Bocian Biały w dolinach rzek

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In 2019 we visited the “AQUILA a-LIFE - Accomplish Western Mediterranean Bonelli's Eagle recovery by working together for an electricity grid suitable for birds” LIFE 16 NAT/ES/000235 project implemented throughout Spain, in a part of France and in Sardinia.

The main beneficiary of the project is the non-governmental organization GREFA (Grupo de Rehabilitacion de la Fauna Autoctona y su Habitat) – The team dealing with the restitution of native fauna and the environment employs over 30 people, and its activities are also supported by a group of volunteers. This institution runs a large animal rehabilitation center near Madrid. Several thousand birds, mammals and reptiles are being brought there annually, including foxes, rabbits, hares, red and roe deers, hedgehogs, turtles, and birds such as white storks, young swifts in large numbers (up to 3000 individuals) and predators: buzzards, vultures, owls. The center is huge, located in a few buildings on an area of approx. 10 hectares. There is a hospital and aviaries for treated and rehabilitated animals, rooms for ecological education, aviaries for handicapped birds, which will stay here for the rest of their lives, such as griffon and cireneous vultures, barn owls, lesser kestrels, golden and imperial eagles, Egyptian vulture, Bonelli’s eagle and short-toed snake eagle, Eurasian pygmy owl. Therefore there are many things to see. Moreover, birds are placed in interesting arrangements, reminiscent of places where they normally occur, e.g. an old abandoned house for barn owls or a rural farmyard for kestrels.

In addition to helping injured and weakened birds, GREFA is also breeding endangered species, young individuals of which are released into the wild. This task is realized within the framework of the AQUILA a-LIFE project – breeding of the Bonelli’s Eagle. Under the same project, elements of the electricity grid belonging to private owners are being secured. Medium and low voltage poles together with cable fragments are being secured. Birds of prey are electrocuted when they stand on poles and their wings touch the cables. The mortality of young birds in such cases is surprisingly high, with some couples losing all their nests every year as a result of an electrocution on a short section of the power line. In this way, the local populations of the Bonelli’s Eagle became extinct within several decades. The GREFA center provides training for employees of companies operating power lines. The workshop deals with the mortality of birds as a result of collision and electric shock, during which participants learn also how to properly secure power equipment.

The GREFA bird of prey breeding center delivers dozens of chicks every year, which are released in Spain, France and Italy.

The first day of the study visit was spent in the GREFA headquarters, where we presented the LIFECICONIAPL project to the employees and volunteers and visited the entire infrastructure. On the second day we went north, near the municipality of Hoyo de Manzanares. Here, in a hard-to-reach terrain, on the hills, there is a point of adaptation of the young Bonelli’s Eagles, which have hatched in the center, to live in nature. We have been watching them from afar. Chicks aged 5-6 weeks are placed in an aviary, where they are locked up for the next 6 weeks. After this period the aviary is opened, the eagles receive food outside and start to get used to living in the wild. Birds are equipped with GPS transmitters therefore it is known that their survival rate was about 60% during the 4 years of the project.

The next point was a landfill in Madrid, where we observed hundreds of griffon vultures and several dozen cireneous vultures. Also white storks come to this landfill in search of food. All the poles and energy devices around the landfill have been secured so that storks cannot land on them. However, the birds are so determined that they can even build a nest between protections.

The next day we went east of Madrid near Arganda del Rey where we observed numerous white storks – more than 500 individuals that stay here for winter, not undertaking a migration to the south. These are storks nesting in Spain but also those that have come from northern Europe and will spend the cold season here. A mild climate, food-rich landfills and a change in migration habits – these factors have contributed to the increase in the number of white storks in Spain. It is estimated that over 50,000 couples nest there, while in Poland their population has decreased significantly, by almost 20% over 10 years, to approx. 43,000 couples.

