Visiting the German great bustard project

Posted on Thursday, January 26th, 2012

Chick-rearing greenhouse at Buckow

Five members of the LIFE+ project team visited Germany last week, as guests of the Brandenburg Great Bustard Project. The main aim of the trip was to investigate German methods for incubating, rearing and releasing great bustards, to support our plan to import eggs to the UK for the first time this spring.

We spent a day at the rearing station at Buckow, 50 miles west of Berlin, and saw every stage of the rearing process up to the point when the chicks are moved to their final release site. The next day at Fiener Bruch, one of three areas in the region with special protection for great bustards, we visited one of the release enclosures.

The population of great bustards in Germany was precariously close to extinction in the mid-1990s – only 57 individuals remained in 1997. Thanks to the rear and release programme, allied with habitat enhancement and protection from predators, that number has now risen to around 120.

Eggs are collected from nests considered to be doomed. In practice this means any nest outside special fenced areas, as the area suffers from high numbers of predators. Problems are caused not only by foxes, but also by introduced raccoons and raccoon dogs. The raven population is also much higher than in the UK.

Once brought to the field station, eggs are incubated according to precisely determined temperature and humidity levels. The hatched chicks are moved to a box with a heat lamp, then to a heated greenhouse. As they get older, they spend more and more time outside, but always have access to shelter until they are moved to their release site at about two months old.

Watching bustards at Fiener Bruch

The rearing process is extremely hands-on – project staff wear surgical scrubs with which the birds become familiar, and take them on walks through the surrounding fields, showing them plants and insects they can eat. Once at the release site, they initially spend the night in a netted pen, being led out during the day to feed, but as they get wilder the human contact is reduced and then removed.

At Fiener Bruch, the success of the project was in the numbers – 17 of 21 birds released in 2011 are still alive, thanks in part to the extremely mild winter.

Despite the cold, wet weather that persisted throughout the trip, we saw bustards both at the main project site and at Fiener Bruch. In the same area hen harriers could be seen everywhere, and there was an impressive crane roost thought to number 5000 birds. As in Austria, it seems that conservation measures motivated by great bustards support many other species. We talked to local farmers and hunters, and learned a lot from Torsten Langgemach and his team at Buckow. Their project website (in German) is www.grosstrappe.de.

Categories: LIFE +

Andrew Taylor

Posted by Andrew Taylor

Andrew has worked for the RSPB in Wiltshire for three years, mainly as part of the Wessex Stone-curlew Project. In March 2011,he joined the LIFE+ team.

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