With a wingspan of nearly three metres, the Black Vulture is Europe's biggest bird of prey. It is also one of the continent's most threatened birds. The Black Vulture is a typically Mediterranean species that needs tranquil forests to nest and vast tracts of countryside to localise the dead animals on which it feeds. There are only two populations of a natural origin left in Europe: one in Crete and the other in Spain, although re-introduction programmes are under way in other EU Member States. The Spanish population makes up 90% of the European population and the northern limit of its range is the Madrid region, where fifty-odd couples still nest.
This LIFE project took place in three Special Protection Areas (SPAs) of Madrid region: "Encinares de los Rios Alberche y Cofio", "Alto Lozoya" and "Monte de El Pardo". The principal threats to the vultures in these SPAs stem from forestry, changes to livestock raising, and the illegal use of poison to control wildlife populations.
The project aimed to preserve and increase the Black Vulture population in the Madrid region, where it is currently classified in the category 'in danger of extinction'. The project's main objective was to make compatible the conservation of the black vulture and natural resource use in economic activities such as hunting, livestock raising, farming and forestry.
First of all, the knowledge on the population of vultures in Madrid needed to be improved so that future measures could be targeted accurately. To this end, annual surveys and radio tracking were done. Research was also carried out to analyse pollutants in the vultures' eggs, evaluate the availability of food resources, the impact of poison on the population and assess the mortality caused by electric power lines. The project also aimed to reduce black vulture mortality. These actions mainly consisted of surveillance programmes and the dissemination of information on conservation problems.
The measures implemented reached their main objective of preserving the Black Vulture population in the region, where it is currently classified as 'in danger of extinction'. Overall, the Black Vulture population in the Madrid region became stable in the last years (61-65 pairs).
The main results achieved during the project were the following:
On the contrary, the main shortcoming of the project was the lack of formal approval of the Recovery Plan for the Black Vulture. The document was drafted during the project lifetime and, in fact, it included all the recommendations derived from the project implementation. The objectives, measures, and zoning proposed were suitable for the conservation of the species and its habitats (nesting and feeding), and the document also included a time planning for the measures proposed. Five-yearly revisions were also foreseen for a plan that, although not officially approved, has been nevertheless partially adopted.
Among the lessons to be learnt out of this project, the need to endeavour awareness raising campaigns tightly focused on the most conflictive stakeholders (i.e. hunters and landowners of small hunting grounds) can be highlighted. These are the most relevant sectors to be targeted in order to combat the use of illegal methods for controlling predators, and in particular poisoning, which is becoming one of the main threats for this species. Besides, special attention should be paid to surveillance and monitoring in the 'Encinares del Río Alberche-Cofio' SPA, where human disturbance has been identified as the main threat for the species. The beneficiary stated his intention to continue the actions started within the project, and LIFE-Nature has therefore contributed to strengthening the conservation programme for the species in the Madrid region.