The graph below shows that, over a ten-year period, France’s Egyptian vulture population in Mediterranean regions of the Pyrenean massif experienced an overall increase in size until 2004/2005, before reaching a stable figure and even significantly decreasing by the end of the ten-year period.
This trend applies to the two core communities which seem to reach a stable figure of around 20 pairs for one site and 65 pairs for the other.
The above data shows that after a significant and sustained decline over more than 70 years, changes in the Egyptian vulture population began a new upwards trend from the year 2000 onwards, ultimately reaching a stable figure of around 80 pairs in 2004 (this was the first time that this figure had been reached since 1960). Analysing the number of reproductive pairs reveals that overall, after a gradual increase, the number of birds attracted reached a stable level with, from 2004, a stable number of reproductive pairs in south-eastern France (15≥ n ≤17) and then, from 2007, a significant decline in population size in the Pyrenees (2007: 57 pairs, 2008: 54 pairs and 2009: 51 pairs).
Trends in the analysis curves for the number of young birds that reach flying age, meanwhile, appear to vary much more. While at a national level the number of young birds that reach flying age varies each season, at around 45 to 55 birds, only twice have more than 60 young birds reached flying age, in 2003 (n= 62) and 2008 (n= 67), following a high birth rate in the Pyrenees.
Conversely, while 2009 appears to be an exceptional year in terms of the number of young birds born in south-eastern France that reach flying age, it was an especially poor year in the Pyrenean massif, where only 34 young birds were born and reached flying age. 2009 was the worst year of the decade for the Pyrenean massif.
Over the last ten years, the rate of young birds among the Pyrenean population that reach flying age seems low (1.11), to the extent that it is reasonably exceptional for a pair to produce 2 young birds that reach flying age (45 pairs). From 1997 to 2004 in south-eastern France, the rate of birds reaching flying age was particularly good with an average of 1.36, before this figure lessened in subsequent years (the average from 2005 to 2009 = 1.07), to the extent that, over the 1999-2009 base period, it stands at only 1.22.
While the average breeding rate of Europe’s Egyptian vulture population is an estimated ~0.89 (data from BirdLife), the recorded breeding rate of France’s south-eastern population was 0.94 in 2009, thus reaching past levels (the last time a similar level was reached was in 2002).
The French population’s changing breeding trend over the last ten years shows a declining curve overall (see line graph results below).
This graph shows that in the first half of this ten-year period, the breeding rate in the Pyrenees was lower than in south-eastern France (following a high rate of young birds reaching flying age in south-eastern France). In the second half, until 2007, and with the exception of 2009 (which was atypical for both core communities), productivity in the Mediterranean area appears greater than in the Pyrenees.
Analysing the data collected from 1999 to 2009 thus shows that the breeding rate (0.704) among France’s Egyptian vulture population appears to be decidedly lower than the results for the whole of Europe (average productivity: ~0.89).
Thus analysing all the above data enables us to conclude that France’s Egyptian vulture population remains particularly vulnerable, with a very small increase in size. Breeding data confirm that overall, levels are lower than European averages.
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News about other Egyptian vulture populations in Europe
International Action Plan
After discussions between a number of experts from France and elsewhere, the need for a greater appreciation of the risks that Egyptian vultures face on their migratory journeys and when wintering in Africa featured as a key point in the International Action Plan.
This International Action Plan was drawn up and distributed on 30th November 2008, under the authority of BirdLife, with the involvement of its partners, including the LPO, and the support of the European Commission. This plan applies to Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus percnopterus) populations that, when breeding, stay in European Union countries (there are 9 relevant countries: Bulgaria, Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Romania, Spain and Austria). In addition, the plan covers the different areas in which the species is found and that encounter the same conservation problems – among others, this includes countries that have expressed their desire to join the European Union (Croatia, Macedonia and Turkey) as well as others around the whole Mediterranean region, Iberia, the Balkans, Anatolia and the Middle East, as far as the Caucasus, Central Asia and southern Pakistan. The main aim of this International Action Plan is to help to improve the conservation status of Egyptian vultures across the whole of their area of distribution so that, eventually (by 2018), they are no longer considered an endangered species but enjoy a favourable status, with populations of the bird increasing between now and 2015. This plan establishes a series of initiatives in response to the threats that the species faces. In particular, it aims to:
- ban the use of poisoned bait that is employed to combat species that are considered pests and predatory mammals,
- reduce poisoning risks (disposing of foreign waste, waste sites),
- reduce the risks of lead poisoning caused by the consumption of contaminated carcasses,
- reduce the risks of electricity grids and wind farms being causes of death,
- reform European regulations limiting the extent to which vultures can feed on locally produced meat-based material,
- promote traditional and extensive pastoral farming, ultimately with new herds and flocks being introduced,
- reduce the risks of breeding grounds being disturbed by ensuring that nearby economic activity is better organized,
- ensure that the events that regulate Egyptian vultures’ migratory journeys and their post-breeding time in Africa are better understood by putting a European programme of telemetric tracking into place.
