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TENT supports Spanish bear conservation

Today, TENT has agreed its support of the NGO Fundación Oso Pardo for 2024. Together, we are financially supporting the conservation of the bears; our partnership will help support corridors of habitat enrichment to take place in the provinces of Asturias, Castilla y Leon, and Cantabria, while contributing to critical coexistence projects in communities living alongside bears.

A recovering bear population

Once widespread across the whole of Spain, the Cantabrian brown bear was hunted to a low of just 50–60 individuals in the early 1990s. Bear populations were eradicated in the south, and became restricted to the regions of Asturias, Cantabria and Castilla y León. 

However, as the conservation movement has grown in Spain, the bear was awarded protected status in 1973. Today, a network of protected natural parks has been established throughout the Cantabrian mountains, preserving key bear habitats. In the mid-1990s the Cantabrian bear population began a period of recovery that continues today, thanks to the tireless collaborations between NGOs – including Fundacion Oso Pardo and regional authorities – and now numbers an estimated 370 individuals.

Image: FOP, Asturias

Ecotourism opportunities allow international visitors the chance to see brown bears in their natural habitat; a phenomenon that has transformed the local municipalities and diversified income opportunities. The larger population today is formed of two subpopulations, the western and the eastern; until the beginning of the 21st century, the bears of both nuclei were almost completely isolated and there was no genetic exchange, but as the number of specimens has increased, connectivity has been re-established. Today, however, climate change is threatening the bears’ natural behaviors and habitats, while, coexistence between humans and bears presents an ongoing focus for conservation.

TENT is committed to supporting ‘living landscapes’ in Europe, where wild species perform their natural functions in ecosystems; where ecotourism provides a route to sustainable rural development; and where people and climate benefit from wild, healthy nature.

About Fundación Oso Pardo

FOP, a local conservation foundation, is dedicated to the conservation and scientific study of the brown bear. Since the population reached its nadir in the 1990s, FOP have helped the species to recover, and are now working to naturally expand the population.

TENT has a long standing relationship with FOP, and we continue to support as the bear population recovers more of its natural, historic range. To improve genetic exchange between the western and eastern populations, FOP's team is restoring critical habitat corridors with plantations of cherry, apple, alder, whitebeam and buckthorn. Volunteer-led recovery programs are improving social participation in conservation, and 'bear houses' and museums are providing centres for education and heritage. Led by science, FOP ecologists monitor bear movement and promote expansion of the species into more of their historic range. To improve coexistence, the organisation works with local communities to increase social acceptance of the brown bear as an ambassador for wild Spain.

LIFE projects

LIFE is the main financial instrument of the European Union to support community policies on the environment and biodiversity conservation. Without LIFE support, it would be difficult to rescue the brown bear from the critical danger of extinction it was in 30 years ago. However, the support of private foundations, businesses and individuals is a critical enabler of conservation, while allowing more ‘match funding’ to be drawn into the LIFE programmes. FOP has coordinated or participated in 11 LIFE projects to date, and currently coordinates the LIFE Bears with Future and LIFE Human Bears COEX projects.

LIFE Bears With Future

Climate prediction models foresee a 15% decrease in rainfall and an up to 4°C increase in temperature in the Cantabrian mountains by the end of the century. Similarly, regional climate change scenarios for Spain predict that by around 2040, winter temperatures in the high mountain areas will have risen by about 2°C. The scientific literature indicates that brown bears will become more active in winter, presenting changes to their natural behaviors.

In addition, bears’ diets are likely to shift. Some plant species particularly susceptible to climate change, such as the bilberry, have lost their significance in the Cantabrian brown bear diet, possibly due to the growing irregularity in their fruiting patterns, while others, including cherry and alder buckthorn, appear to have increased in importance. 

The general objective of the LIFE Bears with a Future project is to improve the adaptability of the brown bear to climate change in the Cantabrian Mountains. The project takes an ecosystem-based approach to enable resilience and favorable conservation status of Spain’s bears into the long-term. Key actions include: reforestation in bear habitat areas; plantation of fruit trees to support bear trophic availability; land purchase to develop conservation programmes to replenish chestnut and other key species in bear diets; restoration of abandoned forests; information dissemination and awareness building in communities; and more.

LIFE Human Bear COEX

As the bear population has increased, so too have negative interactions between bears and humans. Therefore, one of the most important challenges to promote coexistence is to foster the social conditions for coexistence, while avoiding the presence of bears, within, or very close to human settlements and their habituation to the presence of people.

Favourable coexistence between bears and humans in the municipalities with the highest density of bears in the Cantabrian Mountains, alongside training and reinforcing the role of local actors, is the primary focus of the LIFE Human Bear COEX project, co-ordinated by FOP. The involvement of local communities is at the heart of the project, as the 9 municipalities where it will be developed act as Partners: an uncommon level of local participation in a LIFE project.

Key actions include: Creation and training of local conflict prevention teams; optimising the planting of fruit trees away from human settlements; creating routes of information around bear presence to local communities; protection of domestic animals; pilot testing of bear-proof waste bins; radio tracking of ‘problem bears’; and more.

Connect with nature

The wild beating heart of northern Spain is home to a population of 350 bears, which live in harmony with the beech forests, rugged mountains, contributing to a rural economy for municipalities through ecotourism. If you are interested in sustainably exploring Asturias to watch bears in their natural environment, TENT's partnership with Steppes Travel offers a curated journey.

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