All over Europe, wetlands have decreased in size, lost their original dynamics and became fragmented as the consequence of an ever increasing human land use. These processes have resulted in losses of nature values, among which declines in marshland bird populations. Ecological restoration of wetland systems follows from initiatives like EU Bird and Habitat Directives and Water Framework Directive, but may be, in itself, too costly to be widely applied. More promising perspectives to reinforce the wetland part of the ecological network Natura 2000 might come into focus when combined with spatial water management which is primarily aimed at more sustainable safety against flooding. In this way, the wetland network may acquire a wider public and political support. Knowledge on scale-related habitat use of wetland birds can play a role in the process of spatial planning. We illustrate this point by distinguishing four levels of spatial and temporal habitat use by wetland birds, and giving examples for each. The four levels are: (1) birds on stopover sites during migration, (2) territorial breeding birds, (3) colonial breeding birds, and (4) staging birds on wintering sites. This asks for ecological coherence on different scales, e.g. on the international level of migration flyways, on the regional level of landscapes and on the local level of individual wetlands. It is advocated that wetland ecologists dedicate themselves more specifically to quantifying the relevant data on habitat use of birds on each of these scale levels. Meanwhile, spatial planners should try to incorporate them into their efforts in realising combinations of ecological restoration or rehabilitation of wetlands and solutions for sustainable water management. These combinations might turn the tide for some seriously threatened species of marshland and wetland birds.
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