LIFE Project Cover Photo

Azores bullfinch habitat recovery in Pico da Vara/Ribeira do Guilherme SPA

Reference: LIFE03 NAT/P/000013 | Acronym: PRIOLO



The east of São Miguel Island (Azores) is a unique place in the world. The seeds, flower buds and fleshy fruit of the once-thriving laurel forests provide food for the 100 remaining pairs of the critically endangered Azores bullfinch (Pyrrhula murina).

However, the laurel forest is fighting a losing battle against invading alien plant species which were brought to the archipelago long ago by its colonisers and are still sometimes used by farmers for hedging. The alien plants provide neither quality food nor refuge for the bullfinch.

Loss of native habitats due to their large-scale invasion by exotics and consequent shortage of food - at the end of winter, beginning of spring and during the summer months - seem to be the main reasons for the gradual reduction of the bird’s habitat and population.

Other threats to the endangered Azores bullfinch are inadequate legal protection - the Natura 2000 site does not cover the entire habitat of the bullfinch, lack of a suitable management plan for the Natura 2000 site, poor correspondence of existing protection and other administrative measures governing the site, inadequate legislation regarding the control of alien species and protection of native species, and lack of awareness of the dynamics of alien and native species.


The overall objective of this project was to ensure the existence of a stable population of the target species - Pyrrhula murina on the island of São Miguel. To achieve this, the project foresaw the preparation of a management plan for the SPA, its enlargement to cover the whole species’ range and its inclusion in the national network of protected areas. Specific measures would improve the habitat for the Azores bullfinch.

A key feature of the project’s approach was the involvement of the regional administration and local population in the application of the project’s measures. It would push for the integration of the proposed management measures into regional agriculture and forestry policies and the zoning of agricultural and forestry activities in the area adjacent to the SPA. It planned to lobby the administration to revise existing legislation on the control of exotic species and to replace exotic plants by native ones on the roads’ borders leading to the SPA.

The project also intended to support farmers in applying to other EU funds to plant fruit trees suitable for the species, promote artificial feeding and raise public awareness through a range of awareness-raising and educational tools.


This project succeeded in generating a high level of mobilization from local and regional stakeholders in the Azores towards the conservation of the endangered Azores bullfinch (Pyrrhula murina). Extremely positive trends were seen both in recovery of native vegetation and in bullfinch numbers, population levels at the end of the project - about 775 individuals - being almost three times higher than in 2005.

The project achieved a series of key steps towards the long-term management of the SPA and thus the conservation of the target bird:

  • SPA of Pico da Vara/Ribeira do Guilherme enlarged by almost three times, covering the whole species range
  • SPA integrated into the São Miguel Island Natural Park through the creation of the Pico da Vara Natural Reserve
  • vegetation mapping of the SPA and collection of GIS data
  • a management plan for the SPA agreed and approved
  • local and regional economic analyses of the project’s impact
  • a guide on cutting back the exotic Criptomeria japonica inside the SPA
  • a management orientation plan for fruit tree plantations
  • a draft version of new legislation on control of exotics that, according to the regional authorities, will be approved on the first quarter of 2010
  • a protocol also signed with the regional authority ruling roads management (DROPTT) with the aim of avoiding the plantation of exotics and the cut of endemics in the roads within the SPA.
  • The project carried out direct habitat management actions. It cut down Criptomeria trees from 10 ha and tested and then used chemical controls to remove exotic plant specimens, such as Hedychium gardneranum, from 227 ha. Replacing these, it planted more than 65 000 specimens of native species grown in nurseries and also established bullfinch artificial feeding stations.

    It created demonstration fruit tree plantations to increase the interest of farmers for this alternative activity. To increase native plant production, a new greenhouse was installed to reduce both the germination period and the mortality rates of the young plants.

    Monitoring showed quick response of the native vegetation in covering the soil available due to the project interventions. There was evidence of a slowing of the decline in the bullfinch population in the early years, followed by an exciting recovery from 2005.

    The high levels of mobilization achieved will ensure that the actions and structures executed during the project will be maintained. As well as achieving close involvement of local and regional authorities, the project raised public awareness through tools such as a multi-language website, electronic and printed information, educational material and activities, and media work. The project opened more than 20 Km of temporary and permanent trails to facilitate access to the project sites and established the Priolo Environmental Centre.

    Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Conservation Plan (see "Read more" section).


    Reference: LIFE03 NAT/P/000013
    Acronym: PRIOLO
    Start Date: 01/10/2003
    End Date: 30/11/2008
    Total Eligible Budget: 2,843,728 €
    EU Contribution: 1,706,237 €
    Project Location:


    Coordinating Beneficiary: Sociedade Portuguesa para o Estudo das Aves
    Legal Status: OTHER
    Address: Av. da Liberdade, 105 - 2º esq., 11250-140, Lisboa,
    Contact Person: Joaquim TEODOSIO
    Email: Send Email
    Website: Visit Website

    LIFE Project Map



    • Invasive species


    • protected area
    • island
    • management plan
    • restoration measure
    • endangered species


    • 4050 - Endemic macaronesian heaths
    • 7110 - Active raised bogs
    • 7130 - Blanket bogs (* if active bog)
    • 9360 - "Macaronesian laurel forests (Laurus, Ocotea)"
    • 9560 - Endemic forests with Juniperus spp.


    • Pyrrhula murina


    Name Type
    Sociedade Portuguesa para o Estudo das Aves Coordinator
    Câmara Municipal do Nordeste, Portugal Participant
    Universidade dos Açores-Centro de Conservação e Protecção do Ambiente, Portugal Participant
    Royal Society for the protection of Birds, Portugal Participant
    Secretaria Regional do Ambiente, Portugal Participant
    Direcção Regional dos Recursos Florestais, Portugal Participant