Porphyrio - Porphyrio project - Reintroduction of the Purple Gallinule in the Lower Mondego River Valley

LIFE98 NAT/P/005267

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Contact details:

Project Manager: Helena FREITAS
Tel: 351/39/836386
Fax: 351/39/823603
Email: imar@cygnus.ci.uc.pt

Project description:


The purple gallinule (Porphyrio porphyrio) is considered a priority species because it is very threatened in Europe. In Portugal, only a small population remains in the south, but in the 1920s purple gallinules were still breeding as far north as the lower Mondego valley where they were observed sporadically until 1975. Illicit hunting was the main cause for its disappearance. The Paul de Arzila nature reserve was established in 1988 to protect what was left of the natural heritage in the region; more recently two SPAs and a pSCI were designated.

The project aims at restoring a viable population of purple gallinules in the lower Mondego by re-introducing birds from Spain. The lower Mondego is a string of wetlands, permanently inundated and covered by sedges, reeds and bullrushes, a type of vegetation much to the gallinule's liking.


This project had five main objectives: (a) to establish a free breeding population in Arzila through the reintroduction of at least 30 animals, (b) to achieve captive breeding for reinforcement of the areas subject to reintroduction, (c) to improve the habitat quality for the target species, (d) to raise the awareness of the population and (e) to develop and apply a monitoring technique based on the identification of individual vocalisations. To prepare for its return, habitat restoration works to eliminate exotic plants and favour the expansion of the indigenous vegetation which provides shelter and foraging opportunities for the purple gallinule, were undertaken. Installations to breed and acclimatise gallinules were built, while the released birds were monitored through surveys and radio tracking in particular. The project also informed the local population, wetland users in particular, about the significance of these habitats and the uniqueness of their wildlife, the avifauna in particular.


The global objective of this project – reintroduction and captive breeding of the Purple Gallinule in the Mondego SPAs – was achieved with success. While awareness raising aimed at students was a clear success, that aimed at the local adult population was weak in some areas, which may be partially explained by the illiteracy of the population, traditionally unaware of nature conservation issues. As regards bird life, the main results include: • SPAs’ aquatic bird fauna in general benefited from the habitat improvement measures undertaken by the project. • A new expanding population of the target species in Portugal was achieved and due to this, its status according to the Portuguese Red Data Book was reviewed to be changed from “threatened” to “vulnerable”. • The project also contributed to the preparation of the EU Purple Gallinule Action Plan. This project was innovative in Portugal, for it was the first time that a soundly structured and monitored bird reintroduction plan was implemented. Although not yet calibrated, the development of a monitoring technique based on the registers of the bird's calls was also an innovation for this species, which is particularly difficult to detect through other census methods. Habitat management measures are still required in Arzila wetland to prevent reversion to the previous unsuitable situation. In addition, several important threats that remain outside the SPAs – illegal hunting and habitat degradation – may act negatively on the birds’ movements between wetlands. Industrial water pollution generated outside of the SPA also affects it directly, since the tributary streams crossing the wetland bring it down. Although a ditch ringing Arzila drains away the polluted water and keeps water in the reeds reasonably pure, it can be overflow during winter floods and pollute the core wetland. Both problems are being tackled, at least partially, through a new Life project that begun just after this one ended. The regular activity of the breeding centre is assured by ICN and the monitoring of the reintroduced population will go on by IMAR plus ICN. Although in a modest way, the project also contributed to the local economy, by hiring 4 to 5 rural workers per year for the habitat improvement works. This continues throughout the new project focused on habitat management started in Arzila. In addition, the experience of the Porphyrio Life team has resulted in that they are being contacted to collaborate in the possible reintroduction of the species in southern wetlands.


Environmental issues addressed:


Species - Birds


endangered species‚  environmental impact of recreation‚  protected area‚  freshwater ecosystem‚  hunting‚  introduction of animal species

Target EU Legislation

  • Nature protection and Biodiversity
  • Directive 79/409 - Conservation of wild birds (02.04.1979)

Target species

 Porphyrio porphyrio     

Target Habitat types

  • 3150 - Natural eutrophic lakes with Magnopotamion or Hydrocharition - type vegetation
  • 91E0 - "Alluvial forests with Alnus glutinosa and Fraxinus excelsior (Alno-Padion, Alnion incanae, Salicion albae)"
  • 92A0 - Salix alba and Populus alba galleries

Natura 2000 sites

SPA PTZPE0005 Paul de Arzila
SPA PTZPE0006 Paul da Madriz
SCI PTCON0005 Paul de Arzila



Coordinator IMAR - Instituto do Mar
Type of organisation Research institution
Description IMAR is a private non-profit association linked to the University of Coimbra. Its objectives are the promotion and development of Sea science and technologies. In recent years, it has enlarged its intervention area by developing investigation work on wetland, coastal and mainland fauna and flora, mainly in the Baixo Mondego area.
Partners Instituto da Conservação da Natureza


Project reference LIFE98 NAT/P/005267
Duration 01-AUG-1998 to 31-JUL -2001
Total budget 331,253.00 €
EU contribution 198,752.00 €
Project location Centro(Portugal)


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