The Life programme is a financial instrument supporting environmental projects and natural conservation in European countries and some times in their neighbourhood for the implementation of the Habitats and Bird Directives (Directives 92/43/EC and 2009/147/EC of European Parliament and Council). Life+ Nature and Biodiversity support projects and co-finance actions aiming at:
- Best Practices and/or demonstrative projects contributing to implementation of objectives regarding Habitats and Birds Directives;
- Demonstrative/innovative Projects of EU Strategy 2020 implementation about biodiversity;
LIFE Project MED-WOLF- Best practice actions for wolf conservation in Mediterranean-type areas (LIFE11 NAT/IT/069) – takes place in Italy, in the territory of Grosseto province and in Portugal, in the Guarda and Castelo Branco districts. The project’s goal is to decrease the conflict between the wolf’s presence and human activities in rural areas where cultural tradition of coexistence with predators is lost. MED-Wolf joins Italian and Portuguese agricultural and environmental associations, state institutions and research centres, in a unique collaboration.
The two areas of project intervention are Italy and Portugal and include several Natura 2000 sites and protected areas. In Italy it will take place in the territory of Grosseto Province, in the regional park of Maremma and in faunistic park of Monte Amiata, where wolf presence has been found by previous studies and where there are land management personnel, that can contribute to the project. Along the coast the Mediterranean vegetation changes. Going along the rocky headlands there are feniceo juniper, mastic, and the wild olive tree. Other typical plants are heather, rosemary and cysts. In the most dry and sunny areas you can also find the euphorbia trees, palms (found mainly on the Uccellina mounts in the Maremma Regional Park), which covers 9,800 hectares, with large areas of mediterrean pine forests, swamps, but also dunes, grasslands and crops. Monte Amiata is instead a mountainous and hilly area that covers about 150,000 ha, with large forests of oak, chestnut, beech and large areas for agro-forestry-pastoral activities.
In Portugal, intervention areas are the districts of Guarda and Castelo Branco. The average population density in the affected areas is about 18 inhabitants per km2, but decreases to 12 inhabitants per km2 closer to the Spanish border. Local economy is based on agriculture and territory is mostly divided into small holdings.
In Portugal, wolf distribution has remained stable since the first census in 1997 with the identification of two main groups: the largest nucleus is located North of the Douro river, the smaller one, located south of that river, is more fragmented being isolated from the rest of Iberian wolf population.
The area of intervention will focus on the wolf nucleus south of River Douro, and, more precisely, the eastern range along the Spanish border, where wolf presence is considered more unstable.
Despite being considered a conservation priority by the Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests (the authority responsible for national wolf management), this area has not received adequate attention.
It is a fragmented group, whose survival and expansion has been strongly affected by habitat destruction and presence of physical and social barriers.
The intervention area is crucial for the survival of wolves in the south of Duero river and its expansion to the south and east, promoting in this way its future connection with the Spanish wolf population.
The species Canis lupus is defined as a "vulnerable species" in the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which lists all endangered species. Protected by the Habitats Directive 92/43 EU Annex IV it is integrated in the "Animal and plant species of Community interest in need of strict protection" document. In Italy, the species is protected under the 11 February 1992, n. 157 Law, Article 2.
In Portugal it is strictly protected by specific legislation, the Wolf Law (Law n.º 90/88).
It is a generalist predator, weighting 25-40 kg, which lives in different habitats in Eurasia and North America. Wolves can live in many types of areas, including human-dominated habitats such as agricultural lands. In the past it was thought that wolves could only live in mountains and large forests, but this was so because human persecution had restricted them to remote areas. Nowadays it is obvious that, in absence of heavy persecution, wolves can live close to people.
Wolves prey on vulnerable ungulates, such as roe (Capreolus capreolus) and red deer (Cervus elaphus), chamois (Rupicapra spp.) and wild boar (Sus scrofa) in Southern Europe.
This persecution has eradicated entire wolf populations in the past and has fragmented many others in developed countries during previous centuries, mainly in Western Europe and the USA. But during the last four decades, new conservation policies and the recovery of wild ungulates and of the natural vegetation facilitated by people migration from rural to urban areas, have allowed the recovery of many wolf populations in several countries of Europe.
Studies lead us to estimate that the current wolf population in Portugal consists of 300 animals, occurring only in the north and centre of the country – corresponding to a mere 20% of its original distribution. In parallel, although there is no official estimate of the Italian wolf population, a rough estimate of about 900 animals is reported, occurring in all national territory.
