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Reintroduced Bearded Vulture killed by wind turbine collision in Spain 

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The recent death of a Bearded Vulture in Maestrazgo, Spain, due to a collision with a wind turbine, demonstrates the increasing threat wind farms pose to vulnerable bird species, especially in regions where significant conservation efforts are ongoing. This incident marks the first recorded case in Spain, following two similar cases in Europe. 

A nature protection officer collects the carcass of the bearded vulture that died
A nature protection officer collects the carcass of the Bearded Vulture © Foundation for the Conservation of the Bearded Vulture (FCQ)

Uncovering the wind turbine collision incident 

Since Masía’s release at Masetrazgo in July 2022, the Foundation for the Conservation of the Bearded Vulture (FCQ)  has been monitoring her movements daily via her GPS transmitter. That’s what alerted them that something was wrong. Anomaly from GPS data mobilized technicians from FCQ and nature protection agents from the Government of Aragón to search for Masía in the field. 

Sadly, upon searching the grounds, the field team discovered the mutilated carcass of Masía beneath a wind turbine at the Refollas wind farm in Castellón. A forensic team from the Wildlife Recovery Center of the Government of Aragón proceeded to examine the carcass and confirmed severe polytrauma as the cause of death. In an effort to bring those responsible for this loss to justice, the FCQ plans to report the incident to the Environmental Prosecutor’s Office of Teruel. 

Growing threat of wind farms to bird species 

The tragic loss of Masía, a female Bearded Vulture, has brought to light the severe impact of poorly planned wind farm developments on wildlife in Spain, especially in areas of high ecological value. There are a lot of programmes working to restore wild populations of threatened bird species in Europe, including several for the Bearded Vulture, and such tragic losses jeopardize the efforts invested by European and national institutions. 

Wind farms, while contributing to renewable energy production, have become a significant threat to bird populations. The uncontrolled spread of wind farms in Spain, especially in areas with high densities of large soaring birds, such as Griffon Vultures, Golden eagles, and Bonelli’s eagles, transforms high-quality habitats into areas incompatible with their survival. 

In 2023 alone, 2,254 birds and bats were found dead under wind turbines in Spain, including numerous endangered species. Let’s not forget that these numbers represent a fraction of the reality since most bird mortality cases usually go undetected. The need for stricter regulations and more effective mitigation measures is urgent. 

Bearded Vulture Masia carcass and wind turbine in the back
Bearded Vulture Masia under the wind turbine © Foundation for the Conservation of the Bearded Vulture (FCQ)

It’s not the first time wind turbines kill Bearded Vultures  

Masía’s death reflects a broader issue seen across Europe that has become increasingly evident in recent years. 

On May 26, 2021, a reintroduced Bearded Vulture named Angèle was found dead under a wind turbine in Wieringerwerf, the Netherlands. Released in the Baronnies as part of the LIFE GypConnect project, Angèle had wandered to northern Europe, a common behavior for young Bearded Vultures. This marked the first recorded case of a Bearded Vulture killed by a wind turbine in Europe. 

Two years later, on June 12, 2023, another young Bearded Vulture named Roc was found dead after colliding with a wind turbine in Zeewolde, the Netherlands. Roc, released in the Grands Causses (Southern France) also through the LIFE GypConnect reintroduction project, had also wandered to northern Europe. This tragic incident marked the second recorded case of a Bearded Vulture fatality due to a wind turbine in the Netherlands and Europe. 

With the death of Masía in Spain, it is becoming increasingly clear that wind turbines pose a significant threat not only in areas frequented by Bearded Vultures. 

• VCF’s Hans Pohlman retrieving the carcass of Angèle (the first Bearded Vulture killed by wind turbine collision in Europe) © Vulture Conservation Foundation
• VCF’s Hans Pohlman retrieving the carcass of Angèle (the first Bearded Vulture killed by wind turbine collision in Europe) © Vulture Conservation Foundation

Conservation efforts and challenges for the Bearded Vulture 

Today, the Bearded Vulture is classified as “endangered” in Spain and occupies a fraction of its former range across Europe.  

Bearded Vultures faced near-extinction due to intense persecution, a decline in wild herbivore populations, and changing farming practices during the 19th and 20th centuries. However, populations are steadily growing in several parts of Europe. 

A flagship project began in the late 1970s to bring the species back to the Alps, creating a pan-European network to breed the species in captivity and release them into the wild. Today, many other projects, led by the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF), follow the success of the Alpine project to restore Bearded Vulture populations to the wild.  

In Spain, the VCF has been involved in two reintroduction projects. Together with the Junta de Andalucía, over 90 Bearded Vultures have been released since 2006 in Andalusia, with about 65 still alive as of 2023. The landmark moment marking the successful return of the species happened in 2015 with the first hatching in the wild. Another project in Tinença de Benifassà Natural Park in Maestrazgo, led by the Generalitat of Valencia, has released 17 Bearded Vultures since 2018. 

FCQ is also a conservation NGO heavily involved with Bearded Vulture reintroduction programmes and has been striving to return the species to several areas in Spain, at the Picos de Europa, the Sierra de Gredos, and the Sierra del Maestrazgo. 

Need to balance between renewable energy and conservation goals 

The issue of wind farms in Europe poses a significant threat to Bearded Vultures and other avian species. With the rising population of Bearded Vultures and the proliferation of wind farms, the conflict between renewable energy and wildlife conservation intensifies.  

The death of Masía is another sad incident that calls for a reevaluation of wind farm locations and the implementation of measures to protect bird populations. It underscores the need for comprehensive environmental assessments before approving such projects, particularly in ecologically sensitive areas. Government authorities must balance renewable energy goals with the preservation of biodiversity. Collaboration between energy operators and environmental authorities is also key to ensuring that renewable energy goals do not come at the expense of endangered wildlife. 

Incidents like this undo decades of effort in the recovery and protection of Spanish biodiversity. The Bearded Vulture, a symbol of wildlife conservation success, faces an uncertain future if current trends continue. It is imperative to learn from this tragedy and take decisive steps to ensure that renewable energy development does not come at the cost of our most vulnerable species. 

BEARDED VULTURE Maestrazgo logos

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