Coastal grasslands are semi-natural habitats used for agriculture, but they are also vital habitats for many taxa, such as waders. The importance of this habitat for wildlife has found recognition in the policies of the European Union, resulting in the implementation of biodiversity-friendly agri-environment schemes (AES) to ensure the sustainable management of these areas. However, the performance of AESs has often been questioned and data to analyse their effectiveness is mostly lacking. To fill this knowledge gap, we used freely available European Space Agency's Sentinel-1 Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) images and ground truth data to describe the vegetation height based habitat suitability of coastal grasslands as breeding sites for waders at a country-wide scale in Estonia, where the main threat to this habitat is overgrowing with high sward plant species. We show that satellite remote sensing can be used as a straight-forward and reliable tool to estimate the grazed coastal grassland habitat suitability for breeding waders in terms of vegetation height in two broad classes. We demonstrate that the AES applied on Estonian coastal grasslands is important for improving the suitability of this habitat for the breeding wader community: compared to 24% of suitable habitat in areas where no agricultural subsidies are paid, 60% of the land under the targeted AES is suitably managed for breeding waders. The highest proportion of habitat suitability (76%) is achieved in areas receiving targeted top-up subsidy for wader conservation. Continued monitoring of the performance of the AES is essential for taking timely and targeted conservation actions and we strongly recommend the wider use of remotely sensed data for this purpose. We promote the continuation of the AES scheme applied on Estonian coastal grasslands while improving its efficiency through carefully raised stocking rates and increased uptake of the top-up scheme.
- Breeding waders
- Habitat suitability
- Vegetation height, Wetland, Habitat management, Habitat degradation