LIFE Project Cover Photo

Project Tetrax - the conservation of Little Bustard in Alentejo

Reference: LIFE02 NAT/P/008476 | Acronym: Tetrax



The little bustard ( Tetrax tetrax ) can be found throughout extensive agro-pastoral systems in which dry cereals and various fallow predominate. It selects areas with a high diversity of ground cover, i.e., patchworks of pasture, fallow and legume crops. The species has experienced a dramatic decline since the 19th century, becoming extinct in many central and southern European countries. In the EU, the largest populations of little bustard are found in Spain and Portugal. In the latter, the species is found mainly south of the river Tagus, with the largest numbers in the Alentejo region. There are estimated to be 10,000 to 20,000 little bustards in Portugal. More than 90% of this population is endangered by the abandonment of farmland, afforestation of arable land, increased irrigation, intensification of non-irrigated agricultural systems, inappropriate agricultural practices and overgrazing. The species is closely connected with the traditional Alentejo farming system, where they inhabit mosaics of long-rotation fallow, extensive dry cereal and pasture. If the present trend to the abandonment, afforestation and intensification of farmland is not reversed, the little bustard will be extinct in short- to medium-term.


The project aimed to conserve little bustard populations in the Alentejo region. This was to be achieved through the preparation of an action plan for the species to identify clearly the population centres to be conserved, the limits on land use and an alternative model for agricultural system management. The project was to involve central and local government and citizens, and the implementation of a pilot project. This was to include a number of agricultural holdings managed in such a way as to make available continuous supplies of food and suitable nesting habitat for the target species. The project was also to include measures to raise the awareness of the public and of local authorities, and to disseminate results.


A pilot project on farmland that benefitted the little bustard while maintaining farmer incomes was established. Additionally, an inventory of breeding and wintering little bustards in the region was performed in order to identify key populations and locate where agri-environmental management could best be applied. Beyond this, an awareness campaign was developed and implemented to inform decision-makers, farmers and the general public about the need to preserve the little bustard and other dry grassland birds of Alentejo. Finally, a regional action plan for the little bustard, in co-operation with farmers, local and central administration was drafted. Little Bustard populations Systematic counts of Little Bustard were performed in Alentejo between 2003 and 2006 at different seasons throughout the year. The results of the counts showed that in spring, the total little bustard population in Spring around 17550 displaying males. The 11 important bird areas (IBAs) with significant numbers of the species all together contain 41% of the breeding population in Alentejo. Outside the breeding period, the little bustard population in Alentejo is smaller, with around 9200 males and females in summer some 11200 in winter. Pilot-project on farmland management The Mourão/Moura/Barrancos IBA is of extraordinary importance for steppic (expansive grass plains) birds. Here can be found important populations of the little bustard (828 displaying males), the great bustard (40-160 birds), the European crane (3000 birds), the black-bellied sand grouse (40-280 birds) and the stone curlew (160-310 birds). This was found to be the case largely as a result of the local farmers’ agricultural management, which favours steppic habitat maintenance. The project made contracts with farmers inside the SPA of Mourão/Moura/Barrancos, aiming to develop farming management trials for the conservation of little and great bustards and other threatened steppic birds. For a period of three and half years, 127 contracts were signed with 45 local farmers. The project tested 23 species and varieties of legume crops and three management measures, targeting a total area of 3241ha. The results of this work allowed them to draft a proposal of agri-environmental management of the open farmland of the Mourão/Moura/Barrancos area for preservation of the steppic habitat while maintaining farmers’ incomes. The proposal included the a rotation scheme – that maintains the habitat structure, with the farmland management supporting threshold percentages of four crops: dry cereal, dry legume crops, permanent pasture and fallow; the maintenance of fallows in order to provide safe places for nesting; and the use of legume crops. For this latter item, a list of legume species and varieties was recommended, including only those that can be used for food by birds, such as alfalfa, silage-pea, and chick-pea. Awareness campaign The project produced a portable exhibition with six panels, a brochure, a leaflet, a poster, a t-shirt, a video report and a picture presentation for events at schools, different organisations, agricultural shows, conferences and public meetings. Additionally, the project involved school pupils, parents and the wider community in bird conservation activities in the elementary schools of Santo Amador (a rural community in Moura). Action Plan The Little Bustard LIFE project organised a workshop in November, 2006 featuring agricultral and nature conservation specialists from farmers’ unions, environmental NGOs, public administration officials and academics from Spanish and Portuguese universities in order to identify priority measures for the following five years. Key amongst these measures is a) the designation of new special protection areas (SPAs) for steppic birds in areas important for the little bustard; b) the setting up of specific agri-environmental measures in IBAs containing the little bustard in order to promote a farmland mosaic with dry cereal, legumes crops, pasture and fallow; c) the drafting of a protocol for the protection of the habitat of the little bustard for application across large development projects in Alentejo; and d) the creation of an Iberian specialist group to co-ordinate research and monitoring of Little Bustard. SPEA and ICN, together with other public and private partners are to be responsible for the implementation and monitoring of the action plan.


Reference: LIFE02 NAT/P/008476
Acronym: Tetrax
Start Date: 01/10/2002
End Date: 31/12/2006
Total Eligible Budget: 0 €
EU Contribution: 720,873 €
Project Location:


Coordinating Beneficiary: Sociedade Portuguesa para a Estudo das Aves
Legal Status: OTHER
Address: Av. da Liberdade, 105 - 2° esq., 1250-140, Lisboa,
Contact Person: Leitao DOMINGOS
Email: Send Email
Website: Visit Website

LIFE Project Map



  • Grasslands
  • Agriculture - Forestry
  • Birds


  • agricultural method
  • protected area
  • management plan
  • endangered species


  • 01 - Unknown (site without information)


  • Tetrax tetrax


Name Type
Sociedade Portuguesa para a Estudo das Aves Coordinator
ICNB, Portugal Participant
Associação de Agricultores do Concelho de Mourão, Portugal Participant