The Limited Times

Now you can see non-English news...

The 21 giant eagles of Norway released on the Cantabrian coast that Asturias no longer wants


Highlights: Ecological Transition and the communities agreed on a pilot project to release specimens of the eagle, the largest raptor in Europe. 25 specimens were released, 21 of which are still flying in the area. After criticism from some biologists and ecologists, Cantabria and Asturias have now paralyzed the initiative, leaving these 21 huge birds in a complex administrative limbo. The Ministry for the Ecological Transition, which considers this raptor extinct in Spain, promoted in 2021 a project to reintroduce eagles – brought from Norway.

Ecological Transition and the communities agreed on a pilot project to release specimens of the eagle, the largest raptor in Europe that the ministry considers extinct in Spain, but after criticism from biologists and ecologists the project has been paralyzed and remains in limbo

Two specimens of eagle, the largest eagle in Europe, make a majestic flight over a river. They chase each other, they play in the air. One perches, gracefully, on the branch of a tree and the other follows instantly. There they groom each other and look at each other sideways. This scene, common in Scandinavian countries, does not happen next to a fjord, but on the Cantabrian coast. The Ministry for the Ecological Transition, which considers this raptor extinct in Spain, promoted in 2021 a project to reintroduce eagles – brought from Norway – with the approval of Asturias and Cantabria. 25 specimens were released, 21 of which are still flying in the area. After criticism from some biologists and ecologists – who deny the historical presence of the bird and believe that it may be harmful to native species – Cantabria and Asturias have now paralyzed the initiative, leaving these 21 huge birds in a complex administrative limbo.

Ernesto Álvarez, president of Grefa, in the SUV with which he moves along the Cantabrian coast to watch over the eagle. DAVID EXPÓSITO

"The scientific committee of the ministry included in 2018 the eagle among the extinct species in Spain. From there, we made a serious reintroduction project – in which the ministry has invested 360,000 euros – which has given spectacular results, "explains Ernesto Álvarez, president of Grefa, an environmental entity specialized in the recovery of raptors – black vulture, Montagu's harrier, lesser kestrel, red kite. From the bank of an Asturian river, Álvarez looks, proudly, through a telescope through which the pair of eagles perched on the branch is perfectly seen. "If you look, there's a third party behind it," he smiles. It is a huge bird (the outstretched wings of females can reach 2.5 meters), stately, with a firm look, whose adult specimens weigh four to six kilos. They eat mainly carrion, but also fish, insects, other birds and even small mammals.

Grefa requested specimens from Norway, which has collaborated in several reintroduction projects, and set up a gigantic acclimatization cage (25 meters long by 10 meters wide) in the Asturian council of Ribadedeva. "Here the chickens arrive with 70 days. First we feed them in nests, and when they are ready they jump, but they stay in the cage, so they learn to fly and socialize with each other," explains Lorena Juste, coordinator of the Pigargo Project. "After two months we open the cage and they can leave, but with this technique they leave when they are ready. In addition, we continue to bring food to the facilities, so many times they return, "he continues.

Image courtesy of Grefa of one of the 21 specimens of eagles that are currently on the Cantabrian coast. Grefa

But not everyone likes the project. "It is not a native species of Asturias. It is a large predator and can pose problems for other national species such as the shag, which is endangered," says Maritxu Ameigeiras, from Ecologists in Action Asturias. Nicolás López-Jiménez, from the Spanish Ornithological Society (SEO/BirdLife), adds: "Its introduction has created alarm in local populations for possible damage to fishing and livestock. We consider it to be an introductory project, not a reintroduction project. There are other priorities to invest public money when it comes to recovering other bird species."

Scientific criticism

Some scientists have also raised their voices against the initiative. "A species that has no place in the ecosystem for thousands of years is being released here. It can compete with the golden eagle or bearded vulture for food, and drive them out of nesting grounds. It has been done without scientific basis", criticizes Germán Orizaola, Ramón y Cajal researcher in Zoology at the University of Oviedo. Together with two other colleagues, he signed an open letter opposing the plan in its inception and maintains his contrary opinion.

Surely this controversy has influenced the change of position of Asturias and Cantabria, two regions that in 2021 – when the first specimens were released – sent letters to the ministry expressing their support for the project "to restore the populations of extinct species in Spanish territory". Two years later, in February 2023, Grefa presented to the Flora and Fauna Committee – which brings together the ministry and communities – a report of almost 230 pages in which he summarizes that the reintroduction is working better than expected, that there is a low mortality (21 of the 25 specimens are still alive) and that two pairs have already been formed.

Main causes of death of 60 million birds a year in Spain: power lines, illegal captures and abuses

However, the two northern autonomies asked not to continue, although they do not even finance the initiative. "Having studied the reports, the Principality and the rest of the bordering communities understood that the right circumstances did not exist to continue," explains a spokeswoman for the Asturian Ministry of Rural Affairs. Guillermo Blanco, acting Cantabrian Minister of Rural Development, adds: "It is not proven that the introduction does not generate direct or indirect effects on threatened seabirds, and it is not accredited that the eagle was a breeder in our country in historical times."

