© Marcel Burkhardt
A flourishing landscape
The Swiss Ornithological Institute has supported the ecological restoration of the Klettgau region in the canton of Schaffhausen since the 1990s – with considerable success: today, it is among the most diverse and ecologically rich farmland regions in Switzerland.
Photo © Markus Jenny
In the early 1990s, the Swiss Ornithological Institute set the objective of conserving the last two populations of Grey Partridge in Switzerland, in the Champagne genevoise (Geneva) and the Klettgau (Schaffhausen). Extensive restoration was required in these two regions of open farmland: at least 10 % of the area needed to be covered by wildflower plots, rotational setasides, high-quality, extensively grazed pastures, field margins and low hedgerows. Other species stood to benefit from this ecological enhancement along with the Grey Partridge. The effective cooperation between employees of the Swiss Ornithological Institute and local farmers and the support supplied by the cantons resulted in a close network of high-quality habitat in both regions. In the Klettgau, non-intensive emmer and einkorn fields have come to complement these semi-natural habitats since 1994. The various sections of the Klettgau area developed very differently depending on the character of the land and the respective interests of the farmers. In the Widen section, high-quality biodiversity promotion areas (BPA) increased to 14.1 % in 2019. The percentage in the other two sections only reached 6.4 % and 4.8 %, but was still above average compared to the rest of Switzerland.
These measures led to a rise in several bird populations. The increases were significantly greater in Widen, the section with the highest proportion of BPA. Studies showed that some breeding bird species require 14 % of semi-natural areas, such as high-quality BPA or uncultivated areas, to reach the density needed for the population to survive. Despite the enhancements, there were also setbacks: the measures came too late to save the Grey Partridge, and the Corn Bunting population has recently collapsed, despite a positive trend until 2010.
But agriculture is not the only challenge to conservation. Construction projects also repeatedly create problems. For instance, a railway line of the Deutsche Bahn runs straight through the Klettgau. The embankments provided particularly valuable habitat for Redbacked Shrikes and Greater Whitethroats to breed. When the line was double-tracked, much of this habitat was destroyed. Thanks to the efforts of the Swiss Ornithological Institute and local conservation groups, measures have since been taken to compensate for the loss, and the habitat quality has improved.
Large-scale ecological restoration of a landscape like in the Klettgau requires the commitment and cooperation of many different actors; in this case it involved the Swiss Ornithological Institute, farms, conservationists and the cantonal authorities. The Klettgau is a showcase project for all of Switzerland demonstrating that farming and ecology really can go hand in hand.
New regional branch in north-eastern Switzerland
Following the retirement of Markus Jenny, who advanced and coordinated the projects in the Klettgau for years, the Swiss Ornithological Institute is committed to continuing its work in the region. In May 2022, a new regional branch will open in Schaffhausen. Along with the Klettgau projects, the regional office will supervise a wide range of activities in north-eastern Switzerland, especially in the cantons of Schaffhausen and Thurgau.