Douro Internacional e Vale do Águeda SPA and Arribes del Duero SPA form one of the main areas for Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus), Bonelli´s eagle (Aquila fasciata) and red kite (Milvus milvus) in the Iberian Peninsula. For the Egyptian vulture, the local population represents 10% of the total population of the peninsula. For Portugal, the area is the last stronghold of the Egyptian vulture and the red kite in the country.
The populations of all these birds of prey are declining nationally and in the wider EU. In the project area/SPAs these populations are still high, though breeding rates have declined and adult mortality rates increased as a result of poor habitat quality, disturbance and persecution.
Populations of Bonelli's eagle are stable in both SPAs with 13 breeding pairs since 2006, but the number of flying chicks fell from eight in 2006 to just four in 2013. As for the Egyptian vulture, the population in both SPAs decreased from 157 breeding pairs in 2006 to 116 in 2013, a 35% decline.
The LIFE Rupis project aimed to:
- Strengthen the populations of Egyptian vulture and Bonelli’s eagle in Douro Internacional valley, through improved breeding success and reduction of mortality;
- Improve the reproductive rate for both species (the target is at least one flying chick per active nest per year for both species);
- Reduce nest disturbance for these species with the aim of eliminating persecution of all breeding pairs in the project area;
- Increase food availability, particularly during breeding season;
- Reduce adult mortality for both species;
- Improve the habitat quality through better management of farming and grazing practices; and
- Better knowledge and dissemination of best practices for wildlife conservation.
The LIFE Rupis project carried out a wide range of actions in support of local populations of Egyptian vulture and Bonelli's eagle, among other priority species, in the Douro canyon. One key action was the organisation of two dog patrols for detecting poison, which led to an eightfold increase in the number of findings reported, while another was the dismantling or retrofitting of 54 km of powerlines, with both measures greatly contributing to a reduction in mortality rates.
Other measures sought to increase the availability of food for the target species. The project developed a strategy for the artificial feeding of Egyptian vulture that involved reactivating and expanding the local network of feeding stations – a total of 32 tonnes of feed adapted for the species were provided. In Spain, farmers were encouraged to increase the availability of carcasses, especially during breeding months. Both farmers and traditional municipal feeding stations provided around 145 tonnes of carcasses. The project also focused on habitat management with a view to fostering extensive cattle raising. Measures included the creation of around 65 ha of pastures rich in biodiversity, the installing of fencing for around 219 ha of pastures and the recovery of pond.
For the Bonelli's eagle, the project improved existing supplementary feeding by carrying out habitat management in support of prey species, such as rabbit, red partridge and pigeon. These included shrub clearings in 222 ha, sowing of traditional cereal and legume mixtures in 166 ha and the installation of 20 water troughs. Additionally, the project reactivated 36 traditional dovecotes and installed a newly created mobile prototype. Each dovecote was populated with 60 rock pigeons, while protocols for their maintenance were upgraded. Habitats will be supported in the long term via the purchase of 228 ha, while cross-border cooperation built up during the project will help reduce disturbances to nests.
These actions led to an increase in the local population of Bonelli's eagle from 13 to 15 pairs, although the Egyptian vulture continued to decline and reproduction was not improved. However, it should be noted that the project duration was too short for detecting long-term impacts and trends. Another clear result was the increased awareness of local populations and their collaboration with landowners and managers on the creation of a Network of Friends of the Egyptian Vulture, as well as the promotion of local products that respect the traditional landscape and nature conservation requirements. Awareness raising also included a campaign focusing on local teachers and school pupils. Similarly, the project helped increase knowledge of the target species and led to the progressive relaxation of rules governing the disposal of carcasses in fields in Portugal.
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report (see "Read more" section).