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Harrier nest protection in arable fields – Germany, Nordrhein-Westfalen

These schemes pay for the protection of nest sites of the Montagu’s Harrier (Circus pygargus) in arable fields, and also to a lesser extent for the protection of Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus) and Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus). The Hellwegbörde scheme operates in a Natura 2000 area in the district of Soest in the federal state of Nordrhein-Westfalen. It is run by a nature conservation association, Arbeitsgemeinschaft Biologischer Umweltschutz im Kreis Soest e.V. The association takes on all the administration of the scheme: they agree annual payment rates with the local authority, monitor nest sites, agree nature conservation contracts with farmers and complete the paperwork on behalf of the farmers as well as proving monitoring and advice to farmers. The scheme is funded by federal state funds since 1993. There is a similar larger scheme running in Bayern, which is not discussed in detail here.


General characteristics

Geographic details
The Hellwegbörde scheme operates within a Natura 2000 area designated as a Special Protected Area (SPA) under the Birds Directive for its internationally important breeding populations of Montagu’s Harrier (Wiesenweihe) (Circus pygargus), Marsh Harrier (Rohrweihe) (Circus aeruginosus), Corncrake (Wachtelkönig) (Crex crex), and wintering populations of Hen Harrier (Kornweihe) (Circus cyaneus), as well as other bird species typical of open habitat. The Natura 2000 area in the district of Soest in the federal state of Nordrhein-Westfalen covers 48,378 ha of open arable farmland, mainly in private ownership (LANUV NRW 2013).

The Bayern scheme covers a large area of around 180,000ha, with a rapidly increasing and expanding harrier population.
Management requirements
The farmer is paid for leaving an unharvested protective cereal crop zone of 50m x 50m (0.25 ha) around the nest until the young birds have fledged.
Scheme selection process and entry requirements
The scheme is targeted to those arable fields in Nordrhein-Westfalen in and around the Natura 2000 site and where the presence of a nest has been detected.

Payment information

Results indicators
The result indicator for this scheme are the identified presence of nests of the Montagu’s Harrier (Kornweihe) (Circus pygargus) or Marsh Harrier (Rohrweihe) (Circus aeruginosus).
Nature of payments and their structure
Two types of payments are available for farmers if the presence of a bird nest is discovered. If a harrier nest is found in a farmer’s field they are asked if the nest can be monitored and offered a payment (see below) that compensates for the lost cereal harvest from the area of the nest site (0.25 ha). Alternatively and rarely, farmers within or close to the Natura 2000 area are paid €100 for each nest that is discovered and protected during cereal harvesting (excluding the nest sites that were already discovered before harvest) (Finderlohn) (Kreis Soest 2013a). These types of payments are made only occasionally, as almost all nests are located before harvest.

Payments are based on annual contracts between the farmers and the local authority, and the payment is made in October after the end of the harvest. The payment is only made if the birds do not leave the site before harvest.

The payment rate is determined annually based on the opportunity costs of the cereal crop loss published by the agricultural ministry each year, ranging between €300 and €500 (barley payment is generally lower than wheat). The nature conservation association applies for the bulk payment from the local authority, completes payment forms on behalf of the farmers, and then reimburses the farmers. The scheme is financed through federal state funds, except for the occasional €100 payments for nest discoveries, which are paid from a fund financed by the stakeholders who are signatories to the Hellwegbörde contract.

The Bayern scheme currently pays around €560 for 0.25 ha winter barley, €629 for 0.25 ha winter wheat

Control mechanisms

Description of control mechanisms

Evaluation and monitoring

Scientific evaluation
There has been no dedicated scientific evaluation of this scheme. However, the bird populations in both regions are monitored regularly. The results of the harrier protection schemes are published annually and submitted to the local authority (see observed ecological results below).
Monitoring framework
In Hellwegbörde the nature conservation association staff member monitors nesting sites of Montagu’s harriers in arable fields (generally winter barley), and some conservation volunteers monitor additional areas where Marsh Harriers are known to nest, on a total area of nearly 200,000 ha. The nature conservation association staff member estimates that around 95% of the Montagu’s Harrier nest sites in arable fields are discovered through this approach, and more than 90% of the Marsh Harrier nests in arable fields (expert experience, H.Illner). The schemes also include the possibility of self-reporting by farmers; however this has only happened on a few occasions up to now.

