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Optimization of the SPA 'Düsterdieker Niederung' (SPA Duesterdieker Niederung)
Start date: Jul 1, 2001, End date: Apr 30, 2007 PROJECT  FINISHED 

Background The Düsterdieker Niederung is an area of original meadow landscape that has survived in the lowlands to the north of the Osnabrück hill country. It is like an island in the middle of intensively farmed countryside. It is a resting and wintering area for 43 bird species listed on Annexes I and II of the Birds Directive. Breeding birds include typical wet grassland species like corncrake (Crex crex), curlew (Numenius arquata) or black-tailed godwit (Limosa limosa). Since the 1930s, however, the area has lost a great deal of its former value. The ruff (Philomachus pugnax) and the spotted crake (Porzana porzana) have virtually disappeared from this area. The main culprit is intensification of farming, made possible by extensive drainage and agricultural 'improvement' of the soils. Since the mid-1980s, efforts have been made to reverse the decline in numbers of important bird species in the Düsterdieker Niederung. Even before this LIFE project, 182 hectares of land had already been bought and restored through the excavation of shallow pools and similar hydrological measures. In spite of the measures undertaken before 2001, only limited success was achieved in reversing the desiccation of the Düsterdieker Niederung. Objectives The beneficiary realised that re-humidification of the Düsterdieker Niederung's meadow landscape would require changes of land use that would impact on the desires of landowners. This LIFE project therefore sought to buy large continuous tracts of land on which to carry out urgent modifications to re-humidify the area. The purchases and work were to be implemented in accordance with the detailed hydrological plan for the area. The planned project area was divided into three distinct zones. Zone 1 was flat grassland with long rows of trees with full-time farmers, which the project aimed to rehumidify. Zone 2 had a mixture of habitats and land use, while zone 3 was an area shaped like a vast shallow saucer made up of gentle slopes around open fen grassland crossed by ditches with only low-key use. The project sought to regulate water levels in these zones to avoid the extremes of wetness or dryness that prevented the areas providing stable habitats or stable land use. Eventually, the project aimed to achieve permanently wet grasslands with scattered reed beds and fens on the re-humidified areas. The whole area would then be managed by means of agri-environment contracts with local farmers. This would provide improved habitats for valuable species and increase their numbers. Results The LIFE project achieved promising results in terms of the hydrology and occurrence of bird species in the target area. However, perhaps the greatest achievement of this project was the successful dialogue with local farmers to overcome their concerns about the effect of the restoration measures. Major problems arose at the beginning of the project since dialogue with landowners had not revealed the opposition from leaseholders of the land who feared for their livelihood. However, the beneficiary was able to undertake constructive dialogue with the local farmers through intensive consultations to overcome their resistance to the project. A mediation process led to an agreement on land use, taking into account the interests of the farmers and the objectives of nature conservation. Some changes were required to the planning through this process. Zone two was removed from the project and was replaced by an additional site at Recker Moor (zone 4). Furthermore, purchases were limited to 94% of the target area of zone one and only 59% of the target area of zone three. Nevertheless, 85% of the target area had rewetting measures implemented, including 100% of zone one. Construction works were carried out on the water inflow system, including diverting and reshaping the main feeder stream (the Westerbecker ditch), section by section. Other large feeders and drains were fitted with controllable sluices, while smaller drains were permanently dammed or even filled in completely. To improve the habitats, nesting facilities were also introduced and a 10kV cable moved underground. At the Recker Moor sub-site, the project was able to do even more than initially anticipated. Around 122 ha of raised bog were positively affected by rewetting conservation measures. Trees and bushes were removed from 140 ha, 4.5 km of peat dams were strengthened, an area of 64 ha of grasslands was managed and hunting facilities and roads were removed. The delays in implementation of the conservation measures required by the consultation process did not allow for full assessment of the impact of the project. Nevertheless, the first positive effects were seen at the Recker Moor sub-site. The more open landscape improved the habitat quality for key species, resulting in increases in the populations of Motacilla flava, Anthus pratensis and Emberiza schoeniclus. The sites will continue to be managed by the beneficiary.
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