The Pyrennes in the south west of France, and the corresponding area across the border, are a wonderful area of wilderness. There are currently about 64 bears living in this area. So where are we on the road to recovery?
Were the the entire Pyrennes mountains wild, it is thought that these mountains could support 600 bears. However, this area is not an area that is set aside for wilderness – there is a whole population of humans living in these mountains (almost 700,000 people live here).
It is thought that the bear population of the Pyrennes could potentially get to 250 in its current form.
There is a very exciting project, which is aiming to connect the Cantabrian mountains with the Pyrenees, in a way that allows wolves bears, and other species to migrate freely along. This is called the “great mountain ecological corridor”. They have already spent 8 million euros over the last decade to buy about 80 square km towards this goal, and it is thought that just another 80 square km of land will connect the Cantabrian mountains to the Pyrenees. This project thinks big, as the next move is to connect the Pyrenees with the Italian Alps through the mountains of the central Massif in France. Beyond here the corridor will run through the wilds of Austria – this will need some work, as while much of Austria is left wild, the country has been an incredibly dangerous place for wolves bears and the like. Austria has the space for big carnivores, but in the past has not been a welcoming place. Currently there are thought to be about 70 wolves in the whole country, there are also a few dozen bears in the country. So long as the population continues to support the recovery, these animals are likely to thrive in Austria, as well as benefit the local human population. There is much work that is currently being done, to connect this