The principal aim of this project was to improve the conservation status of the Dalmatian pelican and the pygmy cormorant, but the activities also directly benefited at least 18 other species covered by the Birds Directive. The main actions included the reconstruction of a sluicegate that channels water from Lesser Prespa Lake (Mikri Prespa) into Great Prespa Lake (Megali Prespa), in order to improve water-level management of the former; the restoration of wet meadows around Lesser Prespa; and monitoring the avifauna and vegetation of the managed lakeshore areas. In order to manage the vegetation, the project used a herd of water buffalos and two cattle herds to systematically graze pre-determined areas, as well as agricultural machinery to cut down reeds and other vegetation.
The restoration activities resulted in an improvement in the breeding and feeding conditions of the Dalmatian pelican and the pygmy cormorant, to the extent that their populations stabilised at a high level over the following five years. Furthermore, populations of more than 20 other waterbird species also benefited. Beyond this, populations of fish and other aquatic organisms directly benefited from the expansion of the total surface area of the wet meadows, particularly carp, which offered a knock-on benefit for local fishers.
The new, modern sluicegate built by the project, following a series of local stakeholder consultations and hydrological, environmental and technical studies, began operation in the spring of 2005. As a result, the lake reached constantly high water levels, sufficient for the creation of wet meadow areas. Subsequently, the area saw the return of the glossy ibis (Plegadis falcinellus), which was observed nesting again in Lesser Prespa after 35 years of breeding absence attributed to the shrinkage of wet meadows.
Prior to the project, dense reed beds expanded around the lake at the expense of wet meadows, due to the abandonment of traditional management practices at the lake edges (such as vegetation management by cutting and grazing). Starting in 2002, project participants and local inhabitants cut down the reeds in shallow areas near the lake at selected sites. Alternatively, grazing by water buffaloes was applied and in some cases grazing by cattle herds was carried out following the cutting of vegetation.
Cutting, grazing by the water buffalo and cattle herds and a combination of these management practices were used systematically over the course of five years. At the launch of the project, the area covered by wet meadows had diminished to 30 hectares. Within the project the total wet meadow area grew more than threefold – to some 100 ha by the project’s end. With the help of agricultural machinery, the reeds and other vegetation annually cut during the summer were turned into hay/grass bales, which were an ideal food supplement for the buffalo during the winter months. These bales were also shared with local stock-breeders. In some cases, cut reeds were also used for the thatching of barns by locals.
Vegetation monitoring was essential to evaluate the results of the vegetation management regimes and the results were then correlated with the behaviour of birds in the area, in order to determine the most ideal habitat for each species. A census of the target species confirmed increases in the populations of Dalmatian pelicans and pygmy cormorants following the work of the project.
The project activities included the production of leaflets, posters, a DVD and numerous articles featured in scientific magazines. In addition, guided bird-watching tours were conducted for the first four years and a large number of schoolchildren were introduced to the conservation value of the Prespa lakes.