European black vultures (Aegypius monachus)and griffon vultures (Gyps fulvus) are considered as umbrella species whose conservation will also substantially benefit other raptor species sharing the main diet of carrion as well as breeding and foraging habitats. These species are also an indicator of healthy, intact, natural habitats. The conservation status of all species of European vultures, however, is vulnerable as a result of poisoning, limited food availability, collisions (wind farms and power lines) and electrocution (electricity pylons). Moreover, most breeding populations are isolated and most species have low reproduction rates. It is difficult to ensure the long-term survival of these species in Europe.
Only around 2 125 breeding pairs of black vultures remain in four EU countries (France, Germany, Portugal and Spain). Around 97% are found in Spain. The single remaining colony left in the Balkans is located in the National Park of the Dadia-Soufli-Lefkimi forest (Dadia NP) in the Rhodope Mountains in Greece, close to the border with Bulgaria. The black vulture population here has around 28 pairs.
The overall objective of the LIFE RE-Vulture Project was to reduce acute threats to black and griffon vultures and thus allow them to recover in the Bulgarian/Greek cross-border area of the Eastern Rhodope Mountains.
The LIFE RE-Vultures project team implemented a programme of GPS tagging and monitoring to gather valuable data on the movement and dispersal of black vulture (Aegypius monachus) and griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus) in the Bulgarian/Greek border area of the Eastern Rhodope Mountains. The team created a GIS database, produced detailed distribution maps, and used the data to identify the main mortality factors for the two vulture species.
The project’s nest guarding activities during the breeding season minimised disturbance to the vultures. Poisoning (e.g. poison baits and lead poisoning) and direct persecution of vultures was reduced through active awareness-raising campaigns aimed at hunters and other stakeholders, the establishment of an anti-poisoning dog unit, and the creation of secured vulture feeding stations. Deer herds were also established to increase the natural prey for other predators like wolves, and to minimise the conflict with livestock breeders and potential poisoning attempts. The threat of electrocution on power lines was eliminated by identifying and insulating dangerous electricity poles. The project team worked closely with local farmers and hunting societies. Local farmers supported the project and provided carcases of farm animals for the vulture feeding stations, a disposal method also to their benefit. Hunting societies became active partners and participated, for example, in deer release and herd maintenance.
Specifically, the project team:
- Constructed five vulture feeding stations, implemented by both Stichting Rewilding Europe and local farmers;
- Translocated 448 deer (50 red deer + 398 fallow deer);
- Released 442 deer (47 red deer + 395 fallow deer);
- Installed 15 artificial nesting platforms;
- Created an efficient anti-poison dog unit, which performed 153 patrols;
- Insulated 197 electricity pylons, covering an area of 2.5 km;
- Promoted lead-free ammunition, including the buying of 1 760 lead-free items that were distributed for free during the hunting season; and
- Answered queries and collected feedback from 53 hunters who used the lead-free ammunition.
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Conservation Plan (see "Read more" section).