Around 150 Bearded Vulture conservationists, researchers and enthusiasts have joined us in Die, Drôme, France for the Annual Bearded Vulture Meeting 2021 and the Final LIFE GypConnect Seminar. The LIFE GypConnect project aimed to restore the connections between Bearded Vulture populations in the Alps and the Pyrenees Mountains. The project is now coming to an end, and the Final LIFE GypConnect Seminar that took place between Thursday 25 and Friday 26 November 2021 discussed the key outputs and plans for the future. In this article, we share the highlights from day one and day two of the seminar.
Day 1 of the Final LIFE GypConnect Seminar
VEB, PNRV,LPO GC: A 6-year review of Bearded Vulture releases in the Vercors, Baronnies and Massif Central
The local partners from the LIFE GypConnect project kicked off the presentation sessions to share the results from the reintroduction efforts. Initially, the project has foreseen the release of 24 young, captive-bred Bearded Vultures to the key reintroduction areas Vercors, Baronnies and the Massif Central, but the project exceeded the expectations, releasing a total of 42 birds between 2016 to 2021. Furthermore, the project aimed to establish one to two pairs through these actions, and has succeeded. Currently, there is one pair consisting of two males in the Massif Central (hopefully, a female will join them soon forming a breeding trio), a pair in the Drome and three pairs also established in the Aude, where there were no releases.
VEB, PNRV, LPOGC, LPO Aude: Population status of the Bearded Vulture within the GypConnect intervention area
Yves Roulleaud from LPO Aude presented the increase in Bearded Vulture sightings since the beginning to the end of the LIFE GypConnect project. Since 2012, certain young Bearded Vultures released in the Grands Causses have performed long-distance dispersal movements. Furthermore, 11 individuals have now settled in the Grands Causses and 9 Bearded vultures are still monitored via GPS transmitters.
CNITV: Ecotoxicological monitoring
Ecotoxicological monitoring of Bearded Vultures was performed throughout the project to identify threats, helping direct conservation actions. In addition to the 15 Bearded Vultures that have been necropsied since the beginning of the project, sentinel species like Griffon Vultures and Golden Eagles were also used to monitor toxicant levels present in the environment. Necropsies detected that four Bearded Vultures had fragments of lead ammunition, although mortality was caused by other threats such as collision. Furthermore, four mortalities recorded in the Massif Central, including one Bearded Vulture, were caused by Carbofuran, a pesticide prohibited since 2008 and the peak of illegal poisoning events were recorded in July. Electrocution has affected a majority of Griffon Vultures as well as three Bearded Vultures.
ENEDIS: Mitigating the impacts of dangerous power lines in the Baronnies and Grands Causses
One of the important missions of the project was to reduce the adverse consequences of dangerous powerlines on biodiversity.
In the pre-Alpes (Baronnies and Grands Causses), the project team neutralised dangerous power lines on sites close to Bearded Vulture sites to mitigate the risk for vultures, placing 2300 m of cables underground. Furthermore, in the Grands Causses, they made an inventory of all risky areas, secured release sites for Bearded Vultures and equipped lines with deterrent measures to prevent vultures from landing on power lines in Bearded Vulture breeding territory; 10-15 km covered since 2017. Overall, they spent nearly 1 million euros to secure power lines within the LIFE GypConnect project.
Hervé Picq and Jean Claude Tolphin: Assessment of the experimentation of alternative ammunition in the Cévennes National Park
The project also raised awareness among hunters on the extensive presence of lead in wildlife and promoted alternative ammunition for the hunting season. As a result, 51 volunteer hunters and the local hunting federation worked with the project to disseminate the information, reaching 45 villages and towns along the Bearded Vulture territory.
Furthermore, the satisfaction survey among hunters identified 15 calibres and 28 alternative ammunition types, with 51 volunteers at the shooting range testing the ammunition. The 1st survey concluded that 36% are highly satisfied while over 50% of people thought it had a negative impact on venison. A rate of 3,3 out of 4 hunters were very satisfied with alternative ammunition used and 1300 hunters were informed and aware of non-lead ammunition. Finally, 51 volunteers (hunters) tested the ammunition – over 90% of them continued to use the non-lead ammunition.
Léa Giraud: Illegal persecution of Bearded vultures: frequency and potential impacts
Unfortunately, direct Bearded Vulture persecution is still present. During the project, 15 Bearded Vultures have been necropsied. Furthermore, 13% of dead vultures had lead residues from ammunition in them. Four cases included illegal mortality – 2 Bearded Vultures were shot while two others were poisoned. The loss of these birds has huge financial impacts and might affect the long-term viability of this reintroduced Bearded Vulture population. Worryingly, most illegal mortality cases do not result in legal investigations, and a crucial action to mitigate this threat is through awareness and capacity building among relevant authorities (public prosecutors, environmental agents) to help prioritise wildlife crimes.
LPO Aude: Improving the availability of food resources for the Bearded Vulture
Anna Terras from LPO Aude stated that 12 small feeding stations were specifically created for the Bearded Vulture during the LIFE GypConnect project. Moreover, the French authorities did not give the possibility to establish feeding sites outside the specific supplementary feeding sites and local communities do not like seeing carcasses in the environment.
