The society "Interessensgemeinschaft Europaschutzgebiet Parndorfer Platte - Heideboden" has implemented an INTERREG-III A project for Austria and Hungary entitled "Species Protection Project for the Great Bustard in the areas Parndorfer Platte and Heideboden" (Project No. HUBP5M2_0015, running from 2002 to 2006), which was succesfully finished in 2007.
By signing the "Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation and Management of the Middle-European Population of the Great Bustard (Otis tarda)", Austria affirmed its support for cross-border bustard conservation. From 14th - 18th September 2004, Austria hosted the First Meeting of Signatories of the MoU and an international scientific symposium on the Great Bustard in the Information Centre of Lake Neusiedl National Park, Illmitz. The conference was attended by more than 80 experts from 16 European countries. The Austrian Federal Ministry for Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water management (BMLFUW) organised the event with the help of the coordinator of the Great Bustard species conservation project, Rainer Raab, and his colleagues under the framework of this INTERREG project. In preparation for the conference, each signatory state put together a "National Report on the Implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation and Management of the Middle-European Population of the Great Bustard (Otis tarda)", Rainer Raab and colleagues writing the one for Austria. In this report and at a press conference on 14th September in Illmitz held by Mr Rittsteuer (Burgenland government), Mr Liebel (Federal Ministry for Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water management), Mr Kirchberger (Lake Neusiedl National Park) and Mr Raab, the INTERREG project was mentioned repeatedly and the intensive and good cooperation between nature conservation, hunting and farming bodies and between Austria and its neighbours was emphasized. On 15th September Mr Raab presented a talk at the scientific symposium entitled "New cross-border initiative against collision with power lines", which also highlighted the significance of cross-border projects for Great Bustard conservation in central Europe, in particular the ongoing INTERREG project. At the symposium a dedicated workshop was also held with representatives from Austria, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. This was very successful in forging new contacts between people and aligning future international measures, in particular for the west-pannonian Great Bustard population.
The main objectives of this INTERREG project were: optimization of the existing 1,200 ha of dedicated bustard conservation areas in Burgenland, financed through ÖPUL 2000 agri-environment measures, and safeguarding clutches and juvenile bustards outside managed areas in the Parndorfer Platte - Heideboden region. In 2002 for the first time in Austrian bustard conservation, a site supervisor from a hunting background together with a supervisor from a nature conservation background jointly took care of the bustard range Parndorfer Platte - Heideboden. Beginning in the first project year, strips of set-aside were ploughed and left as bare ground and strips of permanent fodder vegetation for bustards were created, in order to increase habitat attractiveness. Local farmers and hunters cooperated with these measures. From 2003 to 2006, too, these measures were implemented successfully. Every year, approximately 70 ha of areas under bustard conservation measures were freshly cultivated and optimized. Monitoring extends not only to bustards but also to other Annex I species of the Birds Directive in order to bear them in mind when planning habitat management. The complex rotation of cutting sites under conservation measures, allows short vegetation and open ground to be preserved in the Parndorfer Platte - Heideboden Natura 2000 area. This is an important aspect of cultural landscape regional character, and an important resource for the Great Bustard as an emblematic inhabitant of this type of landscape.
Project coordination primarily aimed to strengthen the Austrian bustard population, and to safeguard for the long term, successes already achieved through intensive conservation efforts in Austria and central Europe. Project coordinator Mr Raab presented the cross-border INTERREG project at a September 2002 CMS meeting in Bonn (Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals), with a talk and a photo exhibition entitled "Conservation and Management of the Middle-European population of the Great Bustard (Otis tarda) - a European task". He also presented this talk at the annual general meeting of BirdLife Austria in May 2004 in Vienna. As mentioned above, the project also featured in a talk in September 2004 in Illmitz, where numerous new contacts were formed and developed. Since the bustard population of Austria, especially of Burgenland, has frequent exchanges with populations close to the border in Slovakia and Hungary, intensive cooperation with these neighbouring countries is necessary. Several meetings with Slovakian and Hungarian Great Bustard experts served this purpose. In addition, meetings were held with German, Spanish and Czech colleagues in Austria and abroad. International coordination of measures has raised the effectiveness of measures during the project so far, and has helped to boost cross-border bustard populations.
All in all, therefore, the project years 2002 to 2006 have been a resounding success for the Great Bustard. Last but not least, prevention of disturbances in the Parndorfer Platte - Heideboden Natura 2000 site has been an important factor. Tourism is deliberately kept at bay, and the local population takes care not to cause disturbances, in particular farmers and hunters.
The INTERREG project could not be so successful for Great Bustards and other threatened species of bird like the Imperial Eagle, if it did not have the approval of the local population and the support of farmers and hunters on site. The successful functioning of the Society "Interessensgemeinschaft Europaschutzgebiet Parndorfer Platte - Heideboden" over the past years has been an important basis for this. The society serves as a platform for conservation experts, hunters, lobbying organisations and local authorities to exchange views, and thus promotes cooperative implementation of conservation measures in the Parndorfer Platte - Heideboden SPA. It is hoped that the society will continue to fulfil this function successfully in the future.
The INTERREG-III A project for Austria and Hungary entitled "Species Protection Project for the Great Bustard in the areas Parndorfer Platte and Heideboden" was financed by the European Union, the regional government of Burgenland (Department 5.III for nature conservation and protection of the environment), the Burgenland hunting association, the hunting district Nickelsdorf, and the six parishes of Deutsch-Jahrdorf, Gattendorf, Neudorf bei Parndorf, Nickelsdorf, Pama and Zurndorf.