MME/BirdLife Hungary (19/07/2006)
Is the export of chicks to England endangering the Russian population of Great Bustard? - one of the questions that had to be answered by great bustard conservation experts of MME (Hungarian Ornithological Society), who were requested to help the conservation work with their experiences in the region of Saratov, Russia by BirdLife International.
The Saratov region is the habitat for the worldâs 2nd most dense population of Great Bustard, with an estimated number of 6000-7000 individuals. As bustards nest on arable fields, fallows or grasslands, the main threats for the brood are fallow-cultivation, the ploughing of uncultivated fields, and the follow-up works of these.
Rescue of the eggs
From the nests discovered in time eggs are taken out and they are transported to the project field station in Diakovka, which has been equipped and developed with British financial support. The chicks hatched in the incubators here then go to Salisbury in England, where British conservationists try to ârecreateâ the bustard population of the British Islands, became extinct in 1832.
âThe number of chicks rescued from the tractors is very low in proportion to the whole population, it is only a few dozen. The fact that they will not be released on this site, scarcely influences the population here. - said BÃ©la MotkÃ³, contributor of the Hungarian LIFE Programme for the Protection of Great Bustard. As in Saratov the is no professional background for their repatriation, recently the best âutilisationâ of the rescued chicks is the repatriation programme in England.
Methods of conservation
During the last 15 years, since the Hungarian Ornithological Society deals with the conservation of the Great Bustard within the framework of a special programme, the Hungarian experts developed several management methods and treatments that can be utilized well in other countries.
In Hungary an important part of the work for bustardsâ conservation is that regional experts build good relations with farmers, inform them and get them to cooperate. Farmers can do much even if they only contact the conservation experts in case of finding a nest, or they leave a buffer zone around the nest found at harvest or disking. However it is a hard task in Russia, as the huge parcels are cultivated with tractors which are monstrous compared to the Hungarian ones, and additionally the disk and harrow cultivators are much more wider, which make turning uneasy, so it is quite difficult to make manoeuvers with them around a nest.
Photo: BÃ©la MotkÃ³
Mobile phone for tractor drivers
The rescue methods which are âclassicalâ in Hungary, such as leaving a buffer zone, cover-up of the nests, or changing the real eggs with wooden ones, havenât been used before in Saratov. This year however at one of the most important nesting site of the bustards tractor drivers have been equipped with mobile phones, so if a nest is found during the work they can contact the experts immediately.
Rooks and Hooded crows as well as other nest predators are keen on following agricultural machinery like anywhere else. Therefore Hungarian experts have drawn their Russian collegesâ attention to the fact, that covering the nest up - for example by throwing a handful of grass on the eggs - can significantly reduce the loss caused by the predators.
Unlike the rest of the Europaean bustards, the population in the Saratov region is migrating. In autumn they gather into flocks in the surroundings of Saratov, and start their migration heading west, south-west to the Crimean Peninsula. Experts of the Hungarian Ornithological Society and the LIFE Programme for the Protection of Great Bustard will visit Saratov again this autumn, in order to help in the survey of the population, which provides the background for the conservation programme.
The status of Great Bustard in Great Britain
The Great Bustard became extinct in the British Islands in 1832, mainly due to the intensive trophy hunting. The British Great Bustard Group (GBG) has launched its programme for the repatriation of Great Bustard in 2003. In this programme they try to establish a new population of the species on the Plain of Salisbury. Last year 33 bustard chicks from Russia were released in the region.