Like many wetlands, the Rhine region between France and Germany is suffering from a decline in biodiversity.
This is why the cross-border Ramsar Biodiversity project is being carried out to protect threatened animal species, like the owl of Athena, which almost completely vanished from the region 25 years ago.
This situation was caused, in part, by the gradual disappearance of orchards, and their cavity trees, that this particular owl likes to nest in.
However, today the owl of Athena is doing much better thanks to the fruit trees that were planted and the hundreds of nesting boxes installed.
Dominique Bersuder is a volunteer at the Bird Protection League (LPO). He tells us that they now estimate the number of owl pairs in the region of Alsace to be around 700. In the 1990s, there were only 150. According to him, the owl of Athena”s revival is “thanks to the efforts of volunteers who are passionate about this owl”. He adds that “they have made it possible to save this species and help its population grow”.
Six species have been selected for the Ramsar Biodiversity project which covers Germany and France. They include the owl of Athena, the northern lapwing, the water rail, the common tern, Bechstein’s bat and the European tree frog.
The project’s total budget is €1.2 million, half of which is funded by the European Union.
The northern lapwing is a wetland bird whose numbers have declined due to its natural habitat being transformed and drained for agriculture.
For this bird, a number of depressions have been dug along the edges of agricultural land creating ponds that give the lapwing access to larvae and arthropods. They help facilitate its reproduction.
Cathy Zell, the development and communication officer at the LPO, says that “we must always remember that life is part of a large food chain, so if there is a lapwing, there must be food for this lapwing, which feeds on specific vegetation”. She reminds us that we are in “a functional ecosystem, and us humans are part of this great biodiversity.”
Birds have no borders and on the German side of the Rhine, rafts have been adopted by common terns.
This migratory bird usually breeds on stony beaches, safe from predators. Unfortunately, these kinds of beaches have disappeared with the canalisation of the Rhine.
Mare Haider, an ornithologist at the Bühl Institute for Ecology and Nature Conservation, tells us that “the common tern is a species that has the same problem on both sides of the Rhine, namely that it no longer finds natural breeding grounds in our countries”.
Environmentalists insist that we need to urgently reform our agricultural practices to take into account birds which also play an important role in farming.