Bureau Waardenburg
Varkensmarkt 9
4101 CK Culemborg
the Netherlands
T: +31 (0) 345 512710
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Beschermingsplan moerasvogels

Management of marshlands for birds

Protection plan for marshland birds

In the Netherlands a protection plan for marshland birds has been established. This plan aims to protect the habitat of marshland birds to help increase their numbers and enable populations to persist. The plan states that more knowledge about the requirements of marshland birds is essential in understanding the best management strategies. Increasing the quality of marshland habitats is a fundamental part of the plan.

Bureau Waardenburg has carried out research into four focus species covered under the protection plan; bittern, spotted crake, Savi´s warbler and bearded tit. This work has been carried out on behalf of BirdLife Netherlands (Vogelbescherming Nederland). This research involved developing a method to assess the site selections of these, and other marshland species, through the development of habitat models. These models provide an indication of the suitability of the habitat for certain bird species and can be used to direct management towards the requirement of those species.

This approach was deliberately focussed on those habitat and landscape features that can easily be assessed and managed. In practise this means that the species composition of a site is not central to the assessment, but instead the vegetation type, height, structure, age and also water levels are more important and can be assessed at a relatively large scale.

Habitat models for four marshland species

Based on field research the requirement for four focus species were determined:

  • Bitterns are characterised by rich marshland areas with periodic or permanent standing water, wetland vegetation and sheltered areas and meadows. These habitats are needed for both nesting (dense marshland vegetation with an old underlayer in shallow water) and foraging (sheltered edges along reedbeds and marshland or grassy vegetation along shallow water).
  • Spotted crakes show a preference for relatively large areas with young marshland and grassy vegetation and shallow water. Such areas are essential for both nesting (dense vegetation just above the ground or water level) and foraging (muddy fringes and low vegetation).
  • Savi's warblers have a preference for upright vegetation with a dense base layer situated in areas of shallow water. These areas privide nesting sites (in dense upright vegetation) and foraging opportunities (scrambling through lower layers of vegetation and just above the water level).
  • Bearded tits prefer areas of large reedbeds that have a large edge and are permanently or semi-permanently flooded. Such areas provide nest sites (reedbeds) and foraging areas (sheltered areas). In addition, the additional areas provided by the cutting of the reeds are essential for overwinter survival of the birds.

This research revealed that the vegetation structure is important in detemining the presence and numbers of marshland birds. Scale, height, water level, age, presence of old material and sheltered edges were the most important factors for these species. This has direct implications for the management of marshlands, in particular for:

  • Reed cutting, which influences the presence of young vegetation. The balance of young reed and the presence of old vegetation is key for many species, particularly bittern, spotted crake, Savi's warbler and bearded tit. The presence of old vegetation is also vital in providing food for bearded tits during the winter period.
  • Grazing, which can open areas of marshland and provide important feeding areas for the bittern.
  • Water levels, which plays a key role in marshlands and influences the presence of edges, rough vegetation, muddy areas and the areas of reed.

These extent to which these features are controlled provides concrete guidelines for the practical management of marshland habitats. One example is the Twiskepolder in Noord-Holland, where evaluation of the habitat for bittern, water rail, Savi's warbler and bearded tit was carried out. This is an area in which the nubers of these species had declined over recent years.

The first stage was to carry out an inventory of the habitat features of importance for the species in question. This allowed a habitat model to be developed, which allowed the important features for each species to be assessed. This revealed that the bittern and bearded tit favoured sheltered reed edges and areas of flooded reed were key for water rail and Savi's warbler. Following this research management was undertaken to increase the areas of suitable habitat for these species. Over several years, this resulted in the areas being used by bitterns, water rails and bearded tits as well as the benefit for a number of other marshland and wetland species.

This research has demonstrated that habitat modelling provides information essential for the development of management plans for marshland birds.

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