Restore the Berlengas Islands ecosystem to protect seabirds and native plants

Five partners led by the Sociedade Portuguesa para o Estudo das Aves (SPEA) carried out a series of conservation actions within the framework of a LIFE Nature project to restore the valuable habitats, endemic plants and seabird populations on the Berlengas Islands, which form part of the Natura 2000 network. Despite their isolation, these islands are threatened by a number of factors, in particular the presence of invasive alien species, an abundant population of yellow-legged gull, and the increasing impact of unregulated tourism.

Since 2014, measures have been taken to restore this precious island ecosystem. These measures included the eradication of black rats that prey on seabird chicks and eggs, as well as the eradication of rabbits, responsible for the destruction of native vegetation. The yellow-legged gull population was also controlled. In addition, around 90% of the area covered by the invasive hottentot fig (Carpobrotus edulis), has been manually cleared through volunteer work, enabling the expansion of rare native plants and habitats.

160 artificial nests were built for the Cory’s shearwater (Calonectris borealis) and band-rumped storm-petrel (Oceanodroma castro), leading to an almost immediate increase in their breeding success. For the first time ever, a storm-petrel chick hatched on Berlenga island, indicating that the species is expanding its breeding range. Previously, it was restricted to the smaller islets in the archipelago.

Finally, a visitor barometer was developed to monitor visitor numbers and inform those arriving of past and future conservation efforts on the islands so as to increase their awareness of this unique but fragile environment. The visitor surveys were used to support decisions on visitor management. In 2019, this led to the publication of an ordinance defining the human load capacity for the land area. The Berlengas Nature Reserve is now the Portuguese Protected Area with the most information on visitation, which is essential for the sustainable management of this activity. It also demonstrates that protecting natural heritage and ensuring a positive visitor experience can go hand in hand.

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