Miguel Ferrer, researcher at the Doñana Biological Station-CSIC and expert in bird reintroductions, denies the major: "There is clear scientific evidence that the eagle, which is of African origin, was in Spain. That's indisputable." The ministry agrees: "In historical times it has been recorded many times, through observations, documented records, hunted specimens ...". Ferrer defends the project: "The scientific basis of the project is solid, the ministry is in favor and the people of Grefa are serious. We are loading biodiversity in Doñana, Las Tablas and many other places and it does not seem to matter, and when there is a project to recover it, surprising opposition arises. Asturias and Cantabria now maintain a reactionary stance. They are the same communities that opposed the protection of the wolf, maybe their anger has to do with that decision."

Lorena Juste, biologist from Grefa, in the cage where the first introduction of the eagles takes place on the Cantabrian coast. DAVID EXPÓSITO

"There is a lot of hoax against the species: we saw news of attacks on cattle when we had not yet released any specimen, and it is also something that does not usually happen," criticizes Ernesto Álvarez, from Grefa. Other environmental entities accuse the eagle of interfering with the bearded vulture, in danger of extinction in Spain. Gerardo Báguena, vice president of the Foundation for the Conservation of the Bearded Vulture, which has recovered this species in the Picos de Europa, points out that they have seen a eagle in the muladar where they feed the vultures, but there were no interactions or problems between them. "There have also been in-flight interactions, but we haven't detected any alerts." Báguena is not against the reintroduction of the eagle, but he misses that there has been more information about that project, so close to his.

Uncertain fate of specimens

What to do now with the 21 specimens of this eagle loose in Asturias? Several conservation entities, such as Ecologists in Action, SEO and the Coordinadora Ecoloxista d'Asturies have called for the removal of the animals, something that Germán Orizaola also shares. Asturias and Cantabria do not pronounce themselves. Grefa, of course, asks to continue with the project, while the ministry points out: "What corresponds is to give continuity to the follow-up, to have information on the survival, distribution and habits of the specimens that were released and that survive." The capture of the specimens is not on the table.

Two sea eagles and a griffon vulture on a high-voltage tower protected with plastics to prevent the birds from being electrocuted. Pigargo/GREFA Project

The Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (Nina), the body that has collaborated with Spain to cede the chickens released here, is upset by the stoppage. "We don't want to comment on Spain's decision, but we can assure you that, if the idea is to have a viable population of eagles in the country, it is too early to stop the reintroduction," Duncan Halley, project leader at Nina, said by email. As for the criticism, he points out: "In Norway we have registered about 12,000 sea eagles, and there are hundreds of thousands of sheep, goats and calves grazing in freedom. We haven't found a single case where this raptor attacks livestock."

Grefa has marked all the specimens with a GPS that also provides telemetry data. "They offer us data on temperature, altitude, flight speed... With that we can know their behavior patterns, such as where they eat, and we can go and see them, or if they form pairs," says Lorena Juste. So they know that Valkyrie, one of the specimens released in Asturias, flew thousands of kilometers to northern Germany and then returned, while Loki did the same to the Netherlands. "They have incredible orientation. They can fly thousands of kilometers but in the end they usually return to the starting point, "says the biologist. Pigs from other latitudes, such as France or Germany, have also reached Spain.

A eagle perched on a branch near an estuary of Ribadedeva, on the Cantabrian coast. DAVID EXPÓSITO

According to the report of the environmental entity, based on these follow-ups, no impacts on native species have been evidenced and only a couple of predation attempts have been detected on non-threatened fauna species, such as ducks and common gulls. As for fish, it has been seen that it feeds on typical estuary fish such as mugiles. "It is a species that feeds mostly on carrion, so it interferes in a very limited way with other wild species in the whole of the global distribution area it occupies," says the ministry.

Jesús Bordás, acting mayor of Ribadedeva, wants the project to continue: "We committed ourselves and gave facilities. It is a beneficial initiative for the municipality that is not causing any problems. If it were consolidated, it could be a tourist attraction, we could make observation points of eagles and an interpretation center, just like that of the bearded vulture." In fact, the places are already chosen, but everything has stopped with the retreat of the Principality: "You have to have a word, if you start something you have to finish it".

Álvarez, from Grefa, shows his anger at the criticism: "In 42 years carrying out reintroduction projects I have never seen such an 'ecocidal' reaction against biodiversity. The project is serving to reintroduce the species, and also for us to act on cables and high voltage towers to prevent both eagles and other raptors from being electrocuted. We have to keep going." Germán Oraizola contradicts him: "This action has been done without scientific basis, it feels a bad precedent." Oblivious to the controversy, the eagles jump off the branch and take flight towards the Asturian sky.

Ernesto Álvarez, president of Grefa, observing with his camera the flight of a eagle. DAVID EXPÓSITO

You can follow CLIMA Y MEDIO AMBIENTE on Facebook and Twitter, or sign up here to receive our weekly newsletter

Subscribe to continue reading

Read without limits

Read more

I'm already a subscriber

Source: elparis

All news articles on 2023-06-07

You may like

News/Politics 2023-09-22T12:36:01.278Z

Trends 24h


© Communities 2019 - Privacy

The information on this site is from external sources that are not under our control.
The inclusion of any links does not necessarily imply a recommendation or endorse the views expressed within them.