LIFE project Bear Courel

LIFE Bear Courel

Actions to favour Cantabrian brown bear expansion to new territories in Serra do Courel (Galicia, Spain).

This LIFE project is been developed between July 2017 to December 2020 by Brown Bear Foundation (Fundación Oso Pardo, FOP) as coordinating beneficiary and Regional Government of Galicia (Xunta de Galicia, XG) and Land Stewardship Galician Association (Asociación Galega de Custodia do Territorio, AGCT) as associate beneficiaries. The project also counts with the financial support of Biodiversity Foundation (Fundación Biodiversidad, Ministerio para la Transición Ecologica) and Naturgy.

 

Objectives

The general objective of this project is to favour long-term Cantabrian bear population viability promoting its expansion towards the southwest and its permanent establishment in the Serra do Courel (Lugo, Galicia), contributing in this way to the numerical and spatial expanding of the population and the reaching of a Favourable Conservation Status (FCS). Although Cantabrian bears are increasing their numbers, and connectivity between subpopulations is starting, there is little spatial expanding and both numerical and spatial increase are essential for reaching a FCS for the whole Cantabrian population, at the long-term and with enough ecological, demographic and genetic guarantees.

The specific objectives of the project are the following:

1) To favour permanent settlement of bears in a new territory, the Serra do Courel (Lugo, Galicia), improving trophic availability and guaranteeing connectivity between high quality habitats for bears.

2) To guarantee connectivity between main bear reproductive nucleus in the western Cantabrian subpopulation and the Serra do Courel.

3) To prevent and solve conflicts between bears and people coming from the new presence of bears in the Serra do Courel.

4) To increase information and awareness of local stakeholders and, in general, local population about the importance of the ongoing presence of bears.

 

Connectivity, habitat improvement and cohabitation measures: key points in a brown bear expansion area

The project tries to favour long-term viability of the Cantabrian bear population by means of an increase in its range, developing specific actions in the Serra do Courel as the most interesting area for population expansion. To approach this subject, the proposal includes actions for connectivity and habitat quality improvement, together with actions for cohabitation between bears and human activities.

Connectivity and habitat quality are improved by planting 100.000 autochthonous trees in small forests over 100 ha of total surface, strategically distributed for the connection of habitat patches and the increase of trophic availability in the best areas for bears. These plantations will be developed by local workers in 15 ha of abandoned pastures bought by the project and 85 ha of abandoned lands and communal forests managed under Land Stewardship Agreements with private owners.

Cohabitation between bears and human activities is approached by collaborating with beekeepers, with a previous beehive inventory and analysis of the situation, and the protection of all beehives in the area using electric fences. The project will also rehabilitate some old traditional protection structures (alvares). Other part of the project is the collaboration with hunters by clearing hunting sites to avoid confusion between bears and wild boards and favour social acceptance between this stakeholders. The training and outfitting with equipment of a official Problematic Bear Intervention Team is another way to prevent and facilitate cohabitation.

The project includes actions for the monitoring of human-bear relations, bear dispersal and connectivity, as well as monitoring LIFE  performance indicators and analysing socioeconomic and ecosystem effects. There are also important information and awareness actions for stakeholders and local population, including sectorial encounters, stakeholders exchanges, educative campaign and others. An international workshop will be celebrated at the end of the project to facilitate transferability and replicability.

 

Actions of the project

A1. Signing of agreements with local administrations, social organizations and owners.

A2. Plan of forestry actions for habitat connectivity.

A3. Plan of defragmentation actions in the A6 highway and other infrastructures.

A4. Inventory of apiculture farms and traditional beehive protection structures (alvares).

B1. Land purchase for enrichment forests plantation.

C1. Creation of connectivity and enrichment forests.

C2. Defragmentation actions in A6 highway and other infrastructures.

C3. Clearing of hunting areas to reduce risks of bear mortality.

C4. Prevention of conflicts between bears and apiculture.

C5. Preparation and equipment of an intervention team for human-bear conflicts resolution.

D1. Monitoring the effects of project actions.

D2. Monitoring and measurement of LIFE performance indicators.

D3. Assessment of the impact of the project on the ecosystem functions.

D4. Assessment of the socioeconomic impact of the project.

E1. Dissemination planning and execution.

E2. Information and awareness of stakeholders environmental education and transferability.

F1. Overall project management.

The news agency EFEverde has visited the LIFE Bear Courel project in July 2018 and has explained it in the following video (in English)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1SMaXNNP6Rw

CARTOGRAPHIC VIEWER OF THE INVENTORY OF TRADITIONAL ALVARES IN THE SERRA DO COUREL

In the Sierra del Courel, as well as large areas of northwestern Spain, beehives were traditionally protected by putting them inside stone walls specially built for this purpose, known as alvares or alvarizas in this area. These structures have been abandoned because management changes and location in areas of difficult access, but they have an important ethnographic value and are a good and precise reflection of the historical presence of the bear in many territories. In the LIFE Oso Courel project, a review of the existing stone structures in the territory has been carried out. 192 stone structures have been registered in the project area, with a greater presence on the more thermal slopes of the southern part, due to its better characteristics for beehives. They are mostly round complete wall structures, although some have oval or horseshoe shape or incomplete walls. The common elements that allow protection against bears are very thick walls (>70 cm), large stones that form a cantilever in the upper part of the walls and low and narrow door. Most of these structures are out of use, although there are still some in use. To contribute to the knowledge and conservation of this heritage, a cartographic viewer has been created with the geographical location of the alvares, together with basic information of each of them collected during the field work.

 

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