The area near the RTVE transmitting station is very densely populated by the storks, they are not disturbed by the proximity of other individuals of the same species – it is important that there are sufficient water and food resources nearby.

Another institution we met with was the Navarra Environmental Management in Pamplona: Gestion Ambiental de Navarra S.A.. Navarra is a relatively small region – it stretches for about 150 km from east to west, but it is very diverse in terms of its natural environment: there are 3 natural areas: Atlantic, Mediterranean and Pyrenees. This institution is involved in several major EU-funded projects, either as the main beneficiary or as a partner. Two projects are implemented in cooperation with GREFA: AQUILA a-LIFE – described above and the second one LIFE BONELLI.

Other projects implemented by Gestion Ambiental de Navarra and supported by the LIFE program include: LIFE+TREMEDAL – protection of wetlands and peatlands https://lifetremedal.eu/en and LIFE+MINK TERRITORY – measures for the benefit of European mink, www.territoriovison.eu/index.php/en/life-mink/the-project.

For us, these last two projects are interesting as they cover a small retention, including the construction of ponds and the restoration of oxbow lakes. As an organization we have been designing small retention objects for over 20 years. PTOP commissioned designs of about 2000 devices in north-eastern Poland.

Another interesting project is LINDUS – monitoring of the number of birds migrating through the passes in the Pyrenees.

The meeting with Gestion Ambiental de Navarra S.A. began in the office in Pamplona, where we presented our projects to each other and talked about our work for the protection of the white stork.

In the afternoon we went to the area around the town of Caseda, where we observed the protection of medium voltage line poles. It is a place where young Bonelli’s eagles and other birds died.

Another place – the aviary for the release of young birds. Here we could watch carefully how the area is prepared and protected before the young birds are released. The aviary was empty during our stay. Birds appear there in the evening – sometimes they still benefit from the food that is put there for them. A couple of young birds released in the first year of the project have built a nest in this area. The method of adapting birds to life in the wild is called hacking.

Reintroduction of birds is also associated with the restoration of open spaces: removal of shrubs and release of rabbits, which constitute food for young eagles. The employees of Gestion Ambiental also showed us the place where this task is carried out.

As part of the project, birds are monitored using various types of equipment and we have tracked a couple with VHF radio transmitters. We heard the signal on the radio many times – we were able to see one couple. Birds rested on trees – it was 5 p.m. so it was siesta time.

On the last day we went to the mountains, to the pass where migratory birds can be observed. Nearby, the Spanish part of the route to Santiago de Compostela begins. Over the mountains you can see birds flying and a few hundred meters below – groups of pilgrims walking by the road. Migration in this place is not like in Gibraltar where hundreds of birds fly over heads. Here, single individuals appear, and during the season the number of observations reaches 20,000 birds. However, the area is beautiful – a bit reminiscent of the Polish Bieszczady Mountains. In such a place we have observed bearded vultures - a nice ornithological accent at the end of our visit to Spain.

Additionally, the contact with GREFA resulted in the inclusion of PTOP in the activities of a group of organizations that will lobby the European Commission for the establishment of the law in Europe, which will force electricity suppliers to secure transmission lines and power devices. This is the “Anti electrocution EU LIFE projects Network – AE-LIFE Network” project and the work of the team is supported by organizations from Bulgaria, Greece, Cyprus, Spain, Italy, France and Hungary. The Polish Society for the Protection of Birds wants to take an active part in the work of this group.

Sekretariat PTOP

ul. Ciepła 17 15-471 Białystok tel./fax.: 85 664 22 55, 85 6754862 sekretariat@ptop.org.pl

Biuro Regionalne w Olsztynie

ul. Murzynowskiego 18, 10-684 Olsztyn, tel./fax.: 89 533 68 66 smenderski@ptop.org.pl

Gospodarstwo rolne PTOP

Żywkowo 7 11-220 Górowo Iławeckie tel./fax.: 89 761 82 07 zywkowo@ptop.org.pl