Conservation schemes: The National Action Plan

What is a National Action Plan?

In 1994, France ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity after the Rio de Janeiro summit in 1992.
In 1996, a working group, put together by the Ministère en charge de l’environnement [France’s Environment Ministry], wrote a report on species of flora and fauna with a vulnerable status that was considered cause for concern. These species, such as Egyptian vultures (Neophron percnopterus), were labelled ‘priority species’.
France’s National Action Plans (or NAPs) for wild fauna are thus drawn up with regard to how vulnerable and rare species are and the threats that these species face at a national and European level. They are implemented in France as a result light of France’s cultural responsibility to ensure the protection and stability of the population sizes and international areas of distribution of these species. Ministère de l'Ecologie, de l'Energie, du Développement Durable et de la Mer (MEEDDM) [France’s Ministry of Ecology, Energy, Sustainable Development and the Sea] supports the implementation of these plans alongside the participation of partners involved in protecting natural heritage.

The National Action Plans thus aim to:

  • Ensure that populations of the species involved are monitored consistently;
  • Carry out coordinated initiatives to restore these species and their habitats;
  • Provide information for people involved and the public;
  • Make it easier to incorporate species protection into human activities and public policy.

The ‘Grenelle’ Environment Round Table underlined the importance of NAPs, especially where these contribute to France’s commitment to stopping the loss of biodiversity. NAPs are used alongside France’s legislative and regulatory framework concerning species protection. These are not enforceable documents, but they have now been legally recognized:

  • Clause 23 of the Loi Grenelle 1 of 3rd August 2009
  • Clause 48 of the Grenelle 2 bill

NAPs establish links with other environmental policies. They represent tools that can support national, European and international policies that seek to ensure a good standard of conservation for species and their habitats. 131 endangered species stand to benefit from NAPs, including 43 in metropolitan France and DOMs [overseas departments] and 89 in COMs [overseas communities].

Why have a National Action Plan?

Egyptian vultures are an internationally threatened species throughout their area of distribution and even more so across their territories in Europe. Over a 40-year base period, the species declined by more than 50% in Europe. The decrease is a striking one, especially in the south-east (Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, Rumania and Yugoslavia). In the Balkans, then, the figure is particularly concerning, with population sizes sometimes reduced by a factor of 5 in only 20 years, and always showing a highly negative trend. Over the last ten years, the species has disappeared from Bosnia and Serbia. In Greece, Bulgaria, Albania and Macedonia, population sizes have gone from over 500 pairs in the 1980s to roughly 150 pairs in 2004-2005. In recent years, Greece has seen the greatest decrease in Egyptian vultures, with an attested fall in population of more than 80%. It seems that, in addition to the usual factors (poisoning in particular), there are as yet unexamined dangers in the birds’ migrating to and wintering in Africa.
The species’ area of distribution is a fragmented one and Egyptian vultures have abandoned a number of vast areas. As a result, Egyptian vultures have almost completely disappeared from South Africa, and have become much rarer across almost the whole of the rest of Africa. Internationally, the species’ population sizes have been significantly reduced (Middle East 20%, Africa 25%, Central Asia 20%, Asia 90%).
The species is now considered endangered on the Red List (May 2007) that is produced by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature).
In the nineteenth century, Egyptian vultures were found throughout the Pyrenees, the Mediterranean Basin and along the Rhône Valley as far as Switzerland. Populations have since dwindled to such an extent that the birds now feature in only two distinct areas of distribution: the first and greatest is in the French Pyrenees, with links to the significant Spanish populations made up of the Pyrenean communities in Navarre and Aragon and the second, more of a relict, in the Mediterranean region that stretches from France’s Hérault department to that of Alpes-de-Haute-Provence.
Internationally, the species is made up of a community of small populations in which the death of any individual bird could have grave consequences for the survival of the species. Given the very concerning status of the species throughout its endemic area of distribution, implementing an action plan for the bird seemed necessary. As a result, the Ministry approved a national scheme of initiatives for the species. It appointed the LPO to lead an action plan, with local groups in each area of France in which the species is found ensuring the implementation of the action plan (first plan: 2002 to 2007. The first plan has been extended to cover the period before the second plan, which is currently being rewritten, is issued – it should be in place from 2012 to 2017). This joint effort involves the participation of partners and local individuals and groups that work together.

What are the aims of the National Action Plan?

The general aim of the National Action Plan (NAP) for Egyptian vultures (Neophron percnopterus) is to support the increase in size and development of the French population of Egyptian vultures. It is a response to the need to curb the decline of the size of the French population and increase the existing population throughout its traditional area of distribution, particularly in the south-east Mediterranean, by analysing and reducing causes of death, while encouraging the arrival of new nesting pairs. In the longer term, its aim was to rebuild an undivided geographical area from the Pyrenees to the Alps. In order to do this, five specific aims were identified:

Specific aims

  • To increase the Egyptian vulture population as well as the bird’s area of distribution in France.
  • To develop management initiatives for preserving and restoring habitats (nesting sites and feeding areas).
  • To develop information schemes and projects to raise the awareness of partners, people who use the areas involved and, more broadly, the general public.
  • To develop key areas of study and research in order to the conservation strategy for the species.
  • To encourage international cooperation in studies of and schemes for preserving the species.

How long does the National Action Plan last?

The National Action Plan for Egyptian vultures (Neophron percnopterus) in France was approved by the Conseil national de protection de la nature (CNPN) [National Council for the Protection of Nature] for a duration of five years (from 2002 to 2007). It has been extended to cover the period before a new action plan, currently being drawn up, is issued. In fact, following a report into the first plan (which had been in place for 5 years), 6th January 2009 saw the CNPN conclude that there was a vital need to schedule a second National Action Plan, given:

  • On the one hand, the exceptional results of the first action plan,
  • And on the other hand, the very concerning status of the species internationally.

