The common swift (Apus apus) and some bat species, notably the noctule bat (Nyctalus noctula), have until relatively recently been considered common species in Slovakia. The loss of many of their natural breeding habitats ? old forests stands with large trees providing suitable tree hollows ? has been substituted by the creation of appropriate artificial breeding conditions in human settlements. As they have moved from forests to urban sites, there has been a gradual shift of roosting and nesting strategies. Today they occupy mainly prefabricated panelled houses and buildings. Nearly 99% of the current Slovak swift population breeds in manmade structures. There are no comparable estimates for bats, but because of favourable microclimatic conditions, safety from predators and the availability of roosts, today most of the Slovak noctule populations use crevices and hollows in prefab buildings in new urban sites. In recent years, the greatest threat to both of these species has come from the renovation and thermal insulation of prefabricated buildings. According to recent estimates, the overall Slovak swift population has dropped by at least 50-60% over the last two decades (1990-2010). To date, this problem has received little attention from the nature conservation authorities. Unless this situation is addressed and without appropriate measures the Slovak swift population could collapse within the next 10-20 years over most of the country.
The APUS & NYCTALUS biodiversity project?s main objective was to halt the recent decline of the common swift (Apus apus) and noctule bat populations in Slovakia. It aimed to protect their nesting and roosting habitats ? especially in urban areas ? by introducing suitable management practices aimed at improving the conservation status of the species. A series of actions were planned, targeting the installation of artificial nesting/roosting facilities and the provision of training and guidance on habitat loss prevention and of the importance of conserving the species. The project actions would be mainly implemented in 48 pilot sites in the city centres and suburbs of eight regional capitals (Bratislava, Trnava, Nitra, Tren?ín, ?ilina, Banská Bystrica, Pre?ov and Ko?ice) and 40 provincial towns.
The APUS & NYCTALUS project achieved its overall aim of increasing populations of swift in Slovakia. The number of nesting sites for populations of swifts as well as other bird species increased in 417 sites across the country. Around 2 400 boxes for swifts and 800 boxes for bats were installed. Similarly, the number of roosting sites for bats per square kilometre was increased in at least 16 sites in all eight regional capitals. The occupancy of the boxes was recorded to have increased in the last year of the project. But monitoring will continue for five years to get a reliable picture. A detailed database was established. Around 14 400 plastic grids for ventilation shafts were modified.
Based on the project?s results a new legislative regulation was adopted. The legislation obliges expert surveys to be carried out on conservation of nesting and roosting sites of birds and bats before installing thermal insulation or renovating buildings in Slovakia. This approach has proved to be successful and can be applied in other Member States as well as non-EU countries, especially those with similar urban architecture. The municipalities of Bratislava-Karlova Ves and Púchov have adopted and successfully applied principles of the protection of swifts and bats in buildings with support from their own budgets.
The project moreover represents a replicable example of protection of species that are not sufficiently protected by national and EU legislation. It demonstrated a coordinated, comprehensive and systematic approach to a specific conservation issue. Bulgarian authorities asked for some of the project?s outcomes (catalogue of model solutions, technical manual) for application in Bulgaria. Furthermore, the project?s approach brings together partners with different backgrounds and expertise, namely NGOs focused on protection of birds and bats, public authorities dealing with environment and constructions, the business sector represented by construction companies, architects and managers of buildings (i.e. owners). In total 345 stakeholders, including decision makers and environmental officers, received training on implementing principles of protection of birds and bats in buildings. They are part of the process of issuing construction permits where these principles will be included. The project significantly raised public awareness about the target species by communication activities. It created a catalogue of model solutions and a technical manual.
The project?s actions also contribute to the EU 2020 Biodiversity Strategy and 7th EU Environment Action Programme. The project moreover created 25 new jobs out of which 13 were full-time jobs. Other new jobs are arising based on the demand for services, expertise and the implementation of conservation measures. It is expected that the project achievements will be safeguarded through the implementation of the ?Guideline on protection of birds and bats in buildings? and the ?Act on Nature and Landscape Protection?, which includes articles related to the topic. Also the ?Operation Programme Quality of Environment? contains measures for protecting nesting and roosting sites on public buildings.
The project has been the winner case study of the CEEweb Award 2014 in the "Green Infrastructure and restoration, and their tangible benefits" category.
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Communication Plan (see "Read more" section).