LIFE kosec (Crex crex)

Project
Project results
About the project
ESTABLISHING LONG-TERM PROTECTION OF CREX CREX IN SLOVENIA - ABOUT THE PROJECT
Introduction

Starting in January 2004 the Slovene ornithological organisation Društvo za opazovanje in proučevanje ptic Slovenije (DOPPS - BirdLife Slovenia) has started with a LIFE Nature III project entitled “Establishing long – term protection of Crex crex in Slovenia”. The project has been running for the second year and has already brought several results on national and local level.

DOPPS has managed to set up a small nature reserve in the Ljubljansko barje project area, where active corncrake habitat management has been running regularly including active participation of local farmers. Mulching, mowing and other specific management practices have been promoted to local residents, children and especially farmers as main actors in achieving project objectives. At the same time new conservation tools such as specific agri – environmental schemes has been prepared to be integrated into the new national rural development framework for period 2007 – 2013. Within the LIFE project activities DOPPS has become an active partner in agriculture policy discussions where LIFE objectives have been presented and promoted regularly.

    

On the other hand many scientific actions have been performed in a way to give as detailed and improved information about Crex crex habitat requirements in LIFE project areas in Slovenia. Monitoring, habitat study and national action plan are those actions that should impact on existing national policies in a way to generate more benefits to Crex crex and other wet extensive grasslands flora and fauna species and to achieve our common objective to stop the decline of farmland birds.

The LIFE III Nature project (LIFE03NAT/SLO/000077) is financed by the European Commission. The Ministry for Environment and Spatial Planning of Republic of Slovenia, the Municipality of Ljubljana, the Municipality of Cerknica and Municipality of Postojna are partners and co-financers of this project.

    

Objective

The main project objective is preparation and creation of conservation tools for long term successful protection of Crex crex in Slovenia and speeding up the process of adoption of the European Union’s Birds Directive in Slovenian legislation.

To influence major threats to Crex crex on ground level, the project aims to produce appropriate habitat management solutions and educate local farmers and land owners how to manage habitats in bird-friendly way and how to obtain additional funding for such management.

Additionally, the project objective is to raise awareness of general public, local stakeholders and decision-makers on local and national level.

Corncrake (Crex crex)

Corncrakes are related to moorhens, coots and rails but differ from most members of the family because they live on dry land. They are very secretive, spending most of their time hidden in tall vegetation, their presence only betrayed by their rasping call. In flight their bright chestnut wings and trailing legs are unmistakable.

They nest and rear their young in tall grass or herbaceous vegetation, such as nettles, cow parsley or yellow flag (iris). Sometimes they will use standing crops of oats and barley in late summer, after the hay fields have been mown.

Arrives from mid-April and leaves again in August and September. Best located by call which can be heard both day and night.

Introduction to LIFE project areas

Ljubljansko barje

Ljubljansko Barje is a 150 km2 large flat field (at 300 m a.s.l.), that was formed by rivers transporting sediment to a large depression. The area is surrounded by mountains raising up to 1.000 m. It has a continental climate, with an annual precipitation of approximately 1.400 mm, with most of the rain falling during autumn and spring. The warmest month is July and the coldest is January.

        

Ljubljansko barje is the largest and the most important area of prevailing lowland wet meadows in Slovenia. Although it is the most thoroughly researched of similar areas, its habitats of high nature conservation value are still not legally protected despite ample available data. The most valuable habitat types are frequently flooded, extensive late-mowed meadows where the Corncrake Crex crex populations reach one of their highest densities in Slovenia. For this species, Ljubljansko barje is by far the most important area in Slovenia since it is here that almost 40% of all Corncrakes in the country are recorded. Moreover, Ljubljansko barje holds hundreds of pairs of breeding Common Quail Coturnix coturnix, is the southernmost breeding site for the Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata in Europe and supports one of the largest populations of the Whinchat Saxicola rubetra in Central Europe. Although less known, the role that Ljubljansko barje performs as a wintering grounds and a migratory stopover is also of great importance. Large numbers of migrating Red-footed Falcons Falco vespertinus occur in the May each year. Unfortunately, Ljubljansko barje is seriously threatened by the expansion of intensively cultivated fields and the expansion of the capital city in its near surroundings.