The nest sites are marked just before harvest with coloured poles or protected with fences (this is done with around a third of nests in Bayern). The farmer must announce his or her intention to harvest the field, and a final check is made just before harvest to check whether the birds have left the site (e.g. because the chicks have been lost to predators). Just after harvest the staff member/volunteers check whether the farmer has left the protective area of cereal in place around the nest sites, and whether the birds remain on the site The farmer is then given a date at which the remaining stand can be harvested. This is based on the estimated fledging date of the smallest chick plus regular observations.
Observed ecological results
In Hellwegbörde in 2013 a total of 25 Montagu’s harrier young fledged from 13 breeding pairs within the scheme area, and all farmers with identified nests cooperated (ABU Soest 2013). Despite these schemes, the species population in Nordrhein-Westfalen have continued to decline. In total only around 20 pairs of Montagu’s Harrier bred in 2013 in the whole of Nordrhein-Westfalen, the majority of which were protected through the scheme. Some increases have been observed in a similar scheme operating in Bayern.

In 2013 two breeding pairs of Marsh Harrier were also protected. Although Hen Harriers are being observed during the summer, there are currently no breeding pairs in the region.

In a similar scheme in Bayern 195 pairs of Montagu’s Harriers bred in the scheme region in 2012, and 58% (113 pairs) successfully produced fledged young with a success rate of 3.28 fledged young per pair. (LVB 2014). 180 farmers took part in the scheme. In 2013, however, only 152 pairs bred with a total of 193 fledged young. The overall population reproductive rate of 1.89 young per breeding pair for 2012 is below the long year average of 2.12 young per breeding pair, and has been for a number of years, although the population appears to still be at a stable level (pers comm Claudia Pürckhauer). Some arable farmers in these areas have recently begun to plant wild flower areas under agri-environment contracts. In 2012, 17 pairs bred in these areas.
Observed socio-economic results
There is no information available on the observed socio-economic results for this scheme.
Success factors
The Hellwegbörde scheme is run by one full-time staff member of the association Arbeitsgemeinschaft Biologischer Umweltschutz im Kreis Soest e.V. The association takes on all the administration of the scheme including agreeing annual payment rates with the local authority, nest monitoring, agreeing nature conservation contracts with farmers and completing the paperwork on behalf of the farmers, advising farmers, monitoring the site protection, applying for the bulk payment from the local authority, completing payment forms on behalf of the farmers, and then reimbursing the farmers. The association can disburse up to a total of €10,000 a year, and this budget was exceeded for the first time in 2014 due to the large proportion of nests in wheat crops rather than barley (for which payment rates are lower). It is hoped that the difference can be made up from local authority funds in future.

The scheme is generally well accepted by the farmers, for example in 2013 all the farmers with identified nests took part. The arable farmers taking part in the scheme are generally not involved in any other agri-environment or nature conservation activities, but a number of them were previously involved in a pilot scheme to implement agri-environment type actions in the arable fields, and these farmers are generally positive about nature conservation. If farmers are unwilling to take part in the scheme the staff member from the association engages farmers to help convince them of the merits of adopting the scheme, with the support of the local farmers union if necessary.

