C1 Establish “decoy” pigeon lofts as a food source for the Saker falcon to mitigate the human-raptor conflict
In the ancient times, similar tower-like traditional lofts have been widespread in the Iberian Peninsula and in the Middle East. The guano from the pigeons have been used as a fertilizer for the agricultural fields, while pigeon meat was used as alternative source of food for humans in years poor in agricultural production. Considering that the availability of sufficient and easily accessible alternative prey for raptors may decrease the conflict between the pigeon fanciers and birds of prey, the installation of decoy pigeon lofts can support additionally the natural abundance of prey for the falcons. In that way we hope that this action will reduce the rate of illegal killing of birds of prey within the project areas.
C.2: Support the recolonization of the Saker falcon by improving the nesting habitats
The aim of this action is to increase Saker falcon’s nest sites availability for the next 3-4 decades by improving nesting habitats inside the project SPAs. They will firmly secure the need of the species for suitable nesting habitats. In short term by providing artificial nesting platforms as well as in the long run by planting suitable trees in suitable habitats for the Sakar falcon.
The artificial nests and nesting platforms will encourage young pairs from the Saker’s restocking program or individuals from wild population to occupy and breed in the project areas. Sakers do not build their own nests but instead readily use the nests of other bird species, and therefore providing artificial nests significantly increases the chances of Sakers occupancy. Artificial nests in places with minimum disturbance would contribute to successful breeding of the newly formed pairs. Another advantage of the artificial nests is their stability. Firmly attached to mature healthy trees or electric pylons they significantly reduce the cases of nest collapsing that is a threat for saker and other tree nesting raptors. Increasing the breeding success by providing safe artificial nests would contribute to the population growth and enlarging of the Saker range especially in the context of all the additional conservation work.
C.3: Prevent Saker falcon illegal killing and nest robbing through nest protection and increase the capacity and involvement of the authorities.
In the frame of this action the project shall undertake concrete activities for prevention of illegal killing and nest robbing of Saker Falcons on national and local level in Bulgaria and Romania.
Persecution of raptors is still significant issue in both countries. Between 2015-2018 in southern Romania have been noted several suspicious cases of Saker pairs breeding failures that might be due to persecution. At least one case of Saker falcons being poisoned is known in Bulgaria. The project team will develop a set of measures and priorities listed in the Project Wildlife Crimes Prevention Work Plan.
We will Improve the capacity of project partners to support state law enforcement authorities in prevention and combating of illegal activities against birds of prey, including the Saker Falcon. Indeed, a solid background has been created in Bulgaria regarding different methods and activities aiming to stop the wildlife crime under previous various Life projects implemented by BSPB and Green Balkans. Yet, this capacity needs to be further developed. More specifically, this refers to upgrade of existing databases and data collection tools (e.g. smart-phone apps), learn and update the analytical approaches, and data interpretation methods that are expected to increase the efficiency of the work towards prevention and investigation of wildlife crimes. External expertise will also be considered though exchange of experience with Western European countries.
Other stakeholders, including some new target groups the project team has not worked with before, will be also included like hunters, falconers, pigeon fanciers, game breeders, taxidermists, and others.
C.4: Decrease the risk of electrocution to the Saker falcon by insulating dangerous pylons
Electrocution is one of the most important threats affecting the Saker falcon population in Europe and globally. The Saker territories often contain a rich network of medium voltage electric network which depending of the design of the pylons is especially risky. This threat can be reduced through insulation of dangerous 20 kV electric pylons around active nests of the Saker.
This project action will include two main activities: identification of the most dangerous pylons and insulation. The most hazardous for the Saker falcon pylons of the medium voltage distribution grid in SE Romania will be identified in a radius of 10 km around each nest and then be insulated. This activities have been used and have proved to be efficient in previous LIFE Projects.
C.5: Restore Saker Falcon hunting habitats and save key colonies of the European Souslik as a key prey species
Agricultural intensification and conversion of grasslands into arable land along with the decreased grazing or abandonment of the pastures have caused severe decline or local extinction of the Souslik’s colonies. This deprived the falcons of their key prey species and became one of the reasons for the current unfavorable status of the Saker falcon in Bulgaria. The main objectives of this action are to restore and maintain grassland habitats on key land plot with Souslik colonies and thus secure food availability for the Saker in the most important areas for the species.
The project team will develop management prescriptions for each land plot depending on the actual conditions of the grassland habitat. These prescriptions will be developed upon purchase of the respective land plot and will follow the best practices.
C.6: Pilot ex-situ breeding and reintroduction of the Romanian hamster as a prey for the Saker falcon
Establishing of ex-situ breeding population in project territories will be established. Special facilities where breeding will be possible will be prepared at the Institute of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Research –Bulgarian Academy of Science.
The best possible conditions for hamster resettlement will be provided in the releasing site. The project team will implement special methods to prevent access by predators to the hamsters, preserving them until the population becomes stable, adapted to the site and to its potential threats. There will be permanent monitoring by project team members who will guard the released hamsters and the protection facilities.
B.1: Purchase strategically located agricultural land for the conservation and restoration of Saker falcon's key prey species is another important step to insure the long-term survival of the species. This activity aims to purchase key land plots mainly around Saker falcon nests or within temporary settlement areas which the target species regularly inhabit. The purchased lands will be restored and maintain so that they can act as reserve for the mammal, especially the European Souslik, on which the falcons forage. These include lands with insufficient/improper habitat management, which leads to excessive growth of unwanted vegetation in some parts and overgrazing and grassland degradation in other parts. The usual reason for degradation of the grasslands and local extinction of the Souslik is the lack of grazing and mowing that quickly lead to very high and dense grass and establishment of scrubs. Overgrazing in some areas, combined with accumulation of garbage also could lead to subsequent changes of the habitat. By purchasing land plots on which Souslik colony still exist but with extremely low number of individuals, the project will rapidly improve the status of the grassland habitat and prevent Souslik’s extinction. This is a best practice that proved its efficiency during the BSPB Save the Raptors and LAND for LIFE projects.