Cantabrian Mountains

Spain's green Bear Country

© Katharina Grund
© Katharina Grund

Close to the Atlantic coast in the north of Spain the towering Cantabrian massif rises to a height of over 2 500 metres. Adjoining the Pyrenees this mountain range runs through the autonomous communities of Navarre, the Basque Country, Cantabria, and on through Castilia-Lèon and the principality of Asturias to Galicia. High levels of humidity and frequent rainfall on the north side have led to the growth of rich oak, chestnut and beech woods reaching up to where lush mountain grasslands cover the higher slopes. For EuroNatur and the Spanish partner organisation, Fapas, the focus of nature conservation is on the western part of the Cantabrian Mountains.

Howling of wolves and circling vultures
The exceptional diversity of species to be found in this area is truly impressive: here in the wilderness of the Cantabrian Mountains alongside Western Capercaillie, European Otter and Chamois there are many birds of prey. Among these are the rare species of Griffon Vulture and Egyptian Vulture (or White Scavenger). Wolves and wild cats prowl through the woods and this is the westernmost native range of the Brown Bear in Europe.

Paradise in danger
The idyll is threatened: in the last decades plantings of monotonous monocultures have been eating into the ancient broadleaf forests with their rich variety of species. The building of wind parks, ski resorts and motorways threatens to cut up the habitat of bears and other wild creatures. Farmers’ leaving the land is having direct effect on the area.

When mountain farmers disappear, important sources of food and valuable habitats for bears and other wild animals vanish too. Orchards and fields of crops are becoming rarer and gradually bee-keeping is being given up in the often hard-to-reach places where there are bears. One reason why the sources of natural food have shrunk in the Cantabrian Mountains is the disappearance of the bees, and thus of the pollination of crops. In addition, there is the problem of poaching which severely affects the numbers of bears in the Cantabrian massif.

Excursion with EuroNatur CEO Gabriel Schwaderer and Project Manager Mareike Brix in the Cantabrian Mountains 2018 (without sound)

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What steps are Fapas and EuroNatur undertaking in the Cantabrian Mountains?

  • Taking action against poaching. The strategies which have proved beneficial in the west of the mountains are now to be applied to the eastern part of the Cantabrian Mountains. The presence of rangers at the focal poaching spots was found to be particularly effective.  
  • Political lobbying to defend the area against the building of wind parks, ski resorts and motorways which cut up and threaten to destroy the habitat of bears and other wildlife.
  • Improving the availability of the kind of food bears and other wild animals need (this includes for instance buying land, planting wild fruit trees, setting up pollination stations, setting up bear-proof bee hives and making it possible to leave carcasses of farm animals lying in the area)
  • Developing and implementing a comprehensive package of measures for the protection of the Brown Bear
  • Alongside campaigning for the protection of bears EuroNatur and Fapas also work for the protection of Griffon Vultures in “Bear Valley”.


What we have so far been able to achieve - a selection of important successes  

  • In the western part of the Cantabrian Mountains it has already been possible to reduce poaching substantially. The positive development in the bear population there is a direct consequence of our measures.
  • Among other things we have been able to prevent the building of “San Glorio”, a skiing park which had been planned right in the middle of the bears' native range.
  • After protests from EuroNatur and other organisations in 2009 the EU eased its strict hygiene Regulations. In certain regions it is now possible to leave carcasses lying in the wild. Carrion represents one of the main sources of food for bears, vultures and other wild animals. 
  • Although there is still a great deal to do - thanks to our nature conservation work the bear population is already clearly growing.

Partners: FAPAS ((Fondo para la Protección de los Animales Salvajes- Foundation for the protection of wild animals)

Sponsors: European Outdoor Conservation Association of the European Outdoor Group (EOG),Heidehof Foundation, Lufthansa Environmental Sponsorship, EuroNatur donors and sponsors

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