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The cinereous vulture returns to the Pyrenees

Through our Biodiversity Conservation Plan and projects such as the creation of Supplementary Feeding Points (PAS), species such as the black vultures of the Pyrenees have returned to their environment.
The cinereous vulture in their habitat

In 2000, the appearance of TSE (Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy), commonly known as “mad cow disease” had a significant impact on the environment and species conservation. The regulations imposed because of this health alert required animal carcasses to be removed from all farms, which led to a food crisis among necrophagous bird species, thus resulting in reduced populations.

At Endesa, as part of our Biodiversity Conservation Plan, we identified the need to promote and support assisted food initiatives to help re-establish this balance that had been lost for many necrophagous species. Since 2011, we have been promoting the project for the creation of Supplementary Food Points (PAS for its Spanish acronym), in the Pyrenees, in collaboration with the TRENCA association and, more recently, also with the Naturaleza Rural association. This initiative provides support for their programme designed to reintroduce the cinerous vulture into the area, a species that had disappeared from this region.

These specific initiatives form part of our continuous efforts to adapt power lines in order to protect these species. Together with these projects, at Endesa, we have carried out extensive work to insulate the power lines used as perches by these birds, installing reflective beacons and any necessary improvements, with the aim of preventing incidents and contributing to the conservation of the species.

Up until 2016, three PAS have been installed in the Pyrenean region of Lleida, which have covered the requirements of scavenger birds that were unable to find food for themselves, while also obtaining food in a healthy and controlled manner. Given the success of the programme it will be extended in the near future. At the moment, the installation and management of up to three more PAS in the Pyrenean region of Huesca is underway.

“The installation of PAS is vital for the reintroduction of species that have disappeared, such as the cinereous vulture. Thanks to these, their food is guaranteed as well as improving their reproductive success.”

Jesús Almarza, Technician at TRENCA.

Necrophagous birds and their balanced presence are essential in order to eliminate infection points in our countryside and their disappearance would destabilise the natural balance of our ecosystems. The cinereous vulture, the bearded vulture and the Egyptian vulture are all protected species and the main beneficiaries of the PAS today. As their food is guaranteed, the reproductive success of the species increases and therefore, the chances of survival of these protected species increases too.

 

Programme for reintroducing the cinereous vulture

Endesa’s assisted food points programme provides support for the project aimed at reintroducing the cinereous vulture in the Pyrenees, developed by TRENCA. It began in 2007, as a result of the need to recover this reproductive species that disappeared in the latter half of the 19th century. The aim is for this new population to strengthen the bond with the French population, thus increasing the genetic variation.

It has taken 10 years to establish a significant stable colony of cinereous vultures (consisting of approximately 55 individuals). A large part of this success is thanks to the PAS, which have become a key factor for feeding this species. They often use them, particularly during the most important breeding times, which contributes to the reproductive success of the species.

images of the cinereous vulture and its habitat

PAS – How they work

Farmers and breeders in the area provide the land for the PAS and contribute towards the provision of the carrion by providing, for example, animals that have died on their farms. These meat products not destined for human consumption are fed to the birds together with those from local abattoirs.

The technicians from TRENCA, together with Endesa, coordinate the entire process, monitoring the species and arranging the bird feeder maintenance and cleaning tasks.

The technique for providing food has improved over the years. We focus on small and somewhat hidden pieces, which is what the cinereous vulture, the bearded vulture and the Egyptian vulture prefer. This ensures that it is not eaten by other carrion species that do not have population problems in the area, such as the griffon vulture, which eats large pieces in a group.

 

Environmental education and dissemination

The project for the implementation of Supplementary Food Points for necrophagous birds in the Pyrenees is related to environmental education. Throughout 2016, it has been disseminated in the schools and colleges in the area through workshops and teaching sessions. Furthermore, each year, visits are arranged for those interested in the project in order to learn more about necrophagous birds.

This project has become significantly relevant and has been published in important scientific magazines like the 'Journal of Applied Ecology' and 'Nature'.

The future aim is for these birds not to need the PAS for food and to be able to develop naturally. The PAS will continue to provide significant support for managing cattle or other dead animals, which is beneficial both environmentally and economically.

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