Country Infos

Country Profile Manager:
Bettina Matzdorf
Leibniz-Zentrum für Agrarlandschaftsforschung (ZALF)

Coordinated grassland bird protection (Gemeinschaftlicher Wiesenvogelschutz) - Schleswig-Holstein




The ‘cooperation for grassland bird protection’ (‘Gemeinschaftlicher Wiesenschutz’) scheme pays grassland farmers in various regions of Schleswig-Holstein for the protection of grassland bird nest sites in fields when mowing, grazing or managing the grassland. The payment varies according to the number of bird clutches per hectare and the degree to which the birds result in delays to farming operations. The scheme is designed to protect Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus), Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa), Curlew (Numenius arquata), Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus), and Redshank (Tringa tetanus). The Schleswig-Holstein programme currently covers around 220 km2 and is growing rapidly - each year the number of participating farmers and the area covered by the scheme increases. It is funded through Schleswig-Holstein federal state funds, and organised by local organisations, for example the Kuno cooperative in the Eider-Treene-Sorge region. The Michael-Otto-Institut of NABU coordinates all projects of this nature in Schleswig-Holstein.

Location of the scheme

one region

Varous regions of the German federal state Schleswig-Holstein (north of Germany).

Duration of the scheme

Since: 1997
Until: ongoing

Objective(s) of the scheme / project

  • Biodiversity

Maintain the breeding population of grassland-breeding bird.

Which habitats or species are in the focus of the scheme / project?

  • Species (incl. species of FFH-D. and Birds Directive (BD))

Grassland-breeding birds: Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus), Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa), Curlew (Numenius arquata), Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus), and Redshank (Tringa tetanus).

Which indicators are used?

  • Species (incl FFH and BD)

Payments are dependent on the presence of breeding birds and vary according to whether one or more clutches are present per hectare.

Design of scheme / project

  • Hybrid result based payment with complementary management based payments

The farmer must avoid carrying out actions that would affect breeding birds during the breeding season. The restrictions end after the chicks have fledged and the birds have left the field. The scheme is relatively simple in its operation with specific management requirements agreed verbally between the farmer and the scheme contact person for that area at the beginning of the bird breeding season. Changes in farmers’ management differ according to region in relation to the relative abundance of the different species. Most of the payments in 2013 in Schleswig-Holstein went to field parcels where farmers delayed their spring grassland management (i.e. rolling), mainly for Lapwing in the Eider-Treene-Sorge Niederung, but in the regions with greater abundance of Black-tailed Godwit (i.e. the islands Föhr and Pellworm), most of the farmers delayed grass cutting because this species remains on the parcel for longer.
In some years, brood losses to predators are very high, including fox (Vulpes vulpes), stoat (Mustela erminea), mink (Mustela lutreola) and racoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides). However, based on a 5-year programme of research on bird predators, the cooperative concluded that predator control measures would not achieve any significant benefits for bird populations. The farmers are paid for bird clutches lost to predation in order to avoid any incentive for predator control measures.
The scheme requires the presence of breeding birds of the target species on grassland parcels. The scheme does not apply to arable parcels or to publicly owned land. The scheme cannot be used for parcels that are already part of an agri-environment contract or other nature conservation contract that specify similar management actions, but can be combined with agri-environment payments for basic management measures that do not provide any protection for breeding birds. The commitment is on an annual basis.

By which fund(s) is the scheme / project implemented?

  • Others

The scheme is funded through Schleswig-Holstein federal state funds (from the ministry for energy, environment, agriculture and rural areas, MELUR).

How are the incentives (payment levels) calculated?

  • Other

Payment rates are agreed by the Schleswig-Holstein agriculture ministry based on standard rates for reimbursement of the management actions and restrictions that are required to protect the breeding birds. The local organisations request funds from the ministry annually based on estimates of expected payments. 

Farmers receive between €150 and €350 (increased from €300 in 2012) per hectare for those areas on which birds have bred. The payments are graded depending on the degree to which farming activities are affected and whether one or more breeding pairs are present on the parcel. The farmer receives €150/ha for each hectare with at least one nest site, and €350/ha for each hectare with two or more nest sites. If the hectares with a single nest site still have the birds on the parcel at the end of May (and therefore delay management or require protective measures), the farmer receives €350/ha. These payments are based on the following actions:

  1. Early season: Where early nesting birds (from end March) affect spring grassland management (sub-soiling/aerating, rolling, fertilising using manure), it is usually sufficient to mark the nest sites with bamboo canes so that the farmer can avoid the sites when using the tractor and farm machinery.
  2. Mown grass: If the birds are still present at the first mowing date, the farmer must either delay mowing on the whole parcel or on parts. This decision is made on a case-by-case basis depending on where the bird families are on the parcel. In this case, the farmer is paid €350/ha for each ha with one or more breeding pairs. If there are numerous nest sites on the parcel, it may become necessary to delay mowing on the whole parcel.
  3. Grazed grass: On grazed parcels, the farmer can choose to either protect each site with a 20m x 20m fence (where possible electrified), or to delay grazing the site until the birds have left.

