Aquatic warbler LIFE project
The aquatic warbler is the only globally threatened passerine bird in mainland Europe (world population: 10-14,000 males).
Once widespread on fen mires and wet meadow, it has disappeared from most of its former range due to habitat loss and degradation. RSPB is a partner in a large EU LIFE Nature project for this species run by OTOP-BirdLife Poland.
The aquatic warbler is the rarest and the only globally threatened passerine bird (IUCN status 'vulnerable') found in mainland Europe. It has a very small world population of only 10-14,000 pairs.
With its habitats now dependant on human land use, and being extremely susceptible to changes in traditional land use, it is now effectively a conservation dependent species with an acutely threatened and genetically distinct population along the German-Polish border ('Pomerania') and a larger one in north-eastern Poland (“Biebrza region”).
Most range states including Poland and Germany have signed an international MoU on the species under the Bonn Convention for Migratory Species (CMS) in 2003, committing themselves to implementing an International Action Plan for this species. The project will target the breeding sites of the Polish and German populations in the two named regions (c.2800 pairs), equalling 76% of the EU population.
- The project aims to stabilise the population of aquatic warblers in key areas of its range in Poland and Germany, by improving and increasing the habitat at Biebrza and preventing extinction in Pomerania.
- An international partnership of five NGOs and two protected area administrations from 3 EU member states will implement the project in 9 project sites to achieve the following objectives:
1) Awareness of authorities, key stakeholders and the local public of the conservation needs of the species and its specific habitat requirements.
2) Aquatic warbler habitat improved and enlarged in Pomerania and Biebrza.
3) Plans established to continue expansion of suitable habitat at sites within historic breeding areas in Poland and Germany.
4) Replicable financial and legal mechanisms for ensuring long-term sustainable management are identified, agreed upon and funding secured.
The project started in 2005 and will continue until 2010 or 2011.
In 2009 we are planning to finalise the Management Plans for all project sites and to produce a National Species Action Plan for Poland.
We are planning to purchase another 5 square kilometres of land for the aquatic warbler, where necessary.
Ongoing habitat management must be continued. We are working hard to develop sustainable solutions which allow this kind of management beyond the end of the project. We are focusing on possibly using hay cut from aquatic warbler sites for the production of carbon-neutral fuels.
A large international partnership of organisations has been successfully set up under the leadership of OTOP-BirdLife Poland.
Management Plans for 9 project sites covering 420 square kilometres of current and potential aquatic warbler habitat are being developed.
OTOP has successfully lobbied for a special agri-environmental programme which rewards farmers who maintain or restore aquatic warbler friendly land management. This programme will start in 2009 and is a huge step forward towards the protection of the species across Poland.
Active habitat management (mowing, bush removal and grazing) is being implemented on close to 30 square kilometres.
Machinery has been developed together with a contractor to mow the large expanses of the Biebrza fen mires without destroying the delicate peat soil. After many years, this means a method has been found to replace the traditional hand scything which ceased more than 20 years ago.
5 square kilometres of land, mostly abandoned, have been purchased in the Biebrza Marshes with the aim of restoring them for aquatic warblers. This means three new reserves for OTOP in the vicinity of the Biebrza National Park.
A concise monitoring programme has been set up at all 9 project sites with the aim to observe habitat conditions and the birds response to optimise habitat management.
The monitoring shows the aquatic warbler is now covering 7 instead of previously 6 sites in Pomerania, while the number of aquatic warblers in the core area of the Biebrza Marshes increased by 300 between 2007 and 2008.
The overall budget of the project is €5.4m. Of this, the EU LIFE Nature Fund is contributing 75%.
EU LIFE Nature Fund
The RSPB is supporting the project with £400,000.