In addition, the CNPN approved the suggestion that the second action plan should support efforts already undertaken to put together a network of feeding sites for the species as well as allowing the creation of an Egyptian vulture tracking scheme for periods in which the birds migrate to and winter in Africa…

Strategy for the action plan

The French Egyptian vulture population is broadly made up of a core community in Provence and a core community in the Pyrenees. These groups are exposed to different problems and the extent to which these are understood was initially different.
The strategy behind the National Action Plan for Egyptian vultures was therefore orientated around the need to:

  • Establish the same level of understanding and monitoring of both populations (in the Pyrenees and near the Mediterranean);
  • Offer specific initiatives for each population;
  • Make use of local individuals and groups involved in conservation work and projects to raise awareness;
  • Develop a better understanding (of issues, demographics and land use) in order to make conservation measures more relevant and appropriate;
  • Work at an international level, particularly because the species is a migratory one;
  • Share what we have learned from our experiences;
  • Rebuild an undivided area of distribution for Egyptian vulture populations, from the Pyrenees to the Alps.

The range of measures connected to this strategy are brought together under the following themes:

  • Measures for preserving and understanding the species;
  • Measures for preserving and understanding the areas that appeal to the species;
  • Raising awareness;
  • Research;
  • Sharing findings and working together at an international level.
Distribution of NAP representatives

Pyrenees (by department):

  • Pyrénées Atlantiques, Hautes-Pyrénées: SAIAK [a group that studies and protects birds of prey in the Basque Country], LPO Aquitaine – Groupe Pyrénées-Atlantiques; Groupe d’Etudes Ornithologique du Béarn (GEOB) [the Béarn Ornithological Study Group]; Parc National des Pyrénées [the Pyrenees National Park],
  • Hautes-Pyrénées: Réserve Naturelle Régionale du Massif du Pibeste [the Massif du Pibeste Regional Nature Reserve],
  • Haute-Garonne, Hautes-Pyrénées, Ariège: Nature Midi-Pyrénées; ADET Pays de l’Ours [a not-for-profit group promoting sustainable development in the Pyrenees],
  • Ariège: Association des Naturalistes de l’Ariège [the Ariège Naturalists Association]
  • Pyrénées Orientales: Groupe Ornithologique du Roussillon [the Roussillon Ornithological Group], Fédération des Réserves Naturelles Catalanes [the Federation of Catalonian Nature Reserves],
  • Aude: LPO Aude,
  • Pyrénées Atlantiques, Haute-Garonne: Office National de la Chasse et de la Faune Sauvage [France’s National Office for Hunting and Wild Fauna],
  • RANA [the Network of Naturalist Associations], Office National des Forêts [France’s National Forests Office],

South-east (by department):

  • Ardèche: Centre Ornithologique Rhône-Alpes (CORA) [the Rhône-Alpes Ornithological Centre]; Syndicat de Gestion des Gorges de l’Ardèche [the Management Group for Gorges in the Ardèche],
  • Drôme: Parc Naturel Régional du Vercors [the Vercors Regional Nature Park]; Vautours en Baronnies; LPO Drôme;
  • Vaucluse: Parc Naturel Régional du Luberon (PNR du Luberon) [the Luberon Regional Nature Park]; Conservatoire Etudes des Ecosystèmes de Provence (CEEP) [the Institution for Studying the Ecosystems of Provence];
  • Bouches du Rhône: LPO PACA Alpilles; Conservatoire Etudes des Ecosystèmes de Provence (CEEP); Parc Naturel Régional des Alpilles (PNR des Alpilles) [the Alpilles Regional Nature Park];
  • Alpes-de-Haute-Provence: LPO PACA Antenne Verdon;
  • Gard: Centre Ornithologique du Gard (COGard) [the Gard Ornithological Centre); Syndicat Mixte des Gorges du Gardon (SMGG) [the Gardon Gorges Mixed Association];
  • Hérault: LPO Hérault; Goupil Connexion; Meridionalis;
  • Aveyron, Lozère: Parc National des Cévennes (the Cévennes National Park); LPO Grands Causses;
  • La Salsepareille…

Other schemes:


You can download the Life overview here (PDF format, 12 pages, 2.2 MB, in French); as well as the following documents, which all deal with the results of the LIFE Nature programme:

  • The results of the LIFE03NAT/F/000103 programme are included in the following reports: reports on the results of the LIFE03NAT/F/000103 programme for general readers (general reader final report F, in french, and rgeneral reader final report A, in English) ;
  • The LIFE03NAT/F/000103 programme led to a number of draft tracking and monitoring agreements: A1 A2 A3 A8 D1 D3 D5 Protocols (in French);
  • The LIFE03NAT/F/000103 programme led to the post-LIFE conservation plan: Post-LIFE conservation plan (in French);
  • The automatic monitoring initiative at feeding sites that forms part of the LIFE03NAT/F/000103 programme is outlined here: Information document (in French);
  • A leaflet raising awareness about parasites connected to cows and sheep in the Bouches-du-Rhône department is available here: 2007 GDS-CEEP measures (in French);
  • Connaître les oiseaux nicheurs de falaises de l'Aude [Information about birds nesting in cliffs in the Aude department], a booklet for climbers published by LPO Aude, is available here: Booklet (in French).