The expansion of wolf is also limited by illegal activities that prevent the establishment of reproductive packs in newly colonized areas.
1. Conflicts with local human activities
Wolf persecution in retaliation for damages to livestock is widespread all over its range. This is the main problem for wolf expansion and long-term establishment in both areas of MED-WOLF. Previous ecological studies suggest that these areas are ecologically adequate for wolf presence, but also that there are conflictive situations with local human activities. Damages to livestock attributed to wolves have been recorded in the four study areas by the local authorities and the attitude of local people is sometimes one of self-justice instead of seeking assistance from the local authorities, due to bureaucracy and dissatisfaction with damage compensation strategies.
2. Social Habitat fragmentation.
In most Mediterranean countries, where the habitat is highly humanized and fragmented, some areas are less suitable for wolves. The objective is to focus the conservation and communication efforts on the most suitable areas, thus achieving minimization of the negative effects of the social barriers.
3.Lack of coherent conservation strategies for the Iberian wolf.
The management of the Iberian wolf population is divided into two countries, Portugal and Spain. The promotion of national and international coordination groups is a crucial aspect that should be greatly improved through Life projects. Such coordination will allow the definition of common methodologies and criteria to enable an efficient transboundary wolf monitoring and management. The standardization of the monitoring and assessment of damages caused by canids is also important to allow data comparison across countries and regions. MED-WOLF will establish an Iberian Wolf Working Group and an international Working Group on Damage Prevention, thus increasing international coordination and amplification of positive results. In Portugal this project will increase efforts to monitor the area of intervention that was limited in the past and has been considered as a high priority by the Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests (ICNF).
4. Lack of systematic testing of efficacy of damage management strategies.
Although damage prevention is now considered a best practice approach for predators’ conservation, a systematic analysis of the efficacy of different methods in various conditions has never been carried out. This leads to the elaboration of local strategies of opportunistic nature that sometimes cause errors and negative experiences made elsewhere, with little success in the solution of solving the conflicts. The promotion of national and international coordination groups is a crucial aspect that will be implemented through MED-WOLF, and that will lead to the increase of knowledge on problems and advantages from each method and combination of methods for damage prevention and social participation. From predator assessment to the detection of the responsibles for the damages suffered by local livestock owners, an interchange of information and experiences is crucial for the optimization of the limited resources available for wolf conservation.
To promote the stable presence of wolf in rural areas in Western Mediterranean Europe, where cultural habits of coexistence have been lost, through reduction of conflicts with human activities.
- Development of reliable and trustful surveys of wolf presence and status, and characterization of conditions of conflicts caused by wolf presence in the project areas (ex ante wolf survey presence, and ex ante survey on wolf damages)
- Actions devoted to the training of the local actors involved in wolf conservation dealing with: monitoring of wolf population, assessment of damages and trust-building with the livestock owners and hunters (training on detection of wolf presence and illegal activities; training on damage assessment)
- Testing and experimentation for correct implementation of effective damage prevention measures as electric fences, fixed conventional fences, high-quality and well-trained livestock guarding dogs, and the management of livestock in order to reduce wolf predation risk
- Exchange of experiences with other similar projects and experts in the different aspects of wolf conservation
- Creation of national and international coordination groups on damage prevention techniques and wolf studying methods
- Assessment of the ecologically best wolf areas where social conflicts exist and represent barriers to expansion, anti-poaching activities using GIS techniques
- Awareness campaigns for the general public and livestock owners on the ways of coexistence between the wolf and human activities (ex ante survey on knowledge, website, communication campaign)
- Increase of awareness and technical knowledge at the management level through thematic meetings and workshops (workshops for management at population level, symposium on wildlife damage prevention)
Through these actions the project wants to pursue the following results:
- The amount of damages to livestock decrease in the project implementation areas by at least 20%
- The damage prevention methods are used at least by 30% of the farmers in the project areas
- Adoption of best livestock management techniques by livestock owners in Italy and Portugal
- The knowledge and attitude of farmers and general public scores have increased by 20% from the first poll
- Adoption of common methodologies and criteria to enable efficient transboundary wolf monitoring.
- Wardens, veterinaries and other technicians of public bodies receive adequate training in methodologies and techniques of wolf monitoring, assessment of damage to livestock and damage prevention
- An international Damage Prevention Working Group is created and the electronic bulletin “Carnivore Damage Prevention News” is reactivated