Water for Wetlands, Wetlands for Life

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The Medzibodrožie region is a kind of inland ‘island’, separated from the surrounding area by a series of lowland rivers: Latorica, Bodrog and Tisa. Within the ‘island’, a complex mosaic of habitats exists, made up of over 150 wetlands as well as floodplain forests, oxbow lakes, sand dunes and farmland. Thanks to this high diversity of pristine habitats, the region is one of the most important sites in Slovakia for many protected plant and animal species, including two rare bird species: the bittern (Botaurus stellaris) and the ferruginous duck (Aythya nyroca).

The populations of both species in this region have fluctuated in response to weather conditions, with some years being much drier than others. Major floods nevertheless used to occur every six years on average, replenishing wetlands and restoring the surrounding habitats. However, over time, the dry periods have grown longer and the wetlands have become increasingly degraded through a combination of intensive human use and climate change. This was reflected in the bird numbers: in 2011 there were 40 calling male bitterns in this region, in 2015 only two remained. Similarly, in 2012, 49 Ferruginous ducks were recorded but in 2015 there were none.

This led Birdlife Slovakia to launch a LIFE project to restore the wetlands for the benefit of the two bird species. The project carried out a suite of carefully planned conservation actions to restore and manage 20 wetlands sites over an area of 289 ha within the Special Protection Area (SPA). 54 ha of wetlands were purchased, various constructions were built (five water gates, eight sluices, one dam, one waterfall) and channels were dug to improve the water regime. Soil sediments were removed in relevant locations and water was pumped to recreate wetland area. This was made possible thanks to a very successful cooperation with the Slovak Water Management Company, who provided access to all facilities. More than 14 000 people have been informed about the project.

Finally, National Action Plans were developed for both species and subsequently approved by the Ministry of Environment. Thanks to this project, both species are recovering well. The SPA now hosts 80-100% of all the bitterns and all ferruginous ducks in Slovakia.