News July 2024

Agricultural species monitoring network across Flanders

Breeding birds in agricultural areas declined by as much as 75% between 2007 and 2023. The cause is mainly the intensification of agriculture: birds do not get enough time between operations to complete a clutch successfully, or find too little food. There is insufficient safe shelter, foraging and nesting space available.

This is why the project 'Agricultural Species Monitoring Network', Meetnet Agrarische Soorten (MAS), has been running since 2021. This monitors trends of birds of the agricultural area more accurately than the already existing monitoring networks. Mammals are also included in the survey.

As of 2024, the MAS project has been rolled out across Flanders: there are 1,450 monitoring points randomly distributed across all agricultural regions, in both open and semi-open landscapes. There, volunteers and professionals count all birds and mammals present for 10 minutes four times per breeding season, within a 300-metre radius of the counting point. They check whether the birds are simply present, whether they are territorial and singing, or building their nests.

Moreover, we examine the breeding success and foraging behaviour of two vulnerable field species: the skylark and the corn bunting. The skylark has experienced a decline of -70% since 1980, but is still fairly widespread in parts of Flanders. Of the corn bunting, only about 60 breeding pairs remain, compared to about 1,500 in the 1990s. For these two species, we look in more detail at what the number of territories (measured during MAS counts) tells us about effective nesting success, and what the success factors are. We are also observing where the birds go to get the food for their young, how long it takes and how many insects they bring in; in doing so, we want to better understand what combination of crops, measures and management is essential to raise young.

>> Project description 

Johannes Jansen, Nicolas Van Overmeeren, Simon Desmet

Image above: corn bunting, photo Yves Adams (Vildaphoto)



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