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LN: Conservationists try to salvage ground squirrels

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Prague, Aug 18 (CTK) – Czech nature conservationists are trying to renew pastures and extend steppes in the Ceske stredohori (Czech Low Mountain Range) in northern Bohemia to create suitable conditions for the critically endangered European ground squirrel, daily Lidove noviny (LN) writes yesterday.
Around 4500 ground squirrels (Spermophilus citellus) live in the Czech Republic at present. The population is stable and it has been slightly growing in the past years, but conservationists are trying to further increase the number within the Salvation Programme of the Nature Conservation Agency, LN writes.
It writes that there are now only some 30 localities that offer the ground squirrel suitable living conditions. In addition to the Ceske stredohori Protected Landscape Area (CHKO), the animal can also be seen in the orchards and vineyards in southern Moravia.
In the past, the ground squirrel was common on the territory of the current Czech Republic, but it was ranked among field pests, LN writes.
It writes that in the 1950s, farmers started to massively liquidate it until it almost disappeared from the wild in the country.
The dramatic decrease in its population was due to changes in farming, particularly the ploughing up of balks and the disappearance of herds of farm animals feeding on grass and so shortening it, which the ground squirrels need for their life, LN writes.
It writes that the volcanic landscape of the Ceske stredohori covered with steppes is a popular locality of paragliders who trample down the grass on landing and so contribute together with the biotope of the mountain range to the salvation of the ground squirrel.
In addition, a project to preserve the rare steppes and to resume the traditional ways of farming has now been implemented thanks to the LIFE+ subsidy programme with a budget of 38 million crowns, financed by the European Commission together with the Environment Ministry, LN writes.
In 2011, when the project was launched, pasture was resumed on 76 hectares of land and one year later, it doubled. Effort also focuses on the development of tourism and on support of regional farm produce, LN writes.
It writes that the whole western part of the Ceske stredohori is situated in the precipitation shadow of the Krusne (Ore) Mountains and is one of the driest parts of the country, which creates suitable conditions for steppes.
Before a suitable environment is created for the ground squirrels on larger areas, they can live on territories created and maintained by people, such as airports, golf grounds and camps, LN writes.
“We live in symbiosis. We protect the ground squirrels and they protect us from developers who would otherwise build up the airport,” LN quotes Jiri Zeman, from the flying school at the airport in Roudnice nad Labem, north Bohemia, as saying.
($1=24.339 crowns)

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