European Natura 2000 Award
The Cantabrian Mountains host one of the last remaining viable Brown Bear populations in Spain. For several years now, the Fundación Oso Pardo (FOP) has been working with local stakeholders to reduce the human–bear conflicts within the region.
Agreements reconciling the practice of hunting with the conservation of bears, have been signed with the Spanish and Cantabrian hunting federations, involving more than 4,500 hunters and affecting more than 280,000 hectares of bear territory. Rangers and hunters are also working together to tackle poaching, clear vegetation and monitor bear numbers. FOP has also delivered more than 1,400 electric fences to hunters, beekeepers and gamekeepers to prevent damage to their livelihoods.
As a result of these actions and the awareness-raising work, hunters and local communities are currently proud to live amongst bears, and human-caused bear mortality has been drastically reduced. The Cantabrian bear population has grown in recent years from 70 individuals to over 230. Cohabitation is the key to conservation .
Collecting the prize, Fernando Ballesteros from FOP gave three tips for success in bringing different kinds of stakeholders together:
“Firstly it is a question of the confidence placed in you. We work as part of the social environment. Our staff is made up of local people. We are co-owners of forests and pastures with local inhabitants and have agreements with municipalities.
“Secondarily, it is a question of providing information. We inform people about Natura 2000 and what it means to have bears. The biggest problems between different interests are caused by a lack of information.
“Thirdly, it is important to drink lots of wine and eat lots of cheese and jam! We have lots of meetings with people and make sure that everyone is involved.”
FOP’s work in the area is long established and they have every intention of continuing it into the future and ensuring the good collaboration established is long lasting. When asked if receiving the Award would help with this, Mr. Ballesteros answered:
“The Award is very important for us. Most important is demonstrating how what we do is related to Natura 2000. Natura 2000 is invaluable for nature protection in our area. There is still a lot of work to do in Spain on Natura 2000 management plans and there have been problems with the process. We see winning the Award as an important dissemination tool for us. It will allow us to better explain the value and importance of Natura 2000 to stakeholders.”