Cerkniško jezero / Lake Cerknica

Cerknica Lake is the largest typical karst polje in Slovenia. It is surrounded by the mountains of Slivnica (1022 m) on the north and Javorniki Mountain (1268 m) on the South, which belong to the Dinaric mountain chain. The climate is continental with the mean annual temperature 9,20C in Cerknica. The annual precipitation is about 1700 mm in Cerknica and more than 2000 mm in the surrounding mountains. The driest month is July.

        

At the national level, Lake Cerknica is famous for the variety and number of aquatic bird species that live within its environment, in particular for the Red-necked Grebe Podiceps grisegena and the Common Redshank Tringa totanus, for which the only nesting grounds in Slovenia is Lake Cerknica. On the other hand, the lake has won its nature conservation status because it supports the second largest Corncrake Crex crex population in Slovenia. Lake Cerknica is the only area where the abundance of the Corncrake males has been censused for more than a decade, with annual counts taking place at the beginning of each June. One of the characteristics of the Corncrake and other breeding aquatic bird species is that their populations fluctuate substantially. The same is true of the Little Porzana parva and the Spotted Crake P. porzana. If the water level is favourable, however, the Spotted Crake population can become quite abundant. In the surroundings large numbers of migrating Red-footed Falcons Falco vespertinus occur in the May each year.

Porečje Nanoščice / Nanoščica river basin

The Nanoščica basin is situated in the lower Pivka valley near Postojna, at the edge of a large depression. The 1425 ha site is partly surrounded by high limestone mountains.

Strong springs of pure karst water flow to the Nanoščica river basin, which is situated over sandstone flysch and gravel ground, and is therefore resistant to water infiltration. The ground water level is also near to the surface. Floodings of the lower parts of the site occur regularly. Consequently, extensive farming is possible only on the driest border of the site. Therefore, human settlements are concentrated there. The river has numerous meanders with well preserved riverbeds, wet meadows and small areas of reed and sedge. Less than 15% of the area is covered by mixed forest and remnants of alluvial wet oak forest.

        

The Nanoščica river basin is characterised by large wet meadows that occupy the vegetation belt along the riverbed. Subsequent to the discovery of the Corncrake Crex crex population in this area, its breeding population was first found to be increasing. The latest count, however, has already shown a decrease in the number of territorial males here. The reason for this population decline is a rapid overgrowing of meadows, which was caused by abandonment of use.

Project actions

DOPPS will prepare a National Crex crex Action Plan as the first step to assure the long-term protection of this species through providing the framework for appropriate conservation steps in the future.

Additionally, management guidelines for SPA qualification species for the 3 future SPAs where project areas are located will be produced. Field actions will be undertaken in 3 project areas: Ljubljansko Barje, Cerknica Lake and Nanoščica River Basin, all being Crex crex key sites.

In total, a minimum of 180 hectares of land will be leased or purchased for Crex crex protection purposes. In Cerknica Lake area the purchase and management of Crex crex breeding habitat is planned as the first phase of securing species’ favorable conservation status in the whole area.

In the Ljubljansko Barje project area, a small reserve will be established and used as a promotional/educational tool on Crex crex and Natura 2000 issues. Ljubljansko barje and Nanoščica project areas will be also used as demonstration sites to further educate farmers and local landowners about Crex crex friendly agricultural practices and as testing grounds for management solutions.

Additional educational/public awareness activities will include organizing workshops for farmers, local land owners and Slovene farming advisory service. DOPPS will purchase machinery for maintaining the grasslands in all project areas.

Finally, DOPPS will also promote and encourage policies, at the national and local levels, that benefit Crex crex by lobbying the responsible ministry or municipal officials.

Monitoring of the species will be implemented on annual basis. The results of monitoring will be used to revise and amend the National Action Plan, if needed. All actions undertaken during this project will be supported with activities focused on promotion and awareness rising of general public.

Expected results

The project will result in changes of agriculture policy through encouraging the subsidizing of bird-friendly management in future SPAs.

The designation of 3 project areas as SPAs during the project combined with production and implementation of management guidelines will give basis for the prevention of Crex crex harmful land use in these areas.

