Collaboration key to saving Little Bustard in Spain


A new study has highlighted the importance of scientists, farmers and land managers working together if Spain's threatened Little Bustard population is to be saved.

The reduction of natural habitat, the increase in irrigation and the urbanisation of farmland have all combined to force a decline of the species in Spain, which is considered Near Threatened globally. A possible link between large-scale gamebird release and Little Bustard population stability has also been discussed. However, research published in Biological Conservation has revealed how co-operation between different sectors is key to avoiding further declines.

In Spain, the reduction of steppe-like habitat and the disappearance of traditional agriculture and livestock farming has driven the decline of Little Bustard. However, the study states that growing areas of fallow land has helped stabilise populations in Catalonia.

Little Bustard is declining in Spain, but collaboration between different stakeholders could help prevent this (W Schulenburg).


An endangered farmland bird

"This strategy has a positive impact on Little Bustard, mainly because it increases the reproductive success, for it provides the species with everything that has disappeared in the rain-fed agricultural environments as a result of the intensification of agricultural practices," explained Professor Santi Mañosa, from the University of Barcelona's Department of Evolutionary Biology, Ecology and Environmental Sciences.

"In spring, they find food, places for the males to stop and attract females, mate, nest and feed the baby birds. In summer and autumn, and a great part of the winter, when crops are reaped and cultivated, fallow lands are the only places with enough plants to provide Little Bustard flocks with shelter and food."

Fallow land has lost value in Spanish farming in recent years. According to the latest State of Nature in Catalonia report, published in 2020, steppe bird populations have reduced by 27% between 2002 and 2019, mainly due the loss of fallow lands – and Little Bustard has suffered more than most species.


Working together to save birds

The population models generated in the study show that increasing the surface area of fallow land could halt the decline of the species. This, however, requires co-operation and communication between various sectors – chiefly conservationists, farmers and land managers.

Building trust and co-operation between different sectors related to land and biodiversity conservation is the cornerstone for finding solutions to ecological challenges in increasingly complex systems, the paper says.

In 2020, the Spanish Ornithological Society (SEO), BirdLife International's Spanish partner, recommended that Little Bustard should be classified as Endangered in Spain, which it soon was. 



Mañosa, S, & Bota, G. 2023. Modelling the effectivity of a land sparing strategy to preserve an endangered steppe-land bird population in cereal farmland: Scopes and limits. Biological Conservation. DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2023.110386

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