You can also download Percnoptère infos, a French-language bulletin about Egyptian vultures:

The LIFE Nature n° LIFE03NAT/F/000103 programme was introduced in accordance with the overall aim of the National Action Plan. It targeted the Egyptian vulture population in south-eastern France, curbing the decrease in size of this core community of the population while attempting to ensure that the species returned to sites from which it had disappeared. As a result, in line with the LIFE Nature n° LIFE03NAT/F/000103 programme and as part of a consistency initiative, the project’s developers sought to ensure close cooperation with everyone working in Egyptian vulture conservation and protection in France and Europe. In addition, the initiatives implemented as part of the LIFE Nature programme benefited from the results of conservation programmes that were established outside the area in which the project took place and in return, areas outside the remit of LIFE Nature n° LIFE03NAT/F/000103 were able to take advantage of the lessons learned from and the results and strengths of the programme.
The LIFE Nature n° LIFE03NAT/F/000103 programme of initiatives played a vital role in establishing feeding areas (between 39 and 61) designed to encourage Egyptian vultures to return of their own accord, offering a natural way of supporting the species’ populations.

Duration of the LIFE Nature n°LIFE03NAT/F/000103 programme

The LIFE n° LIFE03NAT/F/000103 programme for Egyptian vultures (Neophron percnopterus) in France took place over five years, from 1st September 2003 to 30th April 2008.

Different partners

The LIFE n° LIFE03NAT/F/000103 programme involved 5 different departments and 3 administrative regions in France: Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, Rhône-Alpes and Languedoc-Roussillon.
The LIFE Nature n° LIFE03NAT/F/000103 programme, led by the LPO, was carried out alongside local representatives:

  • Le Centre Ornithologique Rhône-Alpes (CORA) [the Rhône-Alpes Ornithological Centre], in the Ardèche department;
  • La Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux de l’Aude (LPO Aude) [the Aude branch of France’s League for the Protection of Birds], in the Aude department;
  • Le Syndicat Mixte des Gorges du Gardon (SMGG) [the Gardon Gorges Mixed Association], in the Gard department;
  • Le Parc Naturel Régional du Luberon (PNR du Luberon) [the Luberon Regional Nature Park], in the Luberon department;
  • Le Conservatoire Etudes des Ecosystèmes de Provence (CEEP) [the Institution for Studying the Ecosystems of Provence], in the Bouches-du-Rhône department.

…and scientific partners:

  • Le Centre National d’Informations Toxicologiques Vétérinaires (CNITV) [France’s National Veterinary Toxicology Information Centre];
  • Le Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) [France’s National Centre for Scientific Research].

The involvement of the European Commission enabled this programme to be implemented. LIFE Nature projects are, in effect, financial tools solely dedicated to protecting the wildlife of the European Union. Egyptian vultures benefited from this conservation fund from 1st September 2003 to 30th April 2008. As a result, half of the programme was funded by the European Union’s Directorate-General for the Environment and half by other financial partners:

  • DREAL organisations (France’s Regional Offices for the Environment, Planning and Accommodation) from the Languedoc-Roussillon, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur and Rhône-Alpes departments;
  • Le Conseil Régional du Languedoc-Roussillon [the Languedoc-Roussillon Regional Council];
  • Le Conseil Régional de la Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur [the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur Regional Council];
  • Le Conseil Régional de Rhône-Alpes [the Rhône-Alpes Regional Council];
  • Funds from local LPO representatives;
  • And LPO donors.

The LIFE Nature programme thus brought together a number of partners. The LPO led the programme at a national level, in association with the European Union’s Directorate-General for the Environment and the Oréade Research Office, which supervises LIFE Nature projects in France.

The action plan for the LIFE programme

The LIFE programme set out a range of initiatives designed to support and encourage the return of Egyptian vulture populations in south-eastern France:

  • Creating feeding sites and areas to provide food in order to protect existing pairs and ensure a high breeding rate as well as encouraging the arrival of new birds, in addition to being used in to improve the condition of individual birds in certain areas where the birds are erratic or are migrating.
  • Monitoring breeding grounds in order to avoid disturbing birds and to ensure that they breed successfully.
  • Exploring sites in order to identify new birds.
  • Reducing causes of death (e.g. poison, power lines) and activities that disturb the birds (e.g. outdoor leisure activities) through awareness schemes and monitoring programmes.
  • Raising awareness among local groups and individuals through exhibitions and events and by creating teaching tools.

The results

Building and operating feeding areas.

Building feeding areas in the different sites of the LIFE Nature n° LIFE03NAT/F/000103 programme represented a key measure that required the approval of people who were actively involved at a local level, especially pastoral farmers, property owners and veterinary services. The draft programme formalized the construction and operation of between 39 and 61 feeding areas. With 42 feeding areas built and running by the end of the LIFE Nature N° LIFE03NAT/F/000103 programme, the overall construction aims were reached.

Graph summarising the combined number of operational feeding areas by year

These 42 feeding areas supported the network of vulture feeding areas within the sites where the LIFE Nature N° LIFE03NAT/F/000103 programme was implemented, thus giving a total of 54 feeding areas. This system of feeding areas within the LIFE sites was introduced alongside the network of other feeding areas established in south-eastern France outside the LIFE sites.

