.000 ha of land for meadow bird conservation in Lower Saxony.

In total, grassland habitats of 21,000 ha shall be optimised in Lower Saxony, including high water tables, low predation rates, open landscapes, and low-intensity farming. Additional funding is necessary to promote concentrated grassland bird conservation in the remaining bird sanctuaries. For this purpose, we primarily use European and federal funding sources.

The project team applies for funding from the European funding programme LIFE almost every year. In addition, the EAFRD and ERDF funding programmes are used to get further funding to implement measures on public land. The State of Lower Saxony usually provides the co-financing for these projects.

Smaller measures with a shorter duration are financed by the state's own funding programmes. Here, we collaborate with the competent district nature conservation authorities.