The International Action Plan thus forms an appropriate framework for cooperation in order to ensure greater consistency in the initiatives that are carried out to benefit the species in Europe. It should also enable greater synergy in the measures taken to better evaluate and understand the threats that Egyptian vultures face across the different territories in which they are found as well as being more efficient in eliminating such threats.
Natural knackery – Feeding areas and obligatory financial contributions
The term ‘knackery’ refers to the specialist industry of collecting, processing and disposing of animal carcasses and organic waste of animal origin. The specialist nature of this work means that it provides a public service. Knackery companies carry out a range of tasks:
- Collecting and then destroying animal carcasses weighing more than 40 kilograms or animal carcasses with no weight limit, as well as offal and animal by-products from abattoirs deemed unfit for human or animal consumption or posing a specific risk as regards transmissible spongiform encephalopathy;
- Removing contamination and pollution risks;
- Limiting the spread of infectious diseases, some of which can be transmissible to humans.
Until the start of the twentieth century, there was very little regulatory control of knackery in France and animals had to be buried only in cases of contagious diseases. Clause L. 226-2 of France’s Code Rural [Rural Code] then introduced a ban on burying, disposing of (in any location) or incinerating animal carcasses or collections of animal carcasses weighing over 40 kilograms.
Knackery regulations in France came into force gradually:
- On 15th February 1902, a twenty-eighth clause was introduced into the Loi relative à la Santé Publique [Law on Public Health], which was subsequently known as the Loi Martel. The first legislative texts covering how to deal with carcasses were incorporated into the Code Rural as a result (clauses L 226-1 to L 226-9 of the Code Rural, brought together in Chapter VI: ‘Animal by-products’).
- 2nd February 1942 marked an increasingly organized approach towards knackery (collecting and disposing of carcasses) with a ban on unmonitored individuals and groups disposing of animal carcasses.
- In June 1996, with the ‘mad cow’ crisis, France created legislation to dispose of meat and bone meal and fats from dead animals. The French government then went on to play a direct role in the economic system, creating the Service Public de l’Equarrissage (SPE) [France’s Public Service for Knackery]. In 1997, the knackery service became state-owned following the problems with bovine spongiform encephalopathy. The French government announced an invitation to tender and made agreements with companies that were appointed to carry out this service.
- In January 1997, this service became funded by a tax on meat trading. In essence, retail butchers were exempt from this charge, which applied to businesses that exceeded a set turnover limit. Supermarkets were the main contributors to this funding.
- In 2001, after an unproductive national invitation to tender and as a result of unsuitable specifications, the French government decided to requisition the companies that had previously managed the SPE, in line with market rates at the time.
- On 31st December 2003, the tax on meat purchases that applied to meat distributors, known as the ‘taxe d’équarrissage’ (knackery tax), was removed. The French government’s decision to do this came after observations made by the European Union (EU), regarding competition distortion in relation to guidelines for fair competition between producers in different EU member states.
- In 2004, a new tax was created, exclusively applying to abattoirs, to fund the SPE. This new ‘taxe d’abattage’ (slaughtering tax) is based on:
• the volume of SRM (Specified Risk Material) and the material produced by the abattoir,
• the Carcass Weight Equivalent (CWE). The overall figure for this slaughtering tax, set out in the Loi des Finances [French budgetary legislation] for 2005, was 86 million euros within a total budget of around €250 million.
- 2005 saw the Service Public de l’Equarrissage being reformed – this led to, among other things:
• Decree n° 2005/1658 of 26th December 2005, modifying decree n° 2005-1220 of 28th September 2005, which set out the new remit of the Service Public de l’Equarrissage (clause L.226-1 of the Code Rural). From 1st January 2006, material from butchers was no longer part of the remit of the Service Public de l’Equarrissage, which then applies only to animals found dead in farms and carcasses that it is in the public interest to dispose of.
• Decree n° 2006-877 of 13th July 2006 which transferred the management of the Service Public de l’Equarrissage to the Office de l’Elevage [France’s Farming Office], and decree n° 2006-878 of 13th July, which transferred the management of the agreements for disposing of meat and bone meal that was amassed during the BSE crisis to the Office de l’Elevage.
• The order issued on 13th July 2006, amended by the orders issued on 23th October 2007 and 29th July 2008 (implementing clause L.226-9 of the Code Rural) which ties farmers’ financial contributions to the costs of disposing of carcasses and sets out the ways in which the actual weight for collection, and which is the basis for calculating these contributions, should be determined.