Overview of the LIFE feeding areas from 30th April 2008

This network of feeding areas is largely orientated around making domesticated animal carcasses – that come exclusively from extensive farming – available. As a result, they inherently exclude sources of food obtained from intensive farming. This network of feeding areas exists as a result of the participation of sheep and goat farmers. Establishing this network of Egyptian vulture feeding areas led to individual birds returning and pairs remaining, while preserving the birds’ exploratory tendencies.
In addition, this feeding network, implemented as part of the LIFE programme, helped to re-establish natural knackery in France, especially for sectors that receive little assistance from the Service Public de l’Equarrissage (SPE), [France’s Public Service for Knackery). Seemingly, if natural knackery and the Service Public de l’Equarrissage are compared, the development of the feeding network, in addition to offering clear benefits to the vultures, also significantly helps to save resources. Thus natural knackery, as opposed to the industrial system, makes removing carcasses more economical, whether in terms of transport (with the location of industrial knackery facilities meaning that carcasses need to be moved across increasingly long distances) or as a result of the changes brought about by removing humans from the system.
This feeding system thus affords livestock farmers greater autonomy in removing the dead animal carcasses used while limiting sources of pollution (removing carcasses = eliminating pathogen sources; no transportation = reduction in the risks associated with pathogens spreading and lower CO2 emissions). It also helps to re-establish scavengers’ role and encourages the farmers involved to embrace the idea of protecting vultures by giving them active positions in the system. The ‘farm-based’ feeding areas thus offer a range of advantages:

  • They limit running costs for feeding areas and the standard costs of knackery by naturally removing a portion of the carcasses that come from local and regional farms – all of this also encourages remarkable scavenging birds to return;
  • They encourage farmers’ involvement in helping to provide a knackery service and managing feeding areas. They thus promote activities that ensure a healthy environment;
  • They give autonomy to farmers in areas that are otherwise inaccessible for dealing with carcasses;
  • They significantly limit the transportation of animal carcasses as well as journeys between sites;
  • They develop the vultures’ ability to explore areas and, as a result, their role as a spontaneous and natural source of knackery services for animal carcasses from abandoned farms and wild animals;
  • They re-establish a vital link between natural and pastoral ecosystems.

We should add that the people involved and their partners worked especially hard to ensure that the feeding areas were restocked and could run effectively. With a total of more than 143,000 kg of food passing through the feeding areas used in the LIFE programme, the people involved ensured that the network was a successful one.

Monitoring breeding grounds.

In order to limit any risk of disturbing Egyptian vultures during their breeding periods, the programme’s representatives implemented tracking and monitoring schemes in the different breeding grounds. Over 5 years, over 120 people spent over 11,300 hours working on these tracking/monitoring schemes. During this time, they observed Egyptian vultures for a total of more than 500 hours, with over 4,800 encounters with the birds.
Analysing the results shows that the initiatives that took place as part of the LIFE programme helped to bring in new Egyptian vulture pairs, in addition to there being a steady increase in both the population in south-eastern France and the population in the Pyrenean massif throughout the LIFE programme.

Changes in the number of territorial pairs in the areas monitored in the LIFE n°LIFE03NAT/F/000103 programme

Egyptian vulture breeding in France during the LIFE programme

By the end of the LIFE programme, we thus see an increase of more than 14% in the French population (87 pairs in 2007 and 76 in 2003) and of 11% in the population in south-eastern France since 2003. However, this reasonably positive insight into the increasing French Egyptian vulture population should be considered in relation to the particularly concerning status of Egyptian vulture populations across the whole of their area of distribution in Europe.

With new pairs of Egyptian vultures coming to south-eastern France, the aims of the LIFE programme were fulfilled.
Not only did this programme benefit pairs in the areas in which the programme was active, but it also helped the whole of the species’ population in south-eastern France. Indeed, it seems that re-introducing sources of food for the species, particularly by establishing feeding areas, as well as ensuring that breeding grounds were less disturbed by creating a tracking and monitoring network, have greatly contributed to the positive trend in population growth.

Exploring sites in order to identify new birds

Exploring sites represents one of the measures designed to improve our understanding of the Egyptian vulture population in south-eastern France. They should enable us to better appreciate the size of the population as we attempt to distinguish between the status of each individual bird (reproductive, non-reproductive adult, subadult, immature, erratic). LIFE Nature representatives organized simultaneous counts that brought together all the people involved in the scheme as well as local bird watchers from outside the areas covered by the LIFE programme. CORA was given the task of coordinating these counts. CORA then offered to analyse the results during the seminar that was held in the Gard department at the end of the programme, on 31st January and 1st February 2008. The simultaneous counts were carried out from 2004 to 2007 in south-eastern France. Overall, 46 sites spread over 12 territories were thus monitored at least once. Among these sites, 22 were home to areas that were used by Egyptian vultures as breeding grounds, and 24 offered potential breeding grounds or had been used as breeding grounds in the past.

Territories covered by the simultaneous counts coordinated by CORA (CORA/M. Mure, 2008)

The counts took place with the support of local representatives in the 5 areas in which the LIFE programme was active (32 sites that were used by the birds or that had been in the past) and by voluntary groups in areas outside the scope of the LIFE programme (14 sites):

  • LPO Grands Causses,
  • LPO Alpilles,
  • LPO Verdon,
  • PNR du Vercors [the Vercors Regional Nature Park],
  • Vautours en Baronnies,
  • CORA Drôme,
  • FRAPNA [the Rhône-Alpes Federation for Wildlife Protection],
  • SGGA [the Gardon Gorges Management Association],
  • COGARD [the Gard Ornithological Centre],
  • Nature Midi-Pyrénées,
  • GOR [the Roussillon Ornithological Group],
  • ONF [France’s National Forests Office],
  • DDAF [the Departmental Office for Agriculture and Forests]

The different yearly counts, carried out at the end of May and the end of June between 2004 and 2007, were able to bring together a network of a significant number bird watchers at the same time, with a total of 342 people spending 2,052 hours exploring the sites.
These counts gave a better understanding of the ways in which Egyptian vultures used certain spaces, especially when seeking food. Thus, for example, they were able to show how often Egyptian vulture pairs visited feeding areas in neighbouring departments (the feeding area in the Ardèche department being visited by an individual bird from one of the reproductive pairs in the Gard department). These counts were also able to identify supernumerary birds. The method seems to be able to limit the risks of counting the same bird twice, particularly isolated individual and erratic birds. The counts also provide information about non-reproductive pairs, erratic birds that do not always feature in ordinary studies.
In addition, the representatives also organized annual exploratory surveys in order to identify new breeding grounds and new reproductive pairs and could thus use the information collected to organise tracking and monitoring schemes. They spent over 3,500 hours doing this, which included 223 encounters with Egyptian vultures, with a total of more than 55 hours spent observing the species. This data is revealing because for certain sites, as in the Gard department, erratic Egyptian vultures are encountered only when feeding areas are monitored.

