Interview with Britta Gronewold from NABU/Birdlife Germany about the conservation of the Lesser Spotted Eagle in Germany

Date of the interview: 03 September 2009

The Lesser Spotted Eagle is the most endangered raptor in Germany. In the Red List for Germany, the species is in category 1 (“critically endangered”).
NABU has been working for years to protect the small eagle species. In this interview, Britta Gronewold from NABU explains the current status of the Lesser Spotted Eagle in Germany, what must be done for it’s conservation and what NABU is doing for the Lesser Spotted Eagle.

Britta Gronewold

Britta Gronewold vom NABU

Markus Jais: What is the current situation for the Lesser Spotted Eagle in Germany?
Britta Gronewold: The population has declined steeply during the last ten years. In the last year, only 102 territories were occupied. About 80 of them are in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, the others are in Brandenburg. In 2008, 81 territories where occupied in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, but only 50 young eagles fledged.

Markus Jais: What habitat does the Lesser Spotted Eagle need?
Britta Gronewold: Lesser Spotted Eagle are very sensitive birds. For breeding they need habitat that is free of disturbance. They prefer well structured deciduous forests mixed with wet areas like wet meadows or alder swamps. Beside the breeding habitat, hunting areas are important. Here, the eagles need meadows and marshes. It’s important that the vegetation is not too high. Because of this, the meadows should be mowed when the young eagles hatch. Of course, fields are also used but they are, especially later in the year, overgrown too densely, so that the Lesser Spotted Eagles can’t hunt there anymore.

Griever Holz

Griever Holz, © Britta Gronewold

Markus Jais: Which food does the Lesser Spotted Eagle need?
Britta Gronewold: The food of the Lesser Spotted Eagle is very versatile. The most important food are voles and other small mammals. But frogs and snakes are taken, too.

Markus Jais: Was threatens the Lesser Spotted Eagle in Germany?
Britta Gronewold: The most serious threat is the lack of suitable habitat. Where are today large, well structured deciduous forests free of disturbance? The landscape is more and more fragmented. Most forests are managed intensively. Many Lesser Spotted Eagle nests are found in protected areas which are not completely drained and managed less intensively.

Markus Jais: The impressive White-tailed Eagle is much better known among the public. Is it important for the Lesser Spotted Eagle to get more public attention?
Britta Gronewold: Sure! Many people don’t even know about Lesser Spotted Eagle and how special it is if they can actually see one. Still, we don’t want to offer large scale Lesser Spotted Eagle safaris. The bird is simply to sensitive. Even a small disturbance can lead the bird to give up it’s territory and never come back. Instead, we use flyers, articles in newspapers and our website to inform people.

Griever Holz

Griever Holz, © Britta Gronewold

Markus Jais: What exactly does NABU do to protect the Lesser Spotted Eagle in Germany?
Britta Gronewold: Beside the already mentioned information and education program, we try to buy valuable habitat for the Lesser Spotted Eagle and save it permanently for conservation. One example is the nature reserve Griever Holz near Rostock. Lesser Spotted Eagles have been breeding there for many years. Currently, NABU owns about half of the 200 ha of the reserve. When we own the habitat, we can do what we want with it. That is, we can just leave it to itself. That way, a beautiful and natural deciduous forests can develop. Beside that, we want to remove the drainage in large parts of the Griever Holz.

Markus Jais: What other species benefit from the conservation work, for example in the Griever Holz?
Britta Gronewold: Naturla deciduous forests, of course, not only are a valuable habitat for Lesser Spotted Eagles but also for many other species. In the Griever Holz Black Woodpecker, Middle Spotted Woodpecker, Stock Pigeon, Eurasian Hobby and Common Crane occur. Black Storcks should also be breeding there, but so far, they are only visitors. In the holes of the woodpeckers there are bats and Edible Dormice. The wet parts are important for many amphibians. And the moors in the forest are habitat for many rare plants.

Griever Holz

Griever Holz, © Klemens Karkow

Markus Jais: Private NGOs alone can’t save the Lesser Spotted Eagle in Germany. What must state and society do to protect the species?
Britta Gronewold: In Generall, the state must make nature conservation a lot more important. But nature conservation doesn’t yield a lot of money. For the state, protecting forests means to loose income from forestry. But we all have a responsibility for future generations. And, at the latest since since the discussion about climate change, it should be clear that nature also has a financial value. That forests can save CO2 is only one example.
Until 2010, that is next year, the loss of biodiversity should be stopped – a European Union wide goal, which will definitely not be reached.

Markus Jais: What must happen on an international level?
Britta Gronewold: International work is very important for the conservation of the Lesser Spotted Eagle. Lesser Spotted Eagles are migratory birds who spend the winter in east African savannahs south of the Equator. Unfortunately, there are still regions on the migration route in which intensive bird hunting is practiced. This year, again a Lesser Spotted Eagle with a transmitter was killed in the Middle East. Of course, those birds are only the tip of the iceberg. Beside the migration route, the wintering areas are important, too. How are the conditions there? Not much is known about that.

Markus Jais: What was your most amazing experiecen with Lesser Spotted Eagles?
Britta Gronewold: It was during an excursion throught the Griever Holz during a sunny day in late summer. The young eagle has already fledged and was flying with one of it’s parents. We could watch both for at least 20 minutes as they flew past us, made their typical “tjück” calls and chased away a Common Buzzard. I’ve never better seen Lesser Spotted Eagles.

Markus Jais: Britta, thank you very much for the interview

Further Information

Lesser Spotted Eagle species acount on – Website about the Lesser Spotted Eagle conservation work done by NABU/Birdlife Germany