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The black stork, one of Estonia’s most endangered birds, got a new action plan for protection

Photo: Black stork babies take a good look at the world. Photo: Indrek Tammekänd
Photo: Black stork babies take a good look at the world. Photo: Indrek Tammekänd

In this year of European cultural heritage, an action plan for protection was made for the black stork, which has been considered a sacred bird since ancient times and lives on the northern edge of its range in Estonia, preferably in ancient forests.

The action plan describes the actions needed for the conservation of the black stork for the years 2018-2022 and the long-term objectives of protection of the species for the next 15 years. The main objective of the next five years is to preserve the stork’s population at its current level of 60-90 pairs and determine the significant factors causing its low density. The most important long-term objective is increasing the density of black stork to at least 200 pairs, preserving also the potential habitats for the black stork which are currently uninhabited.

The first action plan for protection of the black stork was drawn up back in 2003 in Estonia. Over half a century, the density of the species has dropped by two or three times here. The decline of density has slowed over the past 20 years, but due to its small population, the black stork remains “in danger of extinction” in Estonia. At the same time, the density of the species has restored nicely in Western Europe and the black stork is in a good state in the whole Europe.

“The black stork is the flagship species of our nature conservation and an umbrella species, under whose wing live a lot of species of old forests and shaded flowing bodies of water. By protecting the nesting sites of the black stork in old forests, we also help conserve other endangered species. For example, the biodiversity of polypores, lichen, moss, vascular plants and birds was researched in 20 nesting forests of the black stork and it was found that the number of endangered species characteristic to ancient forests was high in the habitats of the stork," said the biodiversity senior specialist Agu Leivits from the Species Protection Office of the Environmental Board.

A significant factor decreasing the reproduction success of the species is drainage of feeding sites suitable for the bird. Research carried out in Estonia has indicated that black storks may feed tens of kilometres away from their nesting site and preferably on natural flowing bodies of water. However, drainage ditches may form an ecological trap for the black stork, when the water level drops significantly in summer when chicks are in nests so there is not always enough food to raise offspring. For this reason, the needs of the black stork must be considered when reconstructing drainage ditches and the negative impact on habitats of the species caused by drainage must be mitigated.

The action plan of the black stork has also covered risks that have an impact from outside of Estonia. Thus, high-profile risks for Estonian black storks who fly on the eastward migratory pathways include the decrease of suitable feeding areas on the migratory paths and on wintering areas, as well as environmental pollutants and the deaths of birds in power lines. The plan prescribes the initiation of preparing an Eastern European black stork action plan in cooperation with countries on the migratory path and the later performance of the joint plan. The approved action plan is available on the website of the Environmental Board.

The new action plan was drawn up in cooperation of black stork experts, the Environmental Board, the Environment Agency and the Ministry of the Environment. The preparation of the action plan was funded with means of the European Regional Development Fund.

The black stork was protected as a natural heritage object as early as in 1958. As of 1994, the black stork is in the category of most strictly protected species.

More information:
Agu Leivits
Biodiversity Head Specialist of the Species Protection Office of the Environmental Board
telephone: 5101 175

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