Reducing causes of death

The wildlife heritage of territories in which Egyptian vultures are endemically present play a significant role in how attractive the relevant areas are (regions and departments). Representatives’ initiatives to prevent threats revealed the range of activities carried out by Egyptian vultures in their territories. These territories need to meet various needs, with an upsurge in activities – mainly recreational ones – having taken place. Thus, in order to avoid the risk of disturbing breeding grounds and so that their tranquillity can be preserved, representatives carried out a number of campaigns to raise awareness, provide information and enable discussion. Most of these campaigns led to mutual agreements that benefited Egyptian vultures.
In addition, in order to limit the risk of summering Egyptian vultures being electrocuted by or colliding with electricity grid facilities, LIFE representatives began putting together a detailed list of these structures in 2004, covering the majority of the LIFE sites. The significance of this list is apparent when one considers the fact that, like other birds of prey, Egyptian vultures risk being electrocuted when using power lines as a vantage point and/or perch and when they collide with extra-high voltage networks in the various journeys that they make. In order to ensure that the electricity grid would not pose a threat in the areas in which the LIFE programme was carried out, representatives monitored 911 pylons/electricity poles that were deemed dangerous and 447 pylons/electricity poles that were deemed highly dangerous. These lists were followed by safety measures being implemented or, where this was not possible, planning and agreements to ensure that the electricity grid did not pose a threat in the areas in which the LIFE programme was implemented.
Lastly, veterinary analyses were conducted by the Centre National d’Informations Toxicologiques Vétérinaires (CNITV) [France’s National Veterinary Toxicology Information Centre], where Egyptian vultures and other birds were found dead in the areas in which the LIFE programme was implemented. As a result, over the 5 years of the LIFE programme, 10 bird carcasses (including 1 partial carcass), 4 of which were Egyptian vulture carcasses, were given autopsies and studied. Analysis of the birds showed that in only one case out of the 10 birds found was the cause of death poisoning (an Egyptian vulture that came from an area not covered by the LIFE programme). There were three cases in which the cause of death was probably electrocution (from the Vercors, Ardèche and Gard areas), making power lines a priority. Three cases of collision were identified, of which one was probably with a vehicle, and one death, in the Aude department, was caused by a predator. All the birds were X-rayed in order to reveal the possible presence of lead shot used in hunting: one bird showed 3 old lead pellets that were not connected to its electrocution.
Studies of 6 Egyptian vulture eggs showed that 2 eggs collected in the area covered by the LIFE programme (one of which contained a highly developed embryo) showed traces of herbicides, with no impact on development. A third egg (collected on the same day as the second and from the same nest) did not seem to be contaminated: it may be that trace amounts of herbicides or other poisons were present but below the detection limit.

Raising awareness among local individuals and groups involved in and affected by the programme

In order to enable the activity programme to be implemented, teaching kits were made as part of the LIFE Nature N° LIFE03NAT/F/000103 programme and with the assistance of the Pyrénées Vivantes educational network. Making these kits consisted of building 6 sets of teaching tools designed for different audiences (schools, local groups and individuals affected by the programme, the general public). These tools, made for all the LIFE representatives, enabled the representatives to develop a programme to raise awareness among, provide information to and organise activities for different audiences in the areas in which Egyptian vultures are found.
These 6 sets include a range of items:

  • a DVD which has on it:

- A 14-minute film on the reproductive cycle of Egyptian vultures,
- A menu entitled ‘A table!’ [‘Dinner’s Ready!’]: a section on Egyptian vultures’ eating habits,
- A gallery of 76 photographs with different captions,
- A menu entitled ’Cri du Vautour percnoptère au nid’ [‘Nesting Egyptian vulture call’], enabling people to hear an Egyptian vulture’s call – an adult’s call and then that of a pair in a territory.
- A credits menu providing a list of the organisations and people who contributed to the development of the DVD, either through financial support or by providing images.

  • A VHS: a VHS copy of the 14-minute film on the DVD.
  • A series of slides: slide copies of the photo gallery on the DVD.
  • A poster: this helps to promote initiatives that provide information and raise awareness.
  • A display: this display consists of 12 information panels and a teaching guide: this includes an information section and a teaching section.
  • A teaching guide: this includes an information section and a teaching section.
  • A life-size cut-out: this depicts an Egyptian vulture and is based on a resin and stretched-canvas model.
  • Cut-outs of associated species: there are 10 painted wooden cut-outs, depicting the species that best represent those that are connected to Egyptian vultures.
  • A ‘Snakes and Ladders’ game: a game that has been designed for teams to play by working together.
  • The ‘Biotope Game’: this is a watercolour of a landscape depicting an Egyptian vulture’s habitat, onto which 55 cards can be placed (these cards depict associated species, prey, dangers and threat, and can be inserted into the landscape as correct answers).