The Hellwegbörde Natura 2000 site was established on the basis of a 30-year contract signed in 2004 between the federal state government, the local authorities, and other local stakeholders (Vereinbarung 2004). The contract is overseen by an advisory board with representatives of the farming community, the mineral extraction industry, the regional chamber of commerce, the local and district authorities, and the nature conservation NGOs in the region (Kreis Soest 2013a). This has enabled the consensual resolution of a number of conflicts in the Natura 2000 site, for example regarding proposals for developments within the Montagu’s Harrier core breeding areas. A comprehensive management and development plan for the Natura 2000 area is currently being developed with the involvement of all stakeholders, and this will include an evaluation of the results-based nest protection scheme (Kreis Soest 2013b).
Barriers to implementation / challenges
The Hellwegbörde scheme relies almost entirely on the engagement of one full-time employee, who works long hours during the summer to monitor the entire Montagu’s Harrier area. It also relies increasingly on the engagement of volunteers to monitor additional areas. Volunteers receive travel expenses, with sometimes a small hourly payment, but more importantly they require the engagement of the association to provide support and motivation. In Bayern the arable fields are very large, and the scheme is exploring various methods to increase efficiency, including the use of remote controlled helicopters to avoid having to enter the field to locate the site and improve monitoring efficiency (LVB 2014).
There are a few farmers who refuse to take part in the scheme, despite being informed that the destruction of known nests is illegal according to German nature conservation law and also contravenes cross-compliance. The local nature conservation agency has so far not brought any prosecutions even though they are informed about nest destructions.

The harrier populations in Nordrhein-Westfalen are in steep decline despite the nest protection scheme. Key drivers are the declining populations of key prey species - field mouse, open field-nesting birds, large insects and reptiles. Extensive cereal cultivation which supports these food sources is continuing to decline. In 2013 this combined with above average cereal densities (which hinders bird access and therefore prevents nesting), and cold wet spring weather, which reduced prey numbers and negatively affected harrier hunting behaviour (ABU Soest 2013). The harrier populations are also being affected by infrastructure developments in and around the Natura 2000 site (ABU Soest, 2013).
Information source(s)
ABU Soest (2013) Schutz von Rohr- und Wiesenweihen. Weihen Brutsaison 2013. Arbeitsgemeinschaft Biologischer Umweltschutz im Kreis Soest e.V. Biologische Station Soest, Nordrhein Westfalen. (accessed 28 April 2014)

Kreis Soest (2013a) Vereinbarung Hellwegboerde (leaflet).
Kreis Soest (2013b) Hellwegboerdevereinbarung (website).

Landesbund Vogelschutz Bayern (2014) Webpage: Hilfsprojekt für die Wiesenweihe.

LANUV NRW (Landesamt für Natur, Umwelt und Verbraucherschutz Nordrhein-Westfalen) (2013) Natura 2000-Nr. DE-4415-401 VSG Hellwegboerde (webpage).

Various (2004) Vereinbarung zum Schutz der Wiesenweihe und der anderen Offenlandarten in der Hellwegboerde.

  • Scheme type
  • Hybrid
  • Location
  • Farming type
  • Arable fields in Nordrhein-Westfalen in and around the SPA designated Natura 2000 site
  • Environmental objectives
  • Biodiversity
  • Biodiversity objectives
  • The protection of nest sites of the Montagu’s Harrier (Circus pygargus) in arable fields, and also to a lesser extent for the protection of Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus) and Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus).
  • Scheme coverage
  • No area information was available at the time of this review.
  • Stakeholders
  • The scheme is run by a nature conservation association, Arbeitsgemeinschaft Biologischer Umweltschutz im Kreis Soest e.V, and involved the local authority and farmers.
  • Scheme duration
  • The scheme has been running since 1993 and continues to this day.
  • Results indicators
  • The identified presence of nests of the Montagu’s Harrier or Marsh Harrier
  • Management requirements
  • Leaving an unharvested protective cereal crop zone of 50m x 50m (0.25 ha) around the nest
  • Payment details
  • Farmers are paid between €300 and €500 depending on the crop type as well as an additional €100 for each nest discovered during cereal harvesting.
  • Payment source(s)
  • The scheme is funded through Nordrhein-Westfalen federal state funds