Improving the Circle of Life in the Central Apennines, Italy

This project aims to increase populations of vultures and other birds in the Velino Mountains in the Sirente Velino Regional Park.

The high alpine mountains, grasslands and valleys with the deep Celano Canyon at its centre, are home to one of the largest populations of griffon vultures in Italy. These birds play a very important role in the health of the ecosystem, yet they are threatened by collison with ski lifts, powerlines and wind turbines, disturbance when nesting by climbers, and indiscriminate poisoning which also threatens bears, wolves and other scavengers. The project will aim to increase the population of griffon vultures by 15% to 70 breeding pairs in 2023, as well as restoring populations of other birds including kites. Funding from EOCA would enable Rewilding Apennines to GPS-tag a further 20 griffon vultures on top of the 15 already tagged, and to increase their population by investigating and addressing the main threats for this species, in particular, poisoning. At least 70 tours will be created for 1200 people to spot and learn about the area’s birds and wildlife.

With many thanks to EOCA member LA SPORTIVA, which raised a large amount of funding for this project by donating 40% of its online sales over the Green Friday weekend 2021!

And thanks also go to EOCA member OSPREY for its generous donation in 2022 to celebrate the launch of its new Remnants product range.

Watch a short video that gives an overview of the project and its achievements mid-way through.

The Update

During the 2 years of the project, the team at Rewinding Apennines reported seeing an increase in breeding pairs of griffon vultures in the Central Apennines from 60 to 72 from 2021 to 2022. However, sadly, this number decreased to 62 in 2023. It is thought that this decrease was due to climatic conditions during the sensitive hatching period, and a notable number of poisoning cases recorded. During the project, 3 other rare species were identified feeding on carcasses in the area – a golden eagle, a cinereous vulture and an Egyptian vulture. The camera traps enabled the team to identify griffon vultures that had travelled from Greece, France, Spain and Croatia, really highlighting the vast distances these birds cover.

Over the course of the project 73 events were held, involving 1580 people. These events included simultaneous bird counts at nesting sites and also simultaneous aerial surveys of the vultures throughout the Central Apennines for population estimates. They also involved capturing 6 griffon vultures needing some assistance and 3 thematic griffon vulture hikes. Dissemination events to raise awareness of biodiversity, griffon vultures, and the work being carried out were held with school children, a forestry department, climbing associations, and climbers at the main climbing cliffs in the area. The aim of these events was to reduce disturbance to the birds, people attending a summer festival, local people, farmers, agencies and authorities at a feeding station, and people attending a rewilding seminar.

A new supplementary feeding station has been completed in the municipality of Massa d’Albe and authorisation has been received to start using it from Jan 2024.

Unfortunately, during the 2 years, 8 griffon vultures were found during transect inspections to have been killed at 2 wind farms. Two meetings have been held with the management companies to seek a solution to mitigate the threat posed by the wind farms which may include stopping the blades when virtual fences have been triggered by vultures in the area.

During the same time, at least 26 griffon vultures were found to have been probably poisoned. The increased tracking of the birds by 67 GPS devices installed during this project and increased sampling efforts enabled the team to gather more data on these loses. 720 field surveys were carried out in 2022, and 605 in 2023 [how do the 720 and 605 field survey figures fit in here?]. This increased data plus cooperation with the Carabinieri Forestry department enabled the team to react to suspected poisonings with urgent inspections. This work resulted in 2 perpetrators being identified, and in 77 potentially poisoned carcasses being removed from habitats where they could cause further dangers to vultures and other wildlife. Thanks to the results obtained during the project, it was possible to collect a considerable amount of data on the local threats for large birds of prey. Collaborations have been initiated through memoranda of understanding, informal meetings with the main protected areas, and the police, to initiate actions in the next period to mitigate these threats.