Montagu’s harriers breed again in the Westhoek

dMontagu’s Harrier is a protected bird of prey that breeds extremely rarely in Flanders. It is a beautiful bird of prey that nests in open agricultural areas if sufficient food and nesting opportunities are available. Field mice are at the top of the bird’s menu. The harriers will soon begin their journey to their wintering grounds in Africa.

Since 2018, Westhoek has welcomed a pair of Montagu’s harriers almost every year. In 2020, 2 pairs nested on the same plot near West-Vleteren Abbey. Also this year, a pair hatched successfully in Krombeke-Poperinge. The male of this pair was also a chick from the very first nest in Diksmuide in 2018. No less than 4 young hawks fledged. This is primarily due to the fantastic cooperation from the farmer involved and the professional nest protection and follow-up by Natuurwerkgroep de Kerkuil.

Wim Bovens from Natuurwerkgroep de Kerkuil: “The most important step in the protection of harriers is a friendly conversation with the farmer. Once he is aware of the presence of a nest in his grain or pasture and hears what the nest protection means, the nest is already 95% protected.”

Even more impressive is the establishment of 2 pairs in Moeren. A pair bred on both Belgian and French territory. Two young fledged from each nest. The male of the Flemish couple was a youngster from 1 of the nests from 2020 at the monastery West-Vleteren.

In addition to Montagu’s harriers themselves, the farmers involved, the French partners and Natuurwerkgroep De Kerkuil also played the main role in the success story of De Moeren.

Species protection

The Flemish part of the Moeren, in addition to various areas in Flemish Brabant and Limburg, has since 2015 been included in the ‘Species protection program for Montagu’s Harrier’ from the Nature and Forestry Agency in order to achieve the Flemish objectives for species. With attention to ecologically permanent structures in the landscape and through targeted measures for the species, the aim is to create a suitable habitat for the bird in these areas. In the long term, the goal is to achieve 15 breeding pairs at the Flemish level.

In Westhoek, the business planner Dieter worked hard to achieve the intended goals through the management agreements that the farmers enter into with the Flemish Land Agency.

Dieter Coelembier: “In de Moeren, we have for years used the management agreements area-oriented in the function of field birds. Since 2018 this has also been done with a concentrated deployment of measures specifically for Montagu’s harriers. The fact that the species is now establishing itself where the measures are taken is a huge boost for the participating farmers, for myself, VLM and all partners. It is further proof that cooperation and an area-oriented use of management agreements pays off.”

bird field

The most important provision for Montagu’s harriers is the ‘bird field’. It is a Dutch concept that mainly delivers food in the form of mice. The grounds are arranged with strips of alfalfa interspersed with grass-cereal-herb strips. The mice become visible and available for hunting hawks through a defined cutting control of the alfalfa strips. In addition to the many other management agreements in De Moeren, VLM’s business planner entered into no fewer than 8 such management agreements for bird fields with farmers, good for almost 70 ha of hawk-friendly measures.

All parent birds were provided with a transmitter by employees of the Institute for Nature and Forestry Research. It makes it possible to find out how the birds use the landscape and the measures. The transmitters also make it possible to follow the birds to and from their wintering grounds in Africa. The transmitters also ensure that future breeding sites are detected more quickly and protective measures can be deployed more quickly.

Management agreements

The management agreements starting from 2023 will remain voluntary, five-year agreements between a farmer and VLM, where the farmer is compensated for his efforts. The focus will be on combating the loss of biodiversity in the agricultural area and protecting species that depend on and are linked to agricultural activities in an area. Just think of the lark, the partridge, the black-tailed godwit and the Montagu’s hawk. These species have declined sharply in recent decades.

The hen hawk breeding cases prove once again that farmers with management agreements achieve fantastic results. The measures that farmers have implemented in recent years are crucial for more biodiversity and a more beautiful landscape in Flanders. VLM thanks the farmers for all their efforts and hopes for good further cooperation in the coming years.

VLM

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