Six years, five counties, 910.000 euros – and a total of 200 and helpers: the cross-country species support project "red kite in the rhon" is marked by an unprecedented volunteer effort. Since the 31. July 2020 the project period is officially finished – but the protection of the characteristic bird of the rhon continues, it says in a press release of the biosphere reserve rhon.
The title "character bird of rhon it is not without reason: the red kite (milvus milvus), recognizable by its unmistakable forked tail, circling over the meadows and pastures, is part of the rhone landscape between february and october. Slightly more than one percent of the entire world population of the protected raptor lives in the tri-border area of hesse, bavaria and thuringia. To ensure that the red kite continues to find an ideal habitat in the rhon despite changing conditions such as the intensification of agriculture, the rhon regional working group (ARGE) decided on a cross-country conservation project that was launched in 2014.
For six years, a variety of measures were implemented and tested to protect the raptor. The project was requested as part of the federal program "biological diversity" by the federal office for nature conservation (bfn) with funds from the federal ministry for the environment, nature conservation and nuclear safety (BMU). ARGE rhon was also involved. A total of 910.000 euros available.
As early as february, those responsible and numerous project partners loved to review the past six years at a rough final event. On average, 120 volunteers have assisted the project management and the three biosphere reserve management offices each year with the territory mapping on about 4900 square kilometers. Almost half of the volunteers have been involved every year from the beginning to the end of the project period. They were supervised and instructed by the project management, participated in numerous training events and action days.
The former project leader julian oymanns and his successor heidi witzmann presented the results of the mapping. Between 2015 and 2020, the number of pairs of territories fluctuated between 320 and 390, of which about 200 pairs bred. The current population trend is slightly positive, with an increase of about ten percent in the number of pairs. Weather conditions and food availability had a significant influence on the breeding success of a year, explained witzmann and oymanns.
2020 mapping season: average results
The challenge period is now over, but the project is not over. The first task is to digitize and evaluate the data from the 2020 mapping season. Exactly 100 mappers were in action this year. "So we were able to depict the project scenery very well", says heidi witzmann. "We surveyed 149 quadrants out of a total of 191, which is considerably more than in previous years." Especially in thuringia, considerably more flats have been covered this year – thanks to a call for a statewide red and black kite mapping by the thuringian ornithologists association (VTO) and the thuringian bird sanctuary. Commitment was also strong in bavaria and hesse – as in previous years. "This time we saw the first red kite already on the 1. February spotted back in his territory", reports heidi witzmann. Overall, the weather was favorable: "the heavy rain at the beginning of june fortunately only came when the young red kites were already relatively fit." The data on breeding success is now being evaluated. Witzmann’s first prediction: "averagely good – even if the pradation (relationship between predator and prey) may have played a rough role again, especially shortly before the young birds fly out."
As in previous years, the cooperation with the forestry authorities went very well: new nests or disturbances were immediately communicated to the responsible forestry officials, who reacted promptly. "This has contributed a lot to the protection of the breeding grounds", emphasizes witzmann. Another important partner in the species assistance project: agriculture. During the entire project period, several agricultural measures were implemented and tested in cooperation with the 40 or so farms involved – for example, by de-bushing, adapted grazing, mowing with a special knife mower, or the creation of flower strips and field margins.
"In 2020, the mababels of field forage in red kite-orientated mowing and intercropping as well as the installation of red kite windows were particularly successful." These are at least ten by ten meters in size, on the flat the crops are not sown in. "Our studies show that the food availability for the red kite has been significantly increased on the mabbages", says witzmann. "But other birds like partridge and skylark of the agricultural landscape have also benefited from it."
How things are going?
Witzmann’s project position in the hessian administration of the rhon UNESCO biosphere reserve runs until october. By then, she will have written the final report, which will be submitted to the federal agency for nature conservation (bfn). As early as september, there will be a final celebration – if possible – to thank the volunteers. "Without them, such a project would not have been feasible", emphasizes witzmann. Many of the mappers have already agreed to continue to support the biosphere reserve and its partners. The goal is to continue the mapping of the three biosphere reserve administration offices in cooperation with the respective bird protection agencies.
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