In the “Campo Branco” region, where the Castro Verde Special Protection Area (SPA) is inserted, extensive agriculture shapes the landscape and allows the coexistence of Men with a rich community of birds. Despite of having their main refuge here, steppe birds continue to feel the negative effects of human action, as for instance the cattle fences.
Fences have proliferated over the last decades and are nowadays an essential tool for agriculture and cattle breeding management. The Great Bustard, an endangered species, of urgent conservation in Europe, is particularly sensitive to this threat.
The fences limit the movements of these large birds that prefer to walk over the ground to fly over the barriers. The installation of fences disturbs the reproductive behaviour of birds in courtship display areas and also affects the survival of juveniles during the summer, contributing for the separation from their progenitors and stopping their access to water and food.
Due to their weak sight and their fidelity to breeding areas, Great Bustards fly over areas with fences at a low altitude risking a collision against the barbed-wire. Since 2009 and until now, we have identified 23 dead Great Bustards due to collisions against barbed-wire fences. Apart from the Great Bustard we have identified 15 other species of birds that have collided with these structures, among them the Little Bustard, the Cattle Egret and the Eagle Owl.
Project LIFE Estepárias had as goal the development of measures that would decrease the effect of fences on steppe birds and mostly on the Great Bustard. To prevent the collision of birds against the barbed-wire, we have alternately installed black and white PVC plates over the upper barbed-wire line.
The last kilometres of fences were signalized during December, in an action resulting from the cooperation between the project team and the owners of the properties. In total we signalized around 42km of fences in the Castro Verde, Piçarras and Vale do Guadiana SPAs.
To reduce the barrier effect that the fences have on the Great Bustard, we developed and tested several models of pass ways for fauna, in order to allow the access of Great Bustard adults or juveniles but preventing the passage of cattle. We installed 179 pass ways in nearly 28km of fences, on seven properties inside the Castro Verde SPA. These sites were monitored with camera trapping devices that have revealed the use of these pass ways not only by Great Bustards but also by other animals that have their movements limited by these structures as, for example, foxes, badgers and dogs.
Coming close to the end of this project, we are sure to have given a real contribution for the conservation of these birds and we will fight to, in the future, have the results of this action integrated in the financing mechanisms of the Rural Development Program, in order to replicate these actions on all steppe areas of the country.