Management guidelines will serve as pilot schemes for the preparation of management plans in all other SPAs in Slovenia.

Increased up-take of agri-environmental measures by 15% will be achieved upon educational and promotional project activities. Awareness on Crex crex issues among directly involved local stakeholders, decision makers as well as general public will be significantly increased.

In Cerknica Lake project area overall Crex crex friendly management will be established and continued by the local government after project end.

In all 3 project areas together, a minimum of 180 hectares of Crex crex breeding habitat will be managed according to management plans. Established monitoring will result in overall insight to the conservation status of the species throughout the country. Project will build the capacity to provide suitable solutions for threats to Crex crex occurring in other areas.

Main threats to Crex crex habitat

I. Land abandonment

Historically, Ljubljansko Barje, Cerkniško jezero and Nanoščica River Basin included large tracts of grasslands. The inhabitants of the areas were primarily involved in stockbreeding as a means for providing food. Consequently the grasslands were managed (cut regularly) to provide fodder for livestock and wet meadows were cut for litter. Traditional agriculture, however, is declining and the meadows are no longer mowed for litter.

The main reasons for this trend are socio-economic. Traditional farming is not profitable for the majority of farmers. Moreover, young generations are not interested in traditional farming as a career and are leaving the countryside to pursue a more urban way of life. The older inhabitants of the area can not keep the whole area in agriculture and these trends have lead to an increase in the rate of land abandonment in recent years.



II. Intensification of agriculture

In addition to land abandonment, a reverse trend is the intensification of agriculture, which has been encouraged by past and recent agriculture policy.

Crop improvement, which is especially threatening to the Crex crex population in the Ljubljansko Barje area is one of the main threats to grassland birds in Slovenia. Specifically, grasslands are being converted to crop production, particularly corn fields, which do not provide suitable habitat. The process is encouraged through governmental subsidies for corn production.

The threat of early grass mowing and fertilization of meadows is particularly obvious on meadows where hay production was not profitable (low productivity meadows) and which were historically mowed later in the growing season. On wet meadows, which are typical examples of low productivity meadows, the growth of grass is slower and grass quality is lower. Farmers normally try to overcome this “problem” with regular fertilization, which allows earlier mowing and higher production. The process is encouraged through governmental subsidies for early mowing.

The advance of mechanical mowing machinery with mowers operating at fast forward and high rotation speeds has been a contributing factor to the decline in Crex crex population in the project areas. This problem is compounded by a change in mowing techniques – bird unfriendly mowig, which is more likely to be used when the mowing is done with mechanical machinery.



III. Ineffective protection of species and key sites on national level

Crex crex in Slovenia is fully protected (from hunting, destruction of nests, eggs and chicks) and included in the Red Data Book as endangered. However, no conservation measures have been undertaken specifically for Crex crex. In reality, protection does not function through the penalty system or in any other manner. No case is known that a person has been punished for injuring a Crex crex specimen, nest or egg; no field control (wardening) exists.

Far more threatening, no management plan for Crex crex key sites has been prepared yet. This does not allow the implementation of suitable conservation measures in most important areas. Activities with negative impacts cannot be stopped by conservationists because they do not have the legal basis for this.



IV. Agriculture policy unfriendly to low input agricultural systems

Political and economic developments in Slovenia due to accession to the EU are expected to bring even more pressure on natural and farmed habitats from land-claim and intensification practices or abandonment of traditionally farmed land.

Existing trends in national policy development show that low input agricultural systems are not favored. Upon constant pressure from DOPPS–BirdLife Slovenia, Crex crex friendly management practices were included in the Agri-Environment Program, but they are not well implemented.

V. Low public knowledge and awareness

Knowledge and awareness of the general public on the endangerment of grasslands and in particular Crex crex are very poor. The majority of the public is not aware of the fact that Crex crex is a globally threatened species and of the reasons for that, nor are they aware of its national and local status.

The farming communities, associations and advisors are not sufficiently educated about Crex crex, its habitat needs and the threat that intensive grassland management practices represent to this species’ survival in Slovenia. At the same time, farmers are not familiar with the alternatives that the Slovenian Agri-Environment Program offers to the current intensive grassland management practices that are having a negative impact on Crex crex populations.