Using this range of tools, representatives organized:

  • Lesson plans for school students, developed with teachers;
  • Information meetings and lectures for locally active individuals and groups;
  • Activities for local events (e.g. sports events and agricultural shows)

Studying the results shows that the representatives met the aims set out in the LIFE proposal. These aims were for 6 events a year for each site, a total of 180 events over the course of the programme across all sites. The representatives appear to have organized 441 events specifically related to the issue of Egyptian vultures, an average 88 events per year (or even 15 events per year for each site) in the areas covered by the LIFE programme. Despite our gratitude for the efforts of LIFE representatives in raising awareness among and providing information to groups and individuals in the territories in which Egyptian vultures are found, we feel that more can be done. In effect, the representatives set out initiatives to raise awareness and provide environmental education as part of their day-to-day work and activities. As a result, it seems as though the number of events at which those people to whom the representatives spoke about the preservation issues surrounding Egyptian vultures stands at a minimal level. Regardless, if we consider the summary for each site, the events and activities reached 11,185 people.

In conclusion

In addition to the particularly pleasing results of the LIFE programme, equally noteworthy is the dynamic network that has been developed and that we hope will survive, offering support to initiatives and partnerships in the future. The LIFE programme was very much a development project that dealt with various territory and biodiversity issues. It enabled collective initiatives to be developed, starting networks up again and encouraging them in their work.
In sum, the LIFE programme enabled conservation efforts to be increased, developed a true network of feeding sites, creating an association of networks and partners, and improved our understanding of the species. To this end, it greatly helped us to increase our understanding of Egyptian vultures. Work to ensure that historical data about the species – published or not – was brought up to date and lists that were made of former sites, with threats identified in each territory, provide a collection of new data across a particularly vast area.

The different partners of the LIFE programme.

The LIFE representatives:
CEEP  [the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur Natural Spaces Group]
CORA Ardèche
PNR du Luberon  [the Luberon Regional Nature Park]
Syndicat Mixte du Massif et des Gorges du Gardon  [the Gardon Massif and Gorges Mixed Association]
LPO Aude
CNRS [France’s National Centre for Scientific Research]
CNITV [France’s National Veterinary Toxicology Information Centre]

Our thanks go to the publishers éditions Sittelle, who provided the Egyptian vulture call


The France-Spain-Andorra Transnational Programme

POCTEFA [the Programme of Cooperative Initiatives for Spain, France and Andorra] – ‘Sustainable biodiversity in the Pyrenees: Scavenging birds of prey, figureheads for joint management’

Click here for a link to the French-language Pour des Pyrénées Vivantes site

The POCTEFA programme, running from 2007 to 2013, aims to provide a better structure for and support to initiatives connected to biodiversity in the Pyrenees by using species such as scavenging birds of prey as figureheads. It sets out measures that benefit Egyptian vultures, a species that symbolises the Pyrenees and is accounted for by 87 pairs in France, of which 67 are found on the northern side of the Pyrenees. Until recently, it was a reasonably common bird in the Iberian Pyrenees. At present, however, it is a candidate for inclusion into Spain’s national register as an ‘endangered’ species as a result of the sharp decrease in Egyptian vulture populations. Certain areas in Spain, home to the densest populations of the bird, are covered by the POCTEFA programme. The population in Navarre, which will be monitored as part of the programme, was made up of around 150 pairs in 1999. Navarre is also home to a community of sites for non-reproductive Egyptian vultures, which can bring together up to 250 individual birds. Huge declines in population size are feared. Catalonia and the Basque Country, meanwhile, are home to fewer pairs (around thirty).
All the measures set out as part of the programme are put into place by three multi-partnership networks in order to increase the results obtained by locally active groups and individuals. The LPO is responsible for managing initiatives in France alongside its partners, which supervise the organisation of part of the programme: Nature Midi-Pyrénées, ARPE Midi-Pyrénées [the Midi-Pyrénées Sustainable Development Agency], ANA CPIE de l’Ariège [the Ariège Departmental Association for Natural Spaces, the Ariège Naturalists’ Association], Fédération des réserves naturelles catalanes [The Federation of Catalonian Nature Reserves], Fédération régionale des chasseurs de Midi-Pyrénées [the Midi-Pyrénées Regional Federation of Hunters].
The initiatives programme is made up of different parts, with a document explaining each measure (Cf. Initiatives document):

  • Management and coordination of the project;
  • Improving understanding – Environmental monitoring;
  • Preserving threatened sites – Restoring habitats – Joint management – Decision aids;
  • Promoting certain areas;
  • Planning a hide – Pyrenean biodiversity measures;
  • Information, communications, raising awareness, education and training.

Ringing programmes

The ringing programme for the population of Egyptian vultures in the Mediterranean region of south-eastern France began in 1997 and still continues today. Almost 150 birds have been ringed as a result. In addition, a ringing programme was also put into place in the Pyrenees in 2006.
The main aim of these programmes is to ensure that the species’ population can be closely monitored in order to better appreciate changes to its size. Demographic monitoring of this population enables the conservation measures that need to be implemented to be identified and prioritized.
Using traditional ringing techniques (with metal rings from the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle [France’s National Museum of Natural History]) and marking birds with coloured rings enables information to be read quickly and easily by sight.

This technique enables the study of:

  • the survival rates and causes of death of young birds once they can fly,
  • the age of the first birds to return from wintering,
  • the frequency with which birds return to their breeding grounds,
  • young birds’ attachment to the sites of their birth,
  • the birds’ life spans and their faithfulness to partners,
  • the sites visited as part of the birds’ migratory journeys (food, roosts)… 

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 23rd 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.