LPO AUDE: Use of supplementary feeding stations by the Bearded Vulture: a review
The aim of using supplementary feeding stations was to increase the food availability for vultures and attract them to the area. These stations helped increase the flow of individuals between the Alps and Massif Central. Specific feeding sites are well used by Bearded Vultures and they help to fix breeding pairs like in the Aude, which enabled the installation of one Bearded Vulture breeding pair.
Noëllie Ortega: Raising awareness on Bearded vulture conservation: the role of local actors
The project raised awareness among children and local inhabitants, having them participate in releases and monitoring the hacking system. They also connected the children to Bearded Vulture conservation through art by creating comics and local people through painting and sculptures prepared and sold to raise funds for the conservation of the species. Finally, they had branded Bearded Vulture wine and beer.
Léa Giraud: Communications and teaching tools created within the LIFE project
Léa Giraud presented the teaching tools created to promote the objectives of the LIFE GypConnect project. Tools were adapted to different stakeholders with exhibitions aimed at tourists, numerous videos focusing on the main threats to vulture populations, as well as the organisation of conferences and field trips.
Day 2 of the Final LIFE GypConnect Seminar
VEB, PNRV: Vulture monitoring and reintroduction in the French PreAlps: a 30 year overview
The idea of reintroducing vultures in the pre-Alps dates from 1987; the first release took place in the Baronnies with Griffon Vultures in 1996-2001 with 61 vultures released. Today, nearly 700 breeding pairs exist in Barronies, Verdon and Vercors. Furthermore, the reintroduction of Griffon Vultures promoted the return of the Egyptian Vulture, with the first pair established in 2000 but the population is still fragile. In 2004, Cinereous Vulture reintroduction efforts started by using the hacking method and delayed-release; in the Baronnies 49 individuals were released and 14 pairs are active in reproduction; in Vedron 42 birds were released and reintroduction is still ongoing for 2022; in Verdon 6 breeding pairs up to now. The reintroduction of the Bearded Vulture started in 2010 in Vercors (17 reintroduced) and 2016 in the Baronnies (12 reintroduced). Placets are the most ecological way to supplementary feed vultures – something that we will continue to develop and have established 2 in Vercors, 9 in Barronies, 14 in Verdon. However, wild ungulates are also important for the main GV colony in the Baronnies.
Sorbonne University: An overview of the scientific studies conducted within the framework of Gypconnect
Assessing the contribution of the project to reconnect Bearded Vultures in the Alps and Pyrenees is important. A total of 58 birds were released from 2010-2021, 19 died, 4 recaptured and 28 alive (no proof of death). Survival rates seem unfavourable for the pre-Alps nucleus and Causses; unfavourable predictions to decrease mortality causes. Survival rates are still under the values that allow the population to grow, and it appears the population can’t grow outside of the releases so it is necessary to improve these survival rates to ensure population settlement, growth and long term viability – breeding should come soon and secure attractivity. The main causes of mortality include poisoning, shooting, collision and electrocution; natural mortality is difficult to address, human-induced mortality is a priority to address.
Julien Traversier and Léa Giraud: GypConnect: overview of the main results
The project released 42 birds thanks to the VCF managed Bearded Vulture Captive Breeding Network (Bearded Vulture EEP), even though 24 birds were originally planned for release. To improve food availability, 8 specific points were created and 29 Placets. The main mortality causes documented were trauma, electrocution, infectious pathologies, poisoning, collision with wind turbines, shooting, and collision with power lines. Human-caused mortality was recorded in 126 cases of vulture deaths (shooting, poisoning with Carbofuran, electrocution, collision), with most birds (26) having bullets in them, primarily Griffon Vultures, but also Cinereous Vultures.
The project team will submit a new LIFE Programme application for “LIFE GYPACT,” with the main objectives being to establish an environmental unit with a canine unit to search for poisoning events and other mortality events and to continue the releases and expand the scope.
Franziska Lörcher/ VCF: Contribution of GypConnect to the conservation of the neighboring populations od Bearded Vulture
Our very own Franziska Lörcher explained that to reach the connection between populations, we need natal dispersal, in order to have a metapopulation in Europe. Monitoring shows that the majority of birds settled within 50 km of where they fledged, either reintroduced birds or naturally fledged birds. Between 1986-2021: 239 birds were released in the Alps, with the first hatching in the wild in 1997. It is a demographically stable and growing population but genetic diversity reduces when you go from captive-bred birds, towards released birds and naturally fledged birds. To tackle this, we include new founders in the Bearded Vulture EEP; release of rare, founded lineages to increase genetic diversity, and help connect the Alps and Pyrenees. Analysis shows that movements between mountain ranges exist, but are rare, with one breeding migrant detected from the Pyrenees in the Alps. Furthermore, the population in the Pyrenees seems to be saturated and we expect that birds from that population will start moving to new ranges soon. There is also a need for migrants in the Alps to help boost genetic diversity.
Stay tuned by following #BeardedVultures2021 on the VCF’s Twitter page.