The payments are made when the birds have left the parcel or if the bird clutches or chicks are lost through natural causes (e.g. weather or predators). The payment is not made if the bird clutches are lost through the farmer’s action (e.g. from machinery) or through negligence (e.g. not fencing from livestock). The payment is also not made if the farmer fails to notify the local scheme contact person before they carry out management on the parcel.

How many hectares are in the scheme?

  • 501 – 1.000

How many farmers take part in the scheme?

  • 101 – 500

Are there any evaluation results?

  • Yes

In control areas, the number of bird pairs fluctuates, but remains constant over the years. The constant trend and the breeding success of black-tailed godwit and northern lapwing clearly differ from the national negative trend of bird numbers.

Further information is available in German.


Contact person

NABU - Michael-Ott-Institut Bergenhusen
Kuno e.V.




Information taken from the EU commission result-based payment fiche.

Scientific evaluation of the scheme in the Eider-Treene-Sorge Niederung region has been carried out since 1999 by the Michael-Otto Institute of the German nature conservation NGO NABU. NABU and the Kuno cooperative record annual data on the number of nest sites, clutches, species, and management changes carried out by farmers. They then submit annual reports to MELUR, the ministry funding the payments. Baseline data on the total breeding success of each species in Schleswig-Holstein is published regularly in a red list. Detailed data on breeding success are being collected from a 431 ha area in the Eider-Treene-Sorge-Niederung, including breeding territories, egg brooding time, predation rate, fledging rate, chick survival rate and number of chicks per territory. The populations of Black-tailed Godwit and Curlew in this area have remained stable in this area since the 1990s, whilst the Lapwing population dropped significantly in 2009 but has since recovered with overall positive trends between 2007 and 2013.

Monitoring Framework

Monitoring and control is carried out by conservation volunteers, recruited with the help of NABU, who must regularly visit the parcels. Each volunteer is designated as a contact person for a local area, in which they generally already have good contacts (local farmers, hunters, or others), and which they monitor on at least a weekly basis and some daily. When they record the presence of breeding birds they approach the farmer, and if the farmer is willing to participate at that time, they mark the bird nest area and negotiate the payment and management requirements. Alternatively, the farmer may contact the volunteer to say they have found breeding birds on their land.

As soon as the contact person notices that the birds have left the site, he or she removes the markers and the farmer is free to manage the parcel without restrictions. The farmer must notify the bird volunteer before they carry out any management actions on the site. Bird clutches killed through farmer management actions are relatively easy to identify where evidence of management on the parcel can be seen, as well as direct damage to the marker posts and nest spot. If eggs or chicks vanish without any traces of damage through management actions, the losses are attributed to predators or other natural factors.

Observed ecological results

In 2013, 632 breeding bird clutches were protected by the scheme in Schleswig-Holstein, and 122 farmers took part with a total of 420 ha grassland. The scheme in the Eider-Treene-Sorge-Niederung has protected a total of 2,003 breeding pairs between 2007 and 2013 (of which 64% were Lapwing pairs, 23% Black-tailed Godwit pairs, 9% Curlew pairs, 2% Redshank and 1% other species). This represents more than 5% of the Black-tailed Godwit population in this area, nearly 15% of the Curlew population, and 2.4% of the much more abundant Lapwing population. The average chick survival rate for Lapwings of 0.5 chicks per territory shows that despite the high predation rate, the species is just about maintaining its population (as measured in the 431 ha evaluation area). Although the data on the other species is less detailed, it can be assumed that their chick survival rate is higher. This shows that if losses through farm management can be avoided, the populations of these breeding birds are still viable in this region. As 70% to 80% of these birds are nesting within the Natura 2000 SPA area, the scheme is playing an important role in fulfilling the requirements of the Birds Directive in Schleswig-Holstein.

Most of the protected bird clutches in the whole area in 2013 were of Lapwing (384 pairs), Curlew (43 pairs), and Black-tailed Godwit (140 pairs). Oystercatcher (39 pairs) and Redshank (26 pairs) are underrepresented, partly because of their geographical concentration on the coast (away from the scheme area), and partly because their abundance on the islands means that their presence on the parcels is not always recorded. A comparison of the number of protected breeding pairs with the total number of breeding pairs in Schleswig-Holstein shows that in 2013 the scheme protected 11.2% of Black-tailed Godwit pairs, 14% of Curlew pairs, and around 3% of Lapwing pairs. The Curlew, a key target species because of its near threatened red list status, is difficult to locate as the adult birds are very secretive, and only the brooding bird remains on the parcel. As the adults are long-lived and show a high fidelity to nest sites, it is important that the scheme continues particularly in the Obertalster-Niederung (where no agreements could be made in 2013 because no breeding Curlews were found in this area. Breeding bird detection is made difficult by the large parcel sizes, many roads, and geographical constraints), so it is important that volunteers receive sufficient support to continue searching for breeding birds on the grassland parcels.

Observed socio-economic results

Most of the farmers who participate in the scheme have not previously taken part in any agri-environment contracts or other nature conservation schemes. The scheme gives them a positive experience of nature conservation measures without requiring a long term commitment. The direct engagement with the area contacts and the joint problem solving approach has increased the confidence of farmers in nature conservation agreements, and has encouraged a number of farmers to sign up to agri-environment contracts. It is therefore acting as a stepping-stone to greater engagement in nature conservation, as well as opening up new opportunities for farmers to receive an income from nature conservation. Farmers often also take their children on their tractors to see the bird protection measures, thereby passing on the appreciation of bird protection to their children. Some farm children are earning pocket money searching out bird nest sites.

The Kuno cooperative runs several annual events for farmers and other local stakeholders to promote the bird protection schemes. As an example of its success, the area within the scheme in the Eider-Treene-Sorge-Niederung has increased from 190 ha in 2005 to 310 ha in 2013, and the number of farmers from 38 in 2005 to 87 in 2013, including 9 new farmers in the year 2013 (Jeromin & Evers 2013b). The scheme has been taken up by the German NGO NABU and is now being offered to farmers in six regions of Schleswig-Holstein.


Success Factors

The scheme in Schleswig-Holstein is considered to be very successful due to the simple, flexible administration, in which farmers commit their parcels only for one breeding season, as well as the direct engagement with the area contacts. Farmers are generally already motivated to protect grassland birds as they are easily visible and recognised; farmers do not like to kill them, and in fact are already attempting to protect nest sites even without entry into the scheme. Farmers also engage readily because the payments relate to solving an on-the-ground problem, i.e. the presence of the nesting birds, rather than aiming at some future, more abstract nature conservation vision. One of the key success factors to this scheme is that it originated from an initiative of farmers in the Eider-Treene-Sorge Niederung area in collaboration with the local nature conservation organisation. It was so successful that the management was taken on by the Kuno cooperative, an association of local farmers with representatives of the local nature conservation groups, local authorities, and government agencies. The involvement of the Kuno cooperative helps in the running of the scheme and in engagement with farmers and conservation volunteers.


The schemes are very reliant on the work of volunteers who operate as local area contacts, scout and monitor the breeding birds, and communicate with the farmers. For example, in the Eider-Treene-Sorge-Niederung, 12 of the 17 area contacts are volunteers. The willingness of farmers to participate is also important. It is therefore a constant challenge to support their work and to find new volunteers, and this is currently a barrier to the expansion of the scheme, which monitored a total of 220 km2 in 2013. For example, the map of Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa) nesting areas shows that there is further potential to expand the scheme to protect more of the breeding population.

The volunteers must be adequately supported through training, regular back-up and guidance, particularly in conflict situations, and regular events to maintain motivation, such as expenses-paid annual celebrations and events. There are regular practical problems with implementation, including locating nests on difficult sites, bird clutches that move about a lot during mowing, and particularly difficult farmers, which require efficient interventions and volunteer support from the organisations running the schemes. NABU is therefore building up partnerships with local NGOs to share the supervision of the scheme, e.g. the Bündnis Naturschutz in Dithmarschen.

The scheme only functions in grassland areas where the target bird populations are still relatively abundant, i.e. where sufficient feeding and refuge habitat is available on the pastures or on nature conservation-managed sites near the grassland parcels, and/or areas of low productivity grassland where the barriers to intensification are high (e.g. where the grassland is very wet). However, grassland farmers are under increasing economic pressure to increase the number of grass cuts per year as grassland is being replaced by maize production to supply biomass to anaerobic digesters. The biogas subsidies have also been associated with increasing land and lease prices. Increasing livestock feed prices are also increasing the incentive to produce silage rather than delaying cutting.