Alba Project



The project Conservation of nocturnal raptors linked to agricultural sites, known as the Alba Project, which we are executing with the collaboration of the Ministry of Environment, Local Administration and Community Territory Planning of Madrid, seeks to make rainfed agrarian uses compatible with nocturnal birds that depend on these habitats, through direct advice to farmers in areas of the Natura 2000 Network. Intensification agriculture has decreased the populations of prey, and with it the productivity of these raptors. Their populations have descended to dramatic levels. In the case of the barn owl, the most affected specie, we also intend to know the size of its population in our community. The project will positively affect other species of birds dependent on the agricultural environment also threatened.

According to data from the Statistical Yearbook of the Community of Madrid, almost 30% of Madrid’s territory is destined for agricultural use. Of this more than 90% are dedicated to the cultivation of dry land. Considering the enormous extension, and taking into account that this is the habitat on which a large number of species depend, and that most of them show negative population trends due to agricultural practices, if we want to conserve these species, the Madrilenians rainfed fields must receive special attention.

The nocturnal raptors linked to rainfed agriculture show a marked decline. The situation of the barn owl (Tyto alba) is extremely worrying because it is practically disappeared from our territory. In the case of the little owl (Athene noctua), more than half of its members have been lost in a few years. In both cases, the origin of this situation is the agricultural intensification, which reduces their preys and their habitat, which produces a negative impact on the annual productivity per couple. It is not clear if the population decreased by the shortage of trophic resources is a low productivity per couple by size reduction, a low productivity due to high mortality in the year, or a higher juvenile mortality related to the bad physical condition at the time of its dispersion. In any case, the result is that the number of young members who join the reproductive fraction per year is very low. The dynamics of nocturnal raptor populations is based on a continuous change of breeding stock, for which a sufficient annual production of juveniles is available, unattainable with the current reduction of trophic resources.

    ● Promote a rainfed agriculture compatible with the support of the populations of nocturnal raptors and other birds linked to the agricultural environment
    ● Sensitize the rural population about the beneficial effect of many species of birds that are part of the agricultural ecosystem
    ● Diminish the shortage of juveniles of barn owl and little owl in the project areas through reinforcement
    ● Objectively know the amount of the barn owl population in the Community of Madrid
    Advice to farmers in relation to beneficial agricultural practices for these species, through direct contact. Technical advice is provided with measures for their crops that benefit the birds, without their income being affected. They must be easy to apply and not add an additional cost to production. The measures will be shown into a public use manual for anyone who wants to benefit from the project.

    ● Awareness campaign aimed at the rural population, carried out through talks at cultural and social centers, farmers’ associations, schools, etc. In addition, a press campaign is carried out.
    ● Reinforcement of populations with barn owl and little owl specimens recovered in Brinzal or from our captive breeding project.
    ● Census of the owl population, through the collection of recent quotes, presence of media, forums, income in recovery centers, follow-up programs, etc. and field surveys to verify data with volunteer help. With the results obtained, a presence / absence map will be drawn up in the Community of Madrid.

    With the exception of the Barn Owl census, which will be carried out throughout the territory of the Community of Madrid, the actions included in the project were carried out in the following places of the Natura 2000 Network:

    ● ZEC Basin of the Jarama and Henares rivers / ZEPA Cereal steppes of the Jarama and Henares rivers
    ● ZEC Vegas, hills and wastelands of the southeast of Madrid / ZEPA Reedbeds and undergrowths of Aranjuez