Latest farm product: Meadowbirds

The conventional way of protecting meadowbirds in The Netherlands is to pay farmers for setting aside the best breeding areas. But now there's a better way: paying farmers for each meadowbird clutch means more effective protection at a lower cost, according to new research in the April issue of Conservation Biology.

This approach has the added benefit of putting farmers and conservationists on the same side. "Most of the farmers participating...reacted enthusiastically and cooperated wholeheartedly with conservationists," say Kees Musters of Leiden University in Leiden, The Netherlands, and his three co-authors.

The Netherlands' expanses of grasslands have 28 species of meadowbirds and are the major breeding grounds for six species. Notably, up to 90% of the black-tailed godwits in Western and Central Europe breed there. Because most of The Netherlands' meadowbird habitat is used for intensive dairy farming, the Dutch government pays dairy farmers to protect crucial areas during the breeding season by, for instance, mowing in mid-June instead of in early May. However, this approach is expensive, coming to 100-400 Euro/clutch (a Euro is about a U.S. dollar).

To see if they could come up with a better way to preserve meadowbirds, Musters and his colleagues studied paying farmers per clutch rather than for restricting their farming practices. The researchers monitored breeding on about 20 acres of the richest meadowbird habitat in 13 farms in the Western Peat Area: farmers were paid per clutch in 10 experimental farms and were paid nothing in three control farms (interestingly, the researchers started with nine control farms but had to throw out six of them because the farmers became so heavily involved in bird management).

Musters and his colleagues found that their method of conserving meadowbirds was effective. Farms that were paid per clutch had greater hatching success than farms that were not: about 65% vs. 48% f

Contact: Kees Musters
Society for Conservation Biology

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