More grants, fewer black-tailed godwits

20 years’ policy to protect meadow birds

The policy to protect meadow birds such as the black-tailed godwit is not working. In the past 20 years the value of the grants paid to farmers to protect meadow birds has increased from €4.2 million in 2001 to €33.4 million in 2020. But the number of breeding pairs of black-tailed godwits has fallen over the same period from 60,000 to 30,000.

Cover rapport Weidevogels

In its audit report Where is the Black-Tailed Godwit?, the Netherlands Court of Audit concludes that the policy implemented by the Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality (LNV) to protect meadow birds has been unsuccessful. The audit looked at the results of various measures farmers could take to protect meadow birds and the grants provided. It also mapped out where the birds were protected and how much land was covered by the measures taken relative to the total area suitable for meadow birds. The audit found that the measures covered just 15% of the total area.

Several measures are available for farmers to protect meadow birds. The report shows that most farmers opt for ‘nest management’: they locate where meadow birds are nesting on their land so that they do not drive their tractors over nests. However, these measures are not of much benefit to black-tailed godwits. Measures to saturate the meadows, for instance by raising the water table and digging ditches to hold surface water, are of far greater benefit. More food is then available for the birds’ chicks . But farmers rarely take such measures.

In the Court of Audit’s opinion, farmers are not unwilling but the minister must encourage them to make more use of the opportunities available to increase the number of breeding pairs of black-tailed godwits. The Netherlands is an important country for black-tailed godwits: half of all black-tailed godwits in the world breed here. Conversely, the black-tailed godwit is important to the Netherlands; it has been voted the country’s national bird.

The amount of grants is going up, but the number of black-tailed godwits is going down

figuur 1 weidevogels

Grant expenditure from 2001 to 2020. Number of breeding pairs of black-tailed godwits as from 1990. (Source: Ecological Monitoring Network, Sovon, provinces and Statistics Netherlands,

Farmers rarely take the most effective measures

figuur 2 weidevogels

Measures to protect meadow birds. Number of hectares covered by measures (source: Netherlands Enterprise Agency) relative to their effect (source: Wageningen University & Research, et al).