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Territorial differences in the application of health legislation threaten scavenging species in Europe

Diferencias territoriales al aplicar la legislación sanitaria amenazan las especies carroñeras en Europa


The disparate criteria of the different European authorities when it comes to applying Community Regulation EU 142/2011, which regulates the designation of areas where dead cattle may be left in the fields, threatens the biodiversity of necrophagous vertebrates such as vultures, bears, wolves and eagles, according to Spanish researchers from the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (UAM), the Universidad de Oviedo and IREC.

The disparity between European territorial administrations (member states, regions and autonomous communities) when applying the same Community legislation that permits leaving livestock carcasses in the field (EU Regulation 142/2011), poses a risk to the conservation of carrion species such as vultures, eagles, bears and wolves. Researchers from the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (UAM), the Hunting Resources Research Institute and the Universidad de Oviedo have demonstrated this in the journal, Science.

Following the outbreak of the "mad cow crisis" over two decades ago, European researchers warned of the conservation problems that would ensue if all livestock carcasses were removed from the countryside The situation was especially alarming for Spain, which is home to more than 90% of Europe's vultures as well as important populations of other species that consume carrion more or less frequently and are protected by European and national legislation, such as large eagles and carnivorous mammals including brown bears and wolves.

Following the detection of the first problems attributed food shortages (vultures attacking livestock), the European Union amended its health regulations in 2009, marking the first time it considered the need to reconcile public health concerns with biodiversity conservation. In 2011, Europe reisinstated the former practice of leaving livestock carcasses in the fields in areas previously designated by the competent authorities.

However, as the authors of the recently published paper warn, the lack of uniform criteria for designating feeding grounds for necrophagous species can result is sharp disparities in the availability of carrion between territories.

So while countries such as Portugal and Bulgaria have declared no feeding grounds, Spain has developed its own regulations, with additional criteria.

However, even in Spain, these researchers have counted up to eight different standards used by Autonomous Communities to delimit the foraging areas for scavengers within their territories. The researchers emphasise that, "As a result of these variations, we can expect that there will be imbalances in food availability that may affect the conservation of scavenger species”. 

The experts add that, "European legislation that apples to all Member States should incorporate clear and uniform rules for designating feeding grounds for necrophagous species, with the aim of standardising implementation throughout the European Union.

The researchers also recommend that the designated feeding areas be as large as possible to reflect the natural feeding patterns of scavenging species such as vultures, which are capable of covering tens or even hundreds of kilometres. "This would in turn have an umbrella effect, encompassing other scavenger species with smaller living areas, such as bears, wolves and eagles," they add.

The work concludes that the proper designation of feeding areas would facilitate the achievement of the stated objectives of European health regulations, preventing the need to modify areas that have already been designated, something that has happened, for example, in some regions of Spain. It would also help to guide the transposition of European legislation in regions such as the Community of Madrid which, despite being home to several priority species such as the black vulture, the red kite, the imperial eagle and the Iberian wolf, has not yet designated any feeding grounds for necrophagous birds in its territory. 

 "The amendments we are proposing are intended to contribute to the European Commission’s “Better Law-making” initiative, which encourages the constant evaluation of EU legislation by citizens and other stakeholders in order to enact more efficient legislation," the researchers say.





P. Mateo-Tomás, P.P. Olea, J.V. López-Bao. Europe's uneven laws threaten scavengers. Science. DOI: 10.1126/science.aat8492




Pedro P. Olea, Professor,

Ecology Department

Universidad Autónoma de Madrid

Telephone: 91 4976725

Mail: pedrop.olea@uam.es