Captive breeding programme essential for vultures’ survival

  • A new study shows that supporting a declining population of a migratory vulture with captive-reared young birds every year could delay imminent extinction
  • Whilst releasing even 15 captive birds each year will not be enough to maintain the population, it will buy conservationists enough time to remove threats
  • So many Egyptian vultures have died that the Balkan population has declined from >600 pairs in the 1980s to only 48 pairs in 2020

A new study shows that supporting a declining population of the Egyptian vulture with captive-reared young birds every year could delay extinction. However, further work is required to remove threats and ultimately guarantee its survival.

The results of this work, published today in the Journal of Applied Ecology, show that as long as there is a lot of human-induced mortality along the flyway and no improvement in survival, releasing even up to 15 captive-reared birds every year would not be sufficient to maintain the Balkan breeding population.

However, this approach would buy the conservationists some time to remove threats along the flyway, because the extinction risk in 30 years was markedly lower with than without population reinforcement. That time could then be used to increase survival of birds in the wild by about 6%, which would be sufficient for the population to be self-sustainable without the need for further captive releases.

Steffen Oppel, RSPB’s Senior Conservation Scientist and lead author of the study said: “Predicting the future trend of a population is always very difficult, and there is a lot of uncertainty in our predictions. But despite this uncertainty, we can be quite confident that unless we reduce the survival of wild birds along the flyway our hope of maintaining the Balkan population would be very slim – regardless of the fantastic efforts to raise birds in captivity.”

The Egyptian vulture is a large bird of prey found through most of southern Europe, however numbers have declined by more than 50% since the 1990s. Vultures provide the vital service of removing rotting carcasses from the landscape. Whether dead cattle, elephants or antelopes – vultures ensure that these carcasses are cleaned up free of charge. The catastrophic decline of vultures in India led to an overabundance of feral dogs and increased rabies infections in people.

Egyptian Vultures breeding in eastern Europe migrate around 5000 km twice a year between breeding and wintering regions. These journeys are hazardous, and many birds die from human and natural threats along the way, such as direct persecution, inadvertent poisoning, or electrocution and collision with power infrastructure.

This study comes hot on the heels after another paper published last week in the journal Bird Conservation International which identified electrocution from poorly-designed powerlines as a serious threat for Egyptian vultures. In this paper, scientists called for funders and Governments to invest in infrastructure which eliminates the electrocution risk to large birds.

Many migratory species are threatened, and their conservation is often tricky, because it requires the collaboration of many countries. But there is some hope for the Egyptian Vulture population on the Balkans. Work is progressing in many countries to reduce wildlife poisoning, refurbish dangerous power infrastructure to reduce accidental deaths from collision and electrocution, and to reduce the direct persecution of vultures.

Many more years of monitoring will be needed to show whether these efforts along the entire flyway actually lead to the required improvement in survival. But in the meantime, the release of 4-6 captive-reared young birds every year will afford conservationists some time to tackle the Herculean task of reducing threats across the three continents that Egyptian Vultures cross twice per year on their annual migrations.

Rare Butterflies thrive in Mabie Forest

Belted Galloway cattle are helping these butterflies flourish,

read about it HERE>

photo credit: Jim Asher/BCS


Rare white puffin spotted on Scottish island

Photo credit: Dora Hamilton

A leucistic puffin has been seen on Handa Island, off the Sutherland Coast.

Read about it HERE>

Isle of May – National Nature Reserve

The Isle of May National Nature Reserve (NNR) lies on the east coast of Scotland, in the entrance of the Firth of Forth. For its small size it has a tremendous variety of wildlife and is renowned for its rich bird life, seals and reefs. During the summer months the cliffs on the Isle of May are home to spectacular seabird colonies, and in the autumn the largest Atlantic grey seal colony in eastern Britain breeds on ‘the May’, as it is known locally. In the spring and autumn, the island is an important site for migrant birds passing to and from their breeding grounds.

It is one of over forty National Nature Reserves (NNRs) in Scotland. Scotland’s NNRS are special places for nature, where some of the best examples of Scotland’s wildlife are managed. Every NNR is carefully managed for both nature and people, giving visitors the opportunity to experience and enjoy our rich natural heritage.

The island is managed by NatureScot as a National Nature Reserve for wildlife and people.

Professor Sarah Wanless BNA Vice-president and recipient of the Peter Scott Memorial Award in 2019 has been doing research into Puffins on the Island.

Visit this link to find out about the animals on the island and how to visit.

Suffolk Wildlife Trust was formed in June 1961 as The Suffolk Trust for Nature Conservation. It all started following a conversation between the late Earl of Cranbrook and Mike Bendix. This led to a visit to Redgrave and Lopham Fen (which was under threat from drying out due to a borehole) where they saw the rare fen raft spider and an albino marsh orchid. They both felt that a Society or Trust should be formed to protect and improve the area and put together a committee of people who knew Suffolk and its wildlife well.

Much has happened over the following 60 years, and it’s time we celebrated our successes, but also look to the present and future and fight harder than ever for our amazing wildlife.

In the June edition of our membership magazine, we’re exploring the past, present and future, and present a landscape vision for a wilder Suffolk. In September, we’ll explore how our towns and cities can be wilder, too, reconnecting everyone to nature.

 You can find out more about our landscape vision here.