It is known as the biggest flying bird in the world, with a weight ranging from 5 to 15 kilograms. Great bustards, which favour agricultural landscapes or steppes, are known as farmer-friendly animals that feed on unwanted insects. Unfortunately, great bustards are threatened globally, listed as vulnerable in the Red List of Threatened Species, published by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The threats they encounter are numerous. The steppes that are their natural habitat have become either fragmented or degraded by human activities, such as extensive agricultural practices and massive urban development. Excessive use of agricultural chemicals and intense irrigation techniques, for example, typically have irreversible impacts on steppes and their surrounding ecosystems. Over 40 percent of Turkey is considered steppe.
FAO and the Nature Conservation Centre in Turkey are working on strategies for protecting great bustards, under a project financed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF). The ongoing work focuses on identification of distribution areas as well as identification of major threats and the conservation strategies that would address them.
The relationship between healthy steppes and thriving great bustard populations are well interlinked: The presence of these birds is considered proof of effective, sustainable land management practices.
The Turkish province of Konya is being used as a pilot area for the project. A recently conducted workshop focused on development of agricultural practices adjusted for conservation, elimination of illegal hunting, identification of areas for protection and sharing the results of preliminary studies.
The project team has been observing great bustards in Konya since last spring to learn more about their biology, including seasonal migration behaviours, and to identify the threats the birds encounter.
Turkey’s Nature Conservation Centre is closely collaborating with the General Directorate of Agricultural Enterprises, which has been working toward providing protected areas for great bustards in Turkey for years.
The conservation of great bustards – as part of an action plan – is to complement the project’s biodiversity element that focuses on developing a biodiversity management plan and mainstreaming biodiversity into land use management. Other elements of the project include implementation of climate-friendly agriculture practices, establishment of farmer field schools, rehabilitation of forest and pasture lands and installation of biogas units. In combining these elements, the project aims to showcase an integrated approach to sustainable land management.
The “Sustainable Land Management and Climate-Smart Agriculture” project is funded by the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), with Turkey’s Ministry of Forestry and Water Affairs (MoFWA) and the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Livestock (MoFAL) as executive partners and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) as implementing agency. Nature Conservation Centre (DKM) and Konya Seker are other project partners.