Natural knackery

Scavengers have a bad reputation and popular opinion has often treated them badly, as they are seen as ‘dirty’ animals. However, scavengers, of which vultures are a prime example, play a key role as a source of natural knackery, providing a number of services that benefit the environment as well as farmers.
In fact, for vultures to survive in France, they remain dependent on the availability and accessibility of food. It would seem, though, that even the most opportunistic vultures rely on domestic sources of food. Indeed, vultures’ presence remains linked to the survival of traditional farms and wild animals (ungulates). Thus vultures act as a source of knackery, removing dead animal carcasses from farms (most often from summer pastures). Even though the vultures’ knackery activities may seem less significant when compared with the 3 million tons and more of carcasses that are processed industrially every year in France, they are nevertheless significant to independent famers. Indeed, the SPE network does find it difficult to access material that needs to be disposed of, with collection times reaching as much as 4 or 5 days, depending on the season, breaching the 48-hour legal limit for collection. Vultures’ actions thus see the birds forming an additional link between agriculture and biodiversity: each is dependent on the other. As a result, while biodiversity represents a key feature required in agricultural production, with farming, when it is often poorly thought out, creating availability problems for future generations, vultures play a vital role in pastoral systems. The services that they provide can be incorporated into farmers’ production considerations, especially in eliminating sources of pollution that arise from agricultural activities (animal waste, limiting CO2 emissions). The links between agropastoral farming activities and the sustainability of populations of species of scavenging birds of prey thus represents a striking example of two seemingly opposed approaches coming together: ensuring significant agricultural production and preserving biodiversity.
Vultures’ unique dietary habits form a complete ‘carcass processing’ system. The four species found in France (griffon, cinereous, Egyptian and bearded vultures) each have different identifiable specialities:

  • Vultures known as ‘strike-and-search’ birds, including griffon vultures and all species of the Gyps genus. They specialise in dealing with viscera and muscles. They have long, bare necks that enable them to go through carcasses and can take even the smallest parts from within them.
  • Vultures known as ‘tearing’ birds, with a predilection for the toughest parts of a carcass, such as the flesh, tendons and cartilage. Their beaks are stronger and sharper. In Europe, cinereous vultures feature in this group.
  • Vultures known as ‘pecking’ birds, such as Egyptian vultures, which gather the smallest parts. Their diets are particularly broad and opportunistic.

Bearded vultures, or ‘bone breakers’ are not included in this list because of the special nature of their diet, which mainly consists of bones.
In addition to the four species of vulture found in France, other scavenging birds of prey (such as kites) form a complete and reasonably efficient system of removing animal carcasses. The characteristics of this range of scavengers help to ensure that standard knackery and natural knackery remain similar.
In order to re-establish the role provided by scavenging birds of prey in natural knackery and to ensure that food from domestic farms is more widely available and that they have greater access to it, different feeding areas are used in France (cf. "Placettes d’alimentation" [Feeding areas] information pack).

Key points regarding the current laws and regulations for natural knackery

Legal foundations

  • Amended Regulation (EC) n° 999/2001 of the European Parliament and Council of 22nd May 2001 laying down the rules for the prevention, control and eradication of certain transmissible spongiform encephalopathies.
  • Commission Regulation (EC) n° 1041/2006 of 7th July 2006 amending Annex III of Regulation (EC) n° 999/2001 of the European Parliament and Council pertaining to the surveillance of spongiform encephalopathies that are transmissible by sheep.
  • The governmental order of 1st July 2004 pertaining to the official sanitary control of trade in sheep and goats as regards scrapie.
  • Regulation (EC) n° 1774/2002 amended by the European Parliament and Council of 3rd October 2002 laying down health rules as regards animal by-products not intended for human consumption.
  • Commission Regulation (EC) n° 142/2011 of 25th February 2011 amending Regulation (EC) n° 1774/2002 and implementing Regulation (EC) n° 1069/2009 of the European Parliament and Council laying down health rules as regards animal by-products and derived products not intended for human consumption.
  • Commission Decision n° 2003/322/EC of 12th May 2003 implementing Regulation (EC) n°1774/2002 of the European Parliament and Council as regards the feeding of certain necrophagous birds with certain category 1 materials.
  • Decision n° 2005/830/EC amending Decision 2003/322/EC as regards the feeding of certain necrophagous birds with certain category 1 materials.
  • The governmental order of 6th August 2005 laying down health rules as regards certain animal by-products not intended for human consumption.
  • The governmental order of 7th August 1998 pertaining to the elimination of animal carcasses and the feeding of certain necrophagous birds with carcasses.
  • DGAL/SDSPA/SDSSA/N2006-8012 memo of 11th January 2006 pertaining to surveillance methods for scrapie in 2006.
1. Governmental order of 7th August 1998

After several years of negotiations, clauses 264 to 271 of the Code Rural, dealing with knackery, were amended in favour of birds of prey. This came in the form of the governmental order of 7th August 1998 (PDF in French) and enabled the implementation of feeding areas for scavenging birds of prey.
The recent epizootic crises that came at the end of the 2000-2009 period (e.g. BSE, TSE, aphthous fever, Brucellosis), made worse by the controversy surrounding the use of meat and bone meal, led to a strengthening in health surveillance measures and epidemio-surveillance procedures.
These events reached their height with fears regarding the extent to which there was a possibility of animal viruses being transmitted to humans or having an impact on the economy (aphthous fever), as well as the possibility of a form of ovine TSE being transmissible to humans. This health crisis, in its entirety, had direct consequences on the legal framework governing the implementation and existence of feeding areas for scavenging birds of prey.

2. Regulation 1774/2002/EC

EC Regulation 1774/2002 (PDF in French) came as a response to these health-related events:

  • It lays down health rules concerning animal by-products not intended for human consumption.
  • It applies to all animal by-products or by-products of animal origin not intended for human consumption.
  • The legislation covers animal carcasses, including those of farm animals.
  • This regulation is thus a response from the Commission of the European Communities to the epizootic crises (e.g. aphthous fever, transmissible spongiform encephalopathies such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (ESB), swine fever) which affected Europe in recent years. It enables the European Commission to ensure that there is:
  • An increased level of safety throughout the whole production and distribution chain: ‘from farm to table’.
  • An increased level of traceability for consumers.
  • Competition between European farm networks and is thus able to maintain intra-extra community trade. This last detail is significant as it represents a factor that limits room for negotiation as regards encouraging natural knackery.

This regulation sets out, among other issues, exemptions enabling protected and endangered scavenging birds living in their natural habitats to be fed using category 1 materials (1).

This regulation was amended by Regulation (EC) n° 142/2011 on 25th February 2011.

3. Regulation n° 142/2011/EC

Commssion Regaulation n°142/2011/EC (PDF in French) of 25th February 2011 amending Regulation (EC) n° 1774/2002 and implementing Regulation (EC) n° 1069/2009 of the European Parliament sets out, among other subjects, the use of certain category 1 materials for feeding endangered or protected species of scavenging birds living in their natural habitat, in order to encourage biodiversity. As a result, it legislates for the promotion of greater accessibility to sources of food with a domestic origin for certain carnivorous species, to which Council Directive 92/43/ECC of 21st May 1992 regarding the preservation of natural habitats and wildlife applies, and for certain species of birds of prey, to which Directive 2009/147/EC of the European Parliament and Council of 30th November 2009 regarding the preservation of wild species applies, in order to make allowances for these species’ natural dietary habits.

4. Commission Decision 2003/322/EC

Commssion decision 2003/322/EC (PDF in French) of 12th May 2003 departs from clause 23 of the present regulation.
Paradoxically, though, it imposed additional constraints on the application of Regulation EC 1774/2002 because all cattle more than 24 months old and sheep/goats more than 18 months old need to be given a TSE test.

5. Commission Decision 2005/830/EC

After bitter negotiations, the LPO, with the support of the Ministères de l’Agriculture et de l’Environnement [France’s Ministries for Agriculture and the Environment], obtained an amendment to Commission Decision 2003/322/EC of 12th May 2003. As a result, Commission decision 2003/322/EC (PDF in French) implementing Regulation (EC) n° 1774/2002 defines new rules for feeding scavenging birds to be applied in Greece, Spain, France, Italy and Portugal.
Commission Decision 2005/830/CE came into force:

  • Through regulatory channels, in the governmental order of 6th August 2005 and the order of 28th February 2008;
  • And the DGAL/SDSPA/N2006-8300 memo of 19th December 2006
6. SPE reform
  • Since 2001 in the Drôme department (amended governmental order of 30th March 2001 – n° 01-1179) and 2002 in the Aveyron department (governmental order of 19th December 2002 – n° 2002-353-8) managers of feeding areas for scavenging birds of prey joined the SPE through prefectorial requisitions (CNASEA [National Centre for the Management of Farm Studies] remuneration being 23 euros per head or equivalent, e.g. pieces of lamb);
  • On 1st December 2005, the SPE (with a budget of 140 million euros) became publicly owned in France. This agreement was initially intended to be of limited duration (36 months);
  • 1st December 2008 saw the agreement extended. Until that time, the SPE was free for livestock farmers;
  • On 17th July 2009 (although the CVO [obligatory financial contribution] was in fact in place for farmers since January 2009, supporting French governmental management), the French government took over management of the SPE, subsequently requiring financial contributions from livestock farmers.

Thus while the SPE had been free for livestock farmers until that point, as a result of European regulations requiring a minimum level of financial contributions from farmers, the French government demanded financial contributions from livestock farmers. After a number of discussions, an interprofessional agreement (involving different professional groups from the INTERBEV cattle and meat group), led to an obligatory financial contribution* (CVO) being collected by the Etablissements départementaux de l’Elevage (EDEs) [France’s Departmental Establishments for Farming] for the Association ATM (a group for animals that are found dead, in this case livestock). This group is then responsible for paying the knacker. Practically, the CVO is thus collected by the EDE as the same time as the identification charge.
The CVO sum is fixed at €1.15 (before tax) per UBE (unit of livestock for disposal) at the farm: on the basis that UBEs are defined as follows:

  • 1 cow that has calved: 1 UBE,
  • All other bovine animals: 0.25 UBE,
  • 1 reproductive sheep or goat more than 6 months old: 0.28 UBE, i.e. 32 euro cents/head
  • 1 sheep or goat in finishing facilities: 0.03 UBE i.e. 3.4 euro cents/head (including professional knackery charge of around 15%).

The total annual SPE contributions should thus be around 3 million euros from a total figure of 14 million euros. Farmers are therefore responsible for around 20% of their professions’ SPE cost.

7. Project to amend Regulation 1774/2002/EC

BirdLife International, its national representatives and the LPO worked on the amendment to Regulation 1774/2002/EC. The new Regulation n°142/2011/EC (PDF in French) with these amendments was created in response to events that have affected vulture populations in Spain in recent years, with a catastrophic decline in most populations of these remarkable birds. The approved amendment largely affects Chapter II, Section 2 and Chapter III, Article 14 and Section 6. It aims to:

  • Offer greater access to sources of food produced locally in each territory,
  • Make these sources of food more widely available to different protected species of scavenger such as birds of prey as well as endangered mammals which, like brown bears (Ursus arctos), can feed on dead animals and for which the legislation provides no special dispensation.

Regulation n°142/2011/EC, published in the Official Journal of the European Union on 26th February 2011 has been in force in all member states of the European Community since 4th March 2011.


(1) Animal by-products posing:
- a prion-based risk,
- an unknown risk,
- a risk linked to the use of prohibited substances or environmental contamination