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.

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

back to top of page

Do you want to help?


Future needs nature. EuroNatur cares for it. Please use your possibilities to help. With your donation you will make an effective contribution to a more livable environment.


New Study: Hydropower development puts Europe’s fish paradise at risk

The Balkan rivers host 113 rare and protected fish species. If the hydropower development is carried out as planned, about 10 percent of all European...

European Court of Justice ruling on Bialowieza: EU must also take action in Romania

Bialowieza: EuroNatur and Agent Green welcome ruling of European Court of Justice and call for forest aid in Romania

Bird conservationists fight for a safe Adriatic Flyway

++ Bird migration in full swing ++ Numerous birds fall victim to poachers in the Balkans ++ Third Adriatic Flyway Conference meets in Serbia ++

Countdown is on for photo competition

Hurry up now! Just ten more days left before the deadline of the photo competition “Europe’s Natural Treasures” which is celebrating its 25th...

International banks fuelling a hydropower tsunami that’s decimating pristine Balkan rivers – study

Multilateral development banks have supported no fewer than 82 hydropower projects across southeast Europe, including in protected areas, according to...

By Bike across the European Union

Two enthusiastic cyclists, five months, 11,000 kilometres: Paul Baumgärtner und Noah Kramer are experiencing the European Union in the most literal...

Timber companies dissociate from sourcing wood from Romanian national parks and primeval forests

EuroNatur and Agent Green investigate traceability of wood ++ International timber companies call on Romanian government to clarify legal situation ++...

Reunited with Maya

On 18 March last year, a female Balkan lynx called Maya was fitted with a tracking device. Over the past year, this has been providing scientists from...

Albania plans to build airport in protected area

New international airport to be constructed in Narta Lagoon ++ Albanian parliament approved the project yesterday ++ EuroNatur and its partners call...

Salt is Life: Abandonment of Ulcinj Salina harms avifauna

++ EuroNatur calls for immediate protection of the saline in Ulcinj, Montenegro ++ Resuming salt production would open perspectives for both birds and...

Numerous birds of prey and corvids poisoned in Serbia

Recently, a rare imperial eagle was found poisoned in Northern Serbia – the eagle had fallen victim to a meat bait. While searching for the animal,...

Construction works on the Jiu hydroelectric power plant still going on

It is scandalous: The romanian appeals court declared the building permission of the Jiu hydroelectric plant several times, lately in December....

Hydroelectric power station on the River Jiu halted for the time being

Encouraging news for the Romanian River Jiu: the building permit has been declared null and void by the courts. As a result the Jiu may continue to...

Study proves: Small power plants, big damage

European-financed small hydropower plants damaging pristine Balkan landscapes

Second part of the documentary series "Out of Control" reveals further intrigues

Destruction of old-growth forests in Romania: logging devastates parts of Semenic National Park, too ++ EuroNatur and Agent Green: unacceptable...

By using our services, you agree that we use cookies. Data protection