The black-tailed godwit (Limosa limosa) is one of the most threatened bird species in Bavaria. Ornithologists counted only 19 breeding pairs in 2021 – throughout the Free State. And that despite the fact that a multi-million dollar species support program for meadow breeders, which includes the large, elegant wader, has been running since 2014. “Black-tailed godwits are so-called living dead,” says the chairman of the State Association for Bird Protection (LBV), Norbert Schäffer, “although some living specimens are still at home here with us. But they have far too few offspring. It won’t be long long enough, then the species has disappeared from us.”
Schäffer is determined to prevent the black-tailed godwit from dying out in Bavaria. Under the slogan “extreme nature conservation” he calls for a new program for the species that is as radical as it is complex. “We should get the eggs out of the clutches of the few breeding pairs here and incubate them artificially,” says the LBV boss. “Then we should raise the young birds and only release them to suitable wet meadows when they have fledged.”
The method would be a novelty in bird protection in Bavaria. Schäffer wants to ensure that the eggs of the 19 breeding pairs actually do fledge. “The black-tailed godwit is so acutely threatened with extinction that we cannot afford to lose its eggs,” says Schäffer – be it due to unfavorable weather, foxes, martens and other nest robbers, or because of walkers or recreational athletes who like to watch the birds disturb the brood that they give up their clutches.
Black-tailed godwits were once widespread in Bavaria. The long-legged, up to 45 centimeters tall, slender waders have a long, straight beak with which they poke for worms and other animals in the wet meadows of the river and stream landscapes. They have gray-brown feathers on their bodies, and their heads and undersides are banded with rusty red and brown. In Bavaria black-tailed godwits are only found in the Regen near Cham, in Wiesmet in Middle Franconia, on the Altmühl and the Danube near Straubing and in the Erdinger Moos and Bergener Moos near Traunstein. The species is also threatened with extinction in the rest of Germany. The main reason is the drainage of bogs and other wetlands for agriculture.
Clear criticism of the radical method
Josef H. Reichholf objects to “extreme nature conservation” for the black-tailed godwit. The zoologist and former head of the ornithology section at the Zoological State Collection is one of the leading ecologists in Germany. “As threatened as the black-tailed godwit is here, globally the stocks are still secure,” he says. “If the black-tailed godwit is to stay at home with us, we have to provide sufficient habitats.” So renaturate wet meadows and moors and rely on extensive, bird-friendly agriculture. “Then some settle again,” says Reichholf. He refers to observations in his home in Aigen am Inn.
The reason for Reichholf’s criticism of “extreme nature conservation”: It has just as uncertain a chance of success as traditional methods and is also extremely labour-intensive and expensive. “Inexperienced young birds that have just fledged are likely to have just as high a failure rate as the breeding pairs in which the brood fails,” says the zoologist. Because the young birds are also exposed to adverse weather conditions, predators and the ruthlessness of some people.
From Reichholf’s point of view, it promises more success “if we put the money and the personnel, which is extremely necessary for nature conservation, into the restoration of black-tailed godwit habitats”. Schäffer replies that “the black-tailed godwits will be extinct in our country until sufficient wet meadows and moors have been renatured for them”. You have to anticipate that. “Because if there are no more black-tailed godwits, no one will want to restore their habitats.”
Of course, there are species for which Reichholf also considers “extreme conservation” to be correct. The fire salamander (Salamandra salamandra) for example. The amphibians are threatened by a fungus called bsal. It is so aggressive that conservationists fear for the entire fire salamander population in Bavaria. For this reason, an aid program for the conspicuously black and yellow spotted species of amphibian has recently been running.
The LBV organizes “preservation breeding” within the scope of its possibilities. Fire salamanders from the various regions of Bavaria are kept in terrariums and bred in reserve. Should Bsal then actually wipe out a local population, you would have tailor-made breeding specimens that could be released. “It makes sense because there is no other option against Bsal,” says Reichholf. “The habitats for the fire salamanders in Bavaria are comparatively intact.”
Another example is the natterjack toad (Bufo calamita). The frogs with the whitish-yellow stripes on their backs, whose calls can sometimes be heard more than two kilometers away, live on dry, sandy soils, for example on sand and gravel banks of streams and rivers as well as on floodplains in their floodplains. Such landscapes have almost completely disappeared in Bavaria. And with them the Natterjack Toads.
In the meantime, however, it has been found that Natterjack Toads feel at home in sand quarries and quarries. Because there are exactly the pools and sandy areas that you need. “But the occurrences are so far apart that there is no exchange between the respective natterjack toads,” says Schäffer. But it is essential for a vital population. So the LBV boss would like to transplant “bucket natterjack toad tadpoles” from one quarry to another so that the population as a whole stabilizes. Reichholf likes the idea.