In this action different management models for the feeding habitat of lesser kestrels will be tested with the aim to improve the availability of food for the species in areas around the urban SPAs and post-breeding roosts.
The most appropriate areas will be chosen for the development of this action taking into account the results obtained in action A2, where information will have been obtained on the feeding areas of lesser kestrels, the type of foraging habitat preferred by the species, the type of prey taken and the levels of pesticides found. Post-breeding roosts and 13 highlighted urban SPAs will be preferred in terms of the knowledge of feeding habitat according to the overall Management Plan for the Natura 2000 network in Extremadura approved in 2015, which are the SPA Lesser Kestrel colonies of: Trujillo, Acedera, Alburquerque, Almendralejo, Belvis de Monroy, Casa de la Enjarada, Fuente de Cantos, Guareña, Jerez de los Caballeros, historic city of Cáceres, San Vicente de Alcántara, Ribera del Fresno and Llerena.
Through the agreements made with farmers (action B1) management of the feeding habitat of lesser kestrels will be carried out through the application of the following measures beneficial to the species:
- Creation of a mosaic of dry-country cereal cultivation through rotation or introducing fallow and leguminous forage crops (alfalfa), winter legumes (vetches) or spring legumes (peas, chickpeas) in order to diversify the feeding habitat of the species. Extensive cereal cultivation will be practised, with more land set to rest in each parcel. It will be ensured that the farming calendar will not negatively affect the birds.
- Reduction in use of pesticides.
- In grazing land, the stocking levels and capacity will be analysed to regulate the grazing pressure per hectare, either by reducing stocking levels, or excluding livestock on a temporary basis, this favouring the availability of arthropods during the lesser kestrels breeding season. Superphosphates may be added to increase the production of grass and thus the availability of prey.
- Installation of temporary enclosures to prevent access of livestock to areas of pasture, especially in large parcels of grazing land.
- Given the importance of borders or margins between cultivations as a fundamental habitat for orthropods, in the intervention areas existing borders will be maintained and improved and where they have disappeared, beetle banks will be created; the natural regeneration of vegetation cover will be encouraged with the planting of herbaceous species and shrubs in different parcels. To facilitate the adoption of this, it is proposed that the new borders should be designated as “structural elements in the landscape” in the SIGPAC (Geographic Information System for Agricultural Land) thus ensuring that they do not represent a loss of income for the farmer and that they will last through time. New techniques for encouraging vegetation cover will be used for these beetle banks, never before applied in Extremadura: the use of seed-balls (containing a mixture of different species) placed on the border with a covering of straw to encourage implantation.
The means of habitat management will be implemented based on the land use and the characteristics of the farms selected, since not all measures will be applied across the same scale and intensity, prioritising those that offer the greatest benefits to the species.
Work planning and the sites that will be used will be specified in detail in the management agreements that will be signed (action B1) with the owners, where there will be agreed costs, designs, sites and measures to be introduced in each intervention.
The pilot nature of this action lies in the fact that until now there has not been any specific action on feeding habitat management to favour lesser kestrels in Extremadura, nor any determination of its effectiveness. The aim is to create structures that diversify the feeding habitat in specific places that allow greater feeding opportunities for the lesser kestrel and measure an increased breeding success of the species.
This is an important action since it acts against the threat of reduced prey for the species that is resulting from pesticide use, changes in traditional farming and habitat simplification, considered as critical and of high impact on the species in the European Action Plan for Lesser Kestrel. This considered the maintenance and improvement of feeding habitat quality for the species as an essential priority. This action clearly contributes towards this.
In summary, it is hoped to improve the feeding habitat of lesser kestrel through management of an area estimated to be between 900 and 1,400 hectares and the restoration of borders in the surroundings of urban SPAs during the period 2018 – 2020.
Responsible for implementation: General Directorate of the Environment.