In order to assess the impact of our conservation efforts, beside the number of breeding pairs and fledging success of the Saker falcons we will also monitor the indirect and direct threats identified as well as both the state of the restored habitats and the number of prey species following our pilot restocking and reintroduction programme. Working with local communities and stakeholders we will measure the socio-economic impact of the project and its impact on nature-based services.
Monitoring the effect of habitat management and pilot restocking and reintroduction of prey species
As having proper hunting grounds is essential for the wellbeing of Saker Falcons, part of our conservation efforts will be directed towards ensuring adequate habitat management and prey density. Thus, monitoring the results of these efforts is paramount for achieving our project goals.
On one hand, following habitat restoration, the lands purchased in the project will be regularly visited in order to assess both the population size of susliks and the condition of their habitat. For a more holistic view regarding habitat quality, we will also monitor the state of breeding birds in the respective areas.
On the other hand, we will also monitor the results of our reintroduction (in the case of Romanian Hamster) and relocation (in the case of Souslik) actions by following up on the released individuals, their reproduction success and overall population size in the project areas. We will also use ecological niche modelling in order to better understand the habitat requirements of these species and to maximize the success of our efforts.
Monitor the Impact of the Project Activities on the Target Species and the Conservation Status of the SPAs and other project sites
The main purpose of this project is to boost the population recovery of Saker Falcons both in Romania and Bulgaria, thus the most appropriate way to monitor its impact is to monitor the number of breeding pairs and their breeding success in and around the project SPAs.
In each breeding season, we will survey suitable habitats and look for new Saker Falcon territories as well as revisit both known pairs and nest boxes to assess occupation rate and breeding and fledging success. These visits will also provide a great opportunity for us to record any visible threats in the vicinity of the territories and, by collecting pellets around the nests, to study the diet composition of the birds.
Another part of this activity will constitute of visiting the installed “decoy” pigeon lofts in order to assess their usage both by Sakers and other birds of prey. This will give us information on whether such lofts improve the food base of the target species and help attract Saker Falcons to a particular territory.
Assess the Socio-economic Impact of the Project Actions on the Local Economy and Population
As the project is aimed at the direct conservation of a target species facing a range of natural and anthropogenic threats, it is not directly targeting social or economic impact in the project sites. However, we do hope to be able to show relevant service-providers clear links between the state of nature and conservation activities in their areas and the health of their businesses. The project will also have a positive impact on reducing raptor-human conflict, improving electricity supply due to a decrease in power cuts caused by bird electrocutions as well as boosting wildlife tourism and providing new jobs in the local communities.
In order to properly asses these impacts, we will use official statistical data provided by the targeted municipalities as well as conduct surveys amongst stakeholders such as the owners of local restaurants, hotels or guesthouses and wildlife tour companies regarding the flux of clients and any changes detected, livestock breeders and farmers regarding the agri-environmental schemes related to grasslands and the Natura2000 network and the members of local communities and tourist regarding their awareness and attitudes towards conservation efforts.
Assess the project's impact on the ecosystem functions
Since the Saker Falcon is an umbrella species, many of the actions will benefit other species as well by improving their breeding habitats, reducing illegal killings, electrocution and poisonings as well as ensuring safer flyways. In order to measure the impact of the project actions on other bird species we will monitor their populations throughout the project period.
For the land plots purchased in the project in Bulgaria we will assess the ecosystem functions and services by evaluating the material services (species and number of mammals and birds, number of livestock in the project areas, herbs collected in the target areas), assessing the supporting and regulating ecosystem services (maintenance of pollinators, hummus content of the soil, number of animal and plant species of conservation significance) and evaluating the cultural services (availability of hotels and guest houses in the project areas, existence of protected areas, cultural or religious monuments in the 1 km radius of the project areas, publications from the target areas).
The project is not expected to have a significant impact on non-biodiversity-related ecosystem services such as maintenance of water quality or sequestration and storage of carbon. However, there will be some effect in this regard as the project actions include targeted small scale tree planting in order to create breeding habitats in some sites.
In the last year of the project, we will make a basic assessment of the economic dimensions of the ecosystem services within the project SPAs and particularly where key actions, like the installing of pigeon lofts, take place.