Category Archives: Nature

Beavers know no borders

Reintroduced illegally on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees, beavers have crossed into France.

Beaver. Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/Wildfaces-932734/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=1352439">Andrea Bohl</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=1352439">Pixabay</a>
Beaver by Andrea Bohl from Pixabay

Extirpated from Spain long ago, by the start of the 20th century the beaver was destined to disappear from France as well. At that time there were only around a hundred individuals, concentrated in the lower reaches of the Rhone. Protection started in 1909 and since then the beavers have been working hard. The  population is estimated at over 14,000; almost half of France has been recolonised.  But, despite being reintroduced into the upper Garonne catchment area from 1977, beavers haven’t progressed far SW towards the Pyrenees. Perhaps surprisingly there have been no official projects to reintroduce them directly.

Then in 2005 a biologist working on the banks of the river Aragón (Spain) noticed tree trunks with teeth marks. It later transpired that the beavers had been smuggled in from central Europe in March 2003 and secretly released. The details are vague but the authorities suspected the activist Olivier Rubbers or someone inspired by his success in Belgium.

“If they had crossed the Pyrenees [of their own accord], we wouldn’t have anything to say except to be happy,” said Miguel Urbiola, director of the Natural Environment department of Rioja, reported in El País.  But “We cannot tolerate this precedent. If we don’t eradicate this colony any environmentalist will be able to release any animal they like.”

The local authorities put together a plan to eliminate this protected animal. They argued that the presence of beavers might also menace the habitats of the otter and the very fragile European mink population. Both the Spanish government and the EU authorities agreed, with the latter curiously arguing that the animal was ‘outside its normal distribution’.

Between 2008 and 2013 a hundred beavers were captured in Navarra at a cost of 131,000€. The Rioja region removed 96. But all became too costly. “We don’t have sufficient funds and have other priorities,” said the authorities in nearby Aragón. But by 2014 it was estimated that there were between 450 and 650 still at large in Navarra alone.

Source: La Ballena Blanca, no 6 April 2016, pp. 68–73.

The latest news is that one of the Spanish beavers is seeking ecological asylum in France, on the river Nive (Pyrénées-Atlantiques).

 

 

Rewilding in Catalonia: sheep and bears, the official version

Sheep from the Boldis-Àreu flock now back in the valley.
Sheep from the Boldis-Àreu flock now back in the valley. In summer they can be seen on the GR11 near the pass between these two villages.

Source: Press release Department for the environment and sustainability, Generalitat de Catalunya, in conjunction with PirosLife and EU Life program, 31 October 2018, with additions based on interviews with one of the shepherds involved.

After five months in the high pastures the 36 sheep farms working with the PirosLife project have brought their 5600 sheep and goats back from the mountains. While in the mountains the animals were grouped into six flocks and various measures taken to protect them from bear attacks. The cost is borne by the PirosLife project.

Continue reading Rewilding in Catalonia: sheep and bears, the official version

Bears in the woods in Catalonia (and France)

Bear cubs photographed on an automatic camera near the Port de Tavascan, July 2017
Bear cubs photographed on an automatic camera near the Port de Tavascan, July 2017

The French government has recently promised to reinforce of the brown bear population in the western Pyrenees. Predictably this has stirred up French shepherds following an increase in attacks last year. Demonstrations are being planned. But on the other side of the border, in Catalonia, things are much quieter. Shepherds seem to be more willing to accept the new constraints. Continue reading Bears in the woods in Catalonia (and France)

Are Catalans better than French in dealing with bears?

On the Catalonia-France frontier above Núria
On the Catalonia-France frontier above Núria on the HRP/GR11

According to the authorities, the measures taken to protect livestock, principally sheep, from wild animals can be seen to work in Catalonia. The government gives compensation to farmers when their herds are attacked by protected animals (bears, wolves, etc). In 2009 it paid out 97,000€ but by 2015, the last year for which statistics are available, this figure had been reduced to 2,700€! If there is nothing hidden benind these figures it is a remarkable achievement. Continue reading Are Catalans better than French in dealing with bears?

Spanish restaurants serve osso bucco to birds

Quebrantaheusos (Spanish), bearded vulture, Lammergeyer vulture (English), Gypaète barbu (French)
Quebrantaheusos (Spanish), bearded vulture, Lammergeyer vulture (English), Gypaète barbu (French)

Photo: Richard Bartz, Munich aka Makro Freak

The French and English names (gypaète barbu and bearded vulture) refer to its distinctive red “beard” but the Spanish name for the Gypaetus barbatus, Quebrantahuesos tells you more about it: the name means “bone breaker”. Continue reading Spanish restaurants serve osso bucco to birds

Strange bedfellows counting sheep… then dreaming of hunting them

New Mexico Bighorn Sheep
New Mexico Bighorn Sheep. Photo by Jwanamaker https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28291925

The debate on the reintroduction of carnivores (think wolves) and omnivores (bears) usually focusses on the polarised views of livestock breeders on the one hand and conservationists on the other. But what about hunters? I’ve just been reading an article in the New York Times about hunting sheep which adds a whole new dimension to the discussion. In the US, receipts from sheep hunting permits are used to finance more sheep reintroductions. Could this idea be applied to the Pyrenees? Continue reading Strange bedfellows counting sheep… then dreaming of hunting them

Looking for ibex

Ibex kids in Andalucia
Ibex kids in Andalucia. At last!

Ever since ibex were reintroduced into the Pyrenees in 2014 I have been hoping to spot one on the horizon. Last year I contacted the Jordi Estèbe from the Parc naturel régional des Pyrénées Ariégioses and went with him to search for one. Despite knowing where the ibex was holed up, and despite both GPS and radio technology we failed to find him.

Looking for ibex in the Pyrenees
Looking for ibex in the Pyrenees

But yesterday on holiday in Andalusia (Spain) walking above Lentegí (Almuñécar) there they were, standing on a promontory thirty metres away looking at me: a female and two kids. The female disappeared immediately but the kids stayed, until their mother ibex called them with a birdlike squawk. They stationed themselves a little further down the slope just long enough for me to grab another photo. Wonderful surprise.

Female ibex and two kids near Lentegí, Andalusia
Female ibex and two kids near Lentegí, Andalusia

Rewilding in Catalonia: farmers demonstrate in Vielha

Pyrenean brown cow
Pyrenean cow at Ulldeter: is this the future of livestock breeding? 94% of the damage attributed to bears affected sheep.

It is not clear what is happening to Catalonia’s rewilding project. Despite decreasing damage to livestock, the farmers’ union is becoming increasingly agitated.

The Unió de pagesos is demanding “urgent and effective measures to reduce the damage caused to mountain flocks by bears and wild animals. We need to find equilibrium between livestock farming and biodiversity.”

Last Thursday (5 May 2016), the union organised a demonstration in Vielha (Val d’Aran) complaining about the current situation. According to official figures, which the union does not contest, there were 290 attacks on flocks between 1996 and 2011. But since 2005 increased vigilance and keeping the sheep together in flocks has reduced losses caused by bears from 25 to 10 per year. 94% of the attacks concern sheep.

It is the same with vultures. There were 50 vulture colonies in 1999 growing to 158 in 2009. Between 2011 and 2014, livestock owners claimed compensation for 233 attacks but only 12 were considered to be clearly the work of the birds. In 2014 there were only 24 claims; 6 were compensated.

Yet despite the trends, the union is demanding more preventive measures and a moratorium on reintroductions until the current problems have been solved.