Conservation of the european black vulture in the SPAs of Madrid

Reference: LIFE98 NAT/E/005351 | Acronym: Buitre negro/Madrid



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:

  • The knowledge about the species was significantly improved. Exhaustive information about the population’s status and trends (number of pairs, productivity, etc) was obtained through the direct monitoring of the nests. Besides, a great deal of information was obtained from the radio-tracking programme. For instance, intensively used areas (8 feeding areas and 5 dispersal and concentration areas) were identified. Food availability was also surveyed. All this knowledge allowed to define a set of practical recommendations that will contribute to the conservation of the species in the long term.
  • Moreover, thanks to the surveillance carried out in the nesting and feeding areas, no cases of poisoning were detected during the project period.
  • A main success of the project was, without any doubt, the forestry management model applied in the 'Alto Lozoya' SPA. This model was developed by the beneficiary as a case study to test compatibility between forestry practice (Pinus sylvestris harvesting) and the conservation of an endangered species. The results obtained showed that pairs that were nesting within the forest tract exploited by a private company (about 90% of the colony) had reproductive parameters similar to those located outside, in areas without any forestry works. It was concluded that this positive relationship between conservation and an economic activity is a consequence of programming the forestry works taking into account the species requirements. The park managers closely supervised the forestry works, avoiding any disturbance to the colony. The success of this management experience was based on good collaboration with the private owner.
  • The awareness raising campaign was also a big asset of the project. It contributed to changing the mind of the people living in the distribution area of the vultures. The large amount of material produced and activities undertaken were remarkable, and some of them were quite innovative and had an important effect on the target public, particularly among schoolchildren. Among others, a tale -'Danzante, el monje de los cielos'- was produced, a play for children was written and performed, and scale models of one flying vulture and one adult with a young in the nest were shown in an exhibition. The material produced was broadly distributed among schools, municipalities, tourist resorts (rural lodgings), forest and agrarian organisations, as well as farmers and livestock breeders. Above all, it was made clear that the presence of the vultures in the project areas was a feature that made these sites more attractive for the visitors.
  • 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.


    Reference: LIFE98 NAT/E/005351
    Acronym: Buitre negro/Madrid
    Start Date: 01/10/1998
    End Date: 31/10/2001
    Total Budget: 238,349 €
    EU Contribution: 143,010 €
    Project Location: Madrid


    Coordinating Beneficiary: Comunidad de Madrid - Consejeria de Medio Ambiente y Desarrollo Regional
    Legal Status: OTHER
    Address: C/ Princesa, 3, E-28071, Madrid, España
    Contact Person:

    LIFE Project Map



    • Birds
    • Awareness raising - Information


    • public awareness campaign
    • forestry
    • conflict of interests
    • forest management
    • nature conservation
    • environmental education
    • monitoring
    • population dynamics
    • protected area


    • Directive 79/409 - Conservation of wild birds (02.04.1979)


    • 0 - Non applicable (i.e.species project)


    • Aegypius monachus


    Type Code Name
    SPA ES0000011 Monte de El Pardo
    SPA ES0000056 Encinares del río Alberche y río Cofio
    SPA ES0000057 Alto Lozoya


    Name Type
    Comunidad de Madrid - Consejeria de Medio Ambiente y Desarrollo Regional Coordinator


    Type Resource
    Brochure Buitre negro, el Monje de los Cielos. Programa para la conservación del Aegypius monachus en la Comunidad de Madrid