The project´s primary objective is to improve the situation for the last remaining core-populations of the Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa) meta-population in Schleswig-Holstein by increasing the reproduction success. Secondary objectives are the implementation of measures, which will support the efforts to prevent the disappearance of the last breeding pairs of Dunlin (Calidris alpine schinzii) and Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) in Schleswig-Holstein. At present grassland birds are highly endangered in Germany. During the past few years their populations have declined to such an extent that they are now all listed in the national red data book. This LIFE+-project focuses on the Black-tailed Godwit that has suffered a serious decline in Schleswig-Holstein over the last two decades. Dunlin and Ruff, whose breeding populations in Germany are probably on the brink of extinction, are also targeted. The reasons for the decline of grassland birds are difficult to explain and not known in full detail. But it is known that the present reproductive rate of the species (targeted by this project) is not high enough to guarantee their future survival in the area. In the case of the Black-tailed Godwit there is the fear that many of the currently stable populations are already sink populations. Because of that, this project aims to measure the reproduction success, understand the meta-population biology and optimize the conditions for the species in their core areas based on this data. It is expected that an annual surplus of offspring will enable the species to re-colonize formerly inhabited areas again by the end of the project. Within the project, various conservation measures will be implemented which aim at transferring the sink (breeding) populations into source  (breeding) populations.

In Schleswig-Holstein, Black-tailed Godwits, Dunlins and Ruffs now occur  almost entirely in coastal areas along the North Sea. Because of their similar habitat requirements, management efforts for all three species are combined in one project. The two counties Nordfriesland and Dithmarschen are home of most of the remaining Dunlins and Ruffs in Germany. A considerable part of Schleswig-Holstein´s breeding Black-tailed Godwits are also found there. Concerning the Black-tailed Godwit, the main indicator for the project´s success will be an increase in  the reproduction rate. At present, the ratio is appr. 0.4 chicks per pair. According to our estimation, a ratio of 0.6 to 0.7 chicks per pair would be necessary to guarantee its long-term survival in the area. Dunlin and Ruff have almost disappeared from the project areas. Therefore, re-colonisation of the sites for breeding will be considered as a success.

Project strategy

The project aims at turning the negative trends for the target species by improving habitat conditions and, if necessary, by decreasing the effects of predation. The project focuses on improving the reproductive output which is the weakest link in the population dynamics of the species involved. Reproductive success, therefore, has to be monitored in detail and continually in order to fine-tune management actions for specific life stages within the reproduction process of the target species. The dynamics of the meta-population of Black-tailed Godwits has to be understood and to be monitored in order to assess the effect of the measures on the population level.

In order to improve the habitat conditions for the Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin and Ruff, considerable changes concerning land-use, vegetation cover and hydrology of the target areas are necessary. Focusing on areas whose owners are public bodies orsimilar, this project foresees various actions aiming at 
the improvement of life conditions for the target species inside the defined project areas. Although it is not known in full detail why the populations of the Black-tailed Godwit are declining, the low reproduction success certainly is an important factor. Which stage of the life-cycle of the chicks is most critical is not known. Therefore intensive monitoring over a longer time is necessary, enabling the applicant to adjust the suggested conservation measures during the project in order to reach the project´s goals.

Managing sites in order to increase the breeding success of target species will require fine-tuned measures. A feedback from monitoring to management action will be necessary in many occasions. After implementing first conservation actions, vegetation structure and hydrological changes will gradually take place over the following years. It is only after these changes, that effects on the target species can be seen. This means that at least 4-5 years after implementation of the first actions, a noticeable effect on the populations is to be expected. In cases where the reproduction rate is still too low, a second round of further, fine-tuned measures will have to be implemented. As before, this phase will also require a 3 to 4 year feed-back loop for further improvement of the habitat quality. The project, therefore, requires a longer duration than usual.

The long project period is also needed to demonstrate that this new strategy putting the reproduction rate into the focus of the management will provide better understanding of the interaction between management and population development. This is needed to get acceptance for an improved management by e.g. mowing and grazing practise from the authorities who are responsible for the management in the “After LIFE period”.