In 2011 the Berlengas Natura 2000 site (SPA) was enlarged to include a significant proportion of its marine area. Linked to this site extension, the Portuguese nature conservation agency (ICNF) launched an initiative to develop a management plan for the new area. Unfortunately, the baseline information proved to be insufficient and clear planned actions were lacking. As a result, a legally binding plan never materialised.
The LIFE Berlengas project aimed to establish a legally binding management plan with clear and measurable actions and targets for defined sites in the Atlantic coastal archipelago. The Portuguese government had joined forces with SPEA for this objective. Project goals would be achieved through the use of tailored versions of proven archipelago management methodologies. Outcomes would be ready to apply at local, regional, national and international levels.
Three key project phases were planned: first, understanding the main threats affecting seabird populations and endemic plant species on land and at sea (for seabirds) and defining actions to minimise/eradicate them, including a long-term monitoring scheme; second, promoting sustainable use of the recently created Berlengas Natura 2000 site (SPA), focusing on its three main economic activities (fisheries, recreational activities and tourism); and third, confirming the necessary monitoring framework for the completion and approval of the management plan.
The LIFE Berlengas project team improved the understanding of the main threats affecting seabird populations and endemic plant species, and defined actions to minimise/eradicate these threats, in the island Berlengas Natura 2000 network site (SPA) in Portugal. They promoted a sustainable use of this recently-created SPA, focusing on its main economic activities of fisheries, recreation and tourism; and defined the necessary long-term monitoring framework for the completion and approval of the Management Plan of Berlengas SPA.
The beneficiaries characterised, mapped and monitored breeding seabird populations, invasive non-native species (in particular, Hottentot fig, black rat and rabbit), and native plant species (including 3 endemic species). Their assessment of the interactions between seabirds and fisheries was fundamental for planning conservation actions, while a visitor assessment was also conducted.
Though the project team succeeded in removing Hottentot fig in more than 90% of the areas it covered in the Berlengas area, it was not possible in a small area due to the high instability of the cliff over a local beach that represented a risk to local tourism. The removal of mammals was successfully implemented, with no black rat observed since the end of 2016, and the rabbit population being reduced to almost no individuals (no new sightings since 2019). Subsequently, biosecurity measures were established to prevent new rodents from reaching the island.
The project team constructed artificial nests for Cory’s Shearwater and Band-rumped Storm-petrel, with occupancy rates of around 36% and 10%, respectively; contributing to the breeding success of both species. Tracking of individual Shag and Band-rumped Storm-petrel enabled the mapping of the spatio-temporal overlap areas between seabird distribution and fisheries in the SPA. The team tested two alternative methods to control the breeding population of Yellow-legged Gull (egg-oiling and egg-puncture), but these were found to be no better than the existing method (direct destruction of eggs in nests). An observer programme was implemented on fishing vessels operating from Peniche port, for monitoring accidental captures and calculating annual by-catch for each seabird species, as well as for testing 3 mitigation measures on purse seine (bird of prey replica), demersal longline (modified hooks), and gillnets (contrast panels).
Recreation activities were regulated by establishing the island’s ‘carrying capacity’ for visitors. The project contributed to the new tourism regulation, which was drafted thanks to a good collaboration between navy, environment agents, fisheries, tourist operators and the municipality. The entire island ecosystem was shown to make a strong recovery after the removal of most of the exotic species, and there was possibly the first record of Band-rumped Storm-petrel chicks hatching, even before the project was completed.
Project dissemination and awareness-raising activities engaged local stakeholders, inhabitants and visitors. The project team helped create the Environmental Centre, along with walking trails and signs; defined guidelines for both residents and tourists; and created an online portal (www.berlengas.eu) and mobile app. for those wanting to find out more about the seabirds of Berlengas SPA.
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Conservation Plan (see "Read more" section).