MOS5 2023 Bratislava, Slovakia - King of the Steppes deserves better protection

An iconic species of the European lowlands, the Great Bustard, is endangered due to loss of its habitats. Therefore 23 years ago the Memorandum of Understanding on the conservation and management of the Central European population of the Great Bustard was signed. Till now it was signed by 14 countries where this bird species lives or has its natural areal. This week Bratislava hosts two important meetings aimed at the great bustard protection: scientific symposium and the 5th Meeting of Signatories of the above mentioned Memorandum. Over 40 participants from 14 countries will assess the status and effectiveness of the already implemented measures and set future tasks. During the press conference representatives from Hungary, Austria and Slovakia will sign a common declaration targeted to the three-border region where the Great Bustard still occurs. While the Western Pannonian population, which lives on the Slovak-Hungarian-Austrian border, has been multiplying over the last 28 years, the overall European population has been declining.

According to the recent study by Mimi Kessler (2022), the global population consists of an estimated 29,060 - 32,449 individuals. The majority of the Great Bustard population, around 27,987 to 30,436 individuals, live in Europe (update on the status of the european Great Bustard population during the MOS5 2023 in Bratislava, Slovakia). Not only the world population but also the european population has declined by 1/3 in 11 years. This fact was the reason for the meeting of a number of experts at a scientific symposium held on 18-19 September in Bratislava. The expert event was followed, for the first time in Slovakia, by the fifth meeting of the signatories of the Memorandum, held on 20- 21 September2023.

The Declaration on the long-term conservation of the Great Bustard in the tri-border region of Hungary, Austria and Slovakia and its surroundings was signed by the representatives of these three countries. By this act they committed together to protect and improve natural conditions for better life of the Bustard, to increase its population status through monitoring and research and, last but not least, to afford one another immediate cooperation in sharing information on the current support provided to farmers under the EU Common Agricultural Policy.

"The Bustard was once a relatively abundant bird in Slovakia. Today this claim is no longer valid. Hence, it is necessary to increase efforts to protect the Great Bustard while setting up pragmatic rules on the support provided to farmers," said Katarína Butkovská, State Secretary of the Ministry of the Environment.

"The Great Bustard is a characteristic bird of the Hungarian “puszta”, that is, the vast open lowland plains in Hungary. The protection of this “flagship species” and its habitats means safeguarding the future of many other wild animals and plants as well as a part of the Hungarian culture, our heritage of rural life in the “puszta”, the life and work of herdsmen and farmers. Therefore, we support extensive forms of agriculture to help maintain a traditional and sustainable lifestyle and a close-to-nature countryside. Thanks to the efforts of nature conservation supported by LIFE Nature projects and in co-operation with our neighbouring countries, the Hungarian population of Great Bustard has stabilised and even started to grow in the last two decades. We hope the declaration signed today will further strengthen our collaboration and increase the success of our work," said  Bertalan Balczó, the Hungarian Deputy State Secretary.

The fact that one of the rare growing populations of the Bustard in Europe is the West Pannonian population extending into Slovakia is encouraging indeed. The population, which occurs in the tri-border area of Austria, Hungary and Slovakia, now stands at 650 individuals, a significant increase from a minimum of 130 individuals in 1995. The abundance of the Bustard has grown mainly due to active measures taken by both Austria and Hungary.

"In 2001, Austria signed the Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation and Management of the Middle-European Population of the Great Bustard (Otis tarda). Since then, the effort to protect the Great Bustard increased significantly. The increase in the West Pannonian population was only possible thanks to the conservation efforts and the cooperation especially between the farmers, conservationists and ministries," said Peter Iwaniewicz, Director, Federal Ministry for Climate Action, Republic of Austria.

“The Great Bustard is the largest flying bird in Europe and a flagship species for the protection and promotion of open European landscapes. Yet, this CMS-listed species is also Globally Threatened and has been undergoing severe population declines in many parts of its range. We therefore welcome the work being done by the Signatories of the CMS Great Bustard MoU to halt and reverse the decline of this species. The inclusive conservation and management efforts involving all local stakeholders are a great conservation success story and a model for others to follow.”said Amy Fraenkel, Executive Secretary, Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals.

More Information on the MOS5 can be found here


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