• The results of the previous steppe bird censuses carried out by Fundación Global Nature and the Junta de Comunidades en Castilla-La Mancha press to continue the implementation of agri-environmental measures in the steppes of La Mancha.
  • The first censuses of the project show that, in the spring, steppe birds take shelter mostly in arable, rain-fed lands, although they also choose fallow lands with natural vegetation, grass lands, and traditional vineyard crops as principal habitats.
  • A free-access GIS data viewer allows us to know about zones with the greatest abundance of the principal steppe bird species.

The second census of reproductive steppe birds is currently being finalized under the Steppes of La Mancha LIFE project, supported by the LIFE program of the European Commission and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food through Fundación Biodiversidad. The second census, along with censuses conducted in the winter of 2017-2018 and spring of 2017, provides valuable information that represents a first approximation to the conservation status of steppe bird populations in Natura 2000 Network areas of Castilla-La Mancha. This provides a starting point to learn about future tendencies and evaluate the need to improve the management or effectiveness of the conservation measures being implemented. Castilla-La Mancha is one of the last shelters for this species and hosts 40% of the total European population of great bustard and pin-tailed sandgrouse, between 10-20% of the Eurasian stone-curlew population, and 35% of the global little bustard population.

Valuable habitats are not always natural; the steppes of La Mancha are a habitat of anthropic origin; that is, they exist because of human intervention and despite of that, they are a unique environment with great biodiversity. Cereal crops (which used to be extensive), hedges, boundaries, and practices such as crop rotation or fallowing, contribute to the landscape that favors a characteristic and original biodiversity. Birds tied to these systems—steppe birds—are few, often endangered species, included in lists and regulations, such as the European Commission’s Habitats Directive. Over the past years, landscape elements of La Mancha are deteriorating due to factors such as crop intensification, irrigation, or the abandonment of extensive grazing. The implementation of agri-environmental tools has become the necessary tool to stop the loss of steppe bird populations

Steppe birds and their populations in the steppe of La Mancha

The last census of reproductive steppe birds of 2017 determined that the group of species represents, in terms of density or abundance, values below those expected by previous data in the area, also demonstrating great variability between the for Special Protection Areas for birds (SPAs). In general, the first two censuses alert about a decrease in lesser kestrel, great bustard, little bustard, Eurasian stone-curlew, pin-tailed sandgrouse, and black-bellied sandgrouse populations. However, the Montagu’s harrier has presented more optimistic data with respect to previous censuses.

Table 1. Steppe bird species included in the census under the Steppes of La Mancha LIFE project 

While conducting the censuses, we’ve collected information about the actual composition of suitable habitats for each species. In the winter, sown and arable lands, fallow lands, and sprouting crops become important. During the reproductive season, in the spring, steppe birds take shelter mostly in rain-fed lands, although they also choose fallow lands with natural vegetation, traditional vineyard crops, and grasslands as principal habitats.

One of the main issues when evaluating steppe bird populations is, in many cases, the ignorance or lack of previous data. The situation of certain species has been evaluated only at the European level, which doesn’t allow data collected in the region of the study to determine a tendency; however, the data does provide a starting point for future evaluations and to take measures that stop the loss of these populations.

A new aspect in the implementation of this project is that the information gathered in the censuses has been made available to the public, allowing them to download the reports of the censuses conducted to date. Furthermore, we offer the opportunity to learn more about the areas of greatest concentration of steppe birds within the scope of the project through a free-access GIS data viewer . Through this visor, the user can also see the parcels that form part of the custodial agricultural network of more than 3,000 hectares in which we implement agri-environmental measures that benefit both the farmers and these bird species.

The efforts of administrators and territory managers must come together for the conservation of steppe birds in Castilla-La Mancha. For this reason, we have proposed a series of technical and administrative recommendations based on the gathered information to ensure the continuity of these conservation efforts. Improving the application of European directives and other national or regional regulations, increasing resources geared towards the conservation of natural heritage, integrating protection objectives in political spheres, or launching management plans and conservation measures should be some of the commitments that the main agents involved in the management of this important resource would acquire with the conservation of biodiversity.

You can access the full census reports and web viewers with the maps containing the gathered data on the Steppes of La Mancha LIFE website www.estepasdelamancha.es/en/

Want to learn more about other steppe bird species? Look at some of the other entries under this project:

Would you like to read the report of the Spring 2017 steppe bird census? Then follow this link… “Census 2017”

Want to learn more? Read the winter 2017-2018 steppe bird census in the following link… “Winter census 17/18