The Dinara-Pindos population of the brown bear (Ursus arctos) in Greece is the third largest population in the EU. In 2002, it was estimated to include at least 19-54 individuals. The brown bear sub-population and its habitat are suffering from severe pressure, due to the construction of a 72 km stretch of motorway: five bears died within six months of the opening of the first 40 km of this new road. Immediate mitigation measures are needed to minimise this negative impact. Moreover, bears are threatened by other human activities, including poaching, which affects around 5% of the bear population (above the sustainable threshold of 4% for a viable bear population). As food opportunists, bears show seasonal feeding patterns connected to human food resources, such as small-scale cultivations of wheat and corn, as well as small livestock and beehives. Increased contact with humans increases their risk of mortality. Bear habitats in the project area have also suffered degradation from criminal and accidental forest fires.
The ARCTOS/KASTORIA project aimed to improve the conservation status of brown bear, in terms of habitat condition and population, by addressing major threats relating to road infrastructure and other human-related mortality. Specific objectives included maintaining human-caused mortality at a sustainable level not exceeding 4% of the minimum estimated population in the project area and maintaining yearly reproductive females at no lower than 10-12% of the minimum estimated bear population. The project’s communication activities aimed to: improve drivers’ awareness and hence minimise traffic-related mortalities on some 350 km of major and minor roads; improve the awareness of specific target groups concerning existing preventive measures; and produce tools to minimise bear-human conflicts.
The ARCTOS/KASTORIA project applied innovative conservation technologies to mitigate brown bear (Ursus arctos) mortality in the Dinara-Pindos population in Greece. Monitoring confirmed that the outcome of this was in line with the project’s expected results. The measures were implemented through successful collaborations with involved stakeholders, and outcomes were exported into relevant national policies. The publicity campaign communicated the project's goals and achievement to local communities and the national public, helping to change perceptions about bears and their interaction with human activities.
The construction of a 72 km stretch of road, to extend the Egnatia Motorway network, increased traffic accidents involving bears. According to competent authorities, including associated beneficiary CALLISTO, from 2009 to 2013, a total of 19 fatal traffic accidents with bear victims were recorded; fortunately with no human fatalities. The road had been constructed with a conventional fence, and no wildlife passages or deterrents.
The project team radio-tagged ten brown bears to identify six crossing areas where bears were most at risk from road accidents. The erection of bear-proof fencing over a total of 35 km of road network, the installation of 22 warning signs to influence the behaviour of drivers, and 5 400 reflectors as optical deterrents, was focused on these areas. These structures and mitigation measures decreased bear fatalities through traffic accidents by almost 100%.
Non-invasive genetic monitoring, using fur collected with barbed wire hairtraps on electricity poles, indicated that there were at least 75 different individuals in the project area, and that the population's genetic status was in good condition. The project team used questionnaires to assess the damage caused by bears in 23 rural areas, to livestock raisers, beekeepers and farmers. To address these incidents, the project team implemented specific preventive measures, depending on the case and the complexity of each incident. The project team established and operated a special Bear Emergency Team (BET), of four trained experts, to intervene at road accidents, to provide advice to local authorities (e.g. on the management of garbage dumps or small orchards close to villages), and to undertake recommended methods for aversive conditioning or bear relocation. The BET intervened in 89 cases during the project implementation.
By creating a registry of all livestock-raisers owning livestock guarding dogs in the project area, the project helped share information and experience (including a list of 29 suitable livestock guarding dog breeds) via a network of livestock guard dog owners. The project’s environmental education programme and awareness-raising campaign helped to mobilise volunteers and actively involve stakeholders. The ‘Eco-Volunteer Programme’ involved 108 volunteers in total, who helped restore old orchards and contributed to awareness-raising activities. The dissemination campaign included organising meetings and seminars with stakeholder groups (e.g. Kastoria Hunting Association and road maintenance personnel), and producing brochures targeted at drivers and agricultural professionals. The project had a positive effect on the conservation status of the local brown bear population, by implementing coordinated measures to mitigate the impact of conflict between bears and road-users, farmers and rural residents. The project’s approaches also provided a platform for long-term bear conservation practices to be adopted within national policies relating to brown bear. Mitigation measures implemented by the project are transferable to other areas where there are conflicts between bears and humans that need resolving.
In the district of Kastoria, the agricultural sector plays an important role in the economic and social life of communities. Bear damage to livestock, apiaries, fruit trees and crops is therefore a significant nuisance, and can result in humans causing illegal bear mortalities. By helping to implement a range of mitigation measures, such as bear-proof refuse containers and electric fencing around vulnerable areas (e.g. orchards), the project contributed to the preservation of rural activities and provided significant socio-economic benefits.
Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Conservation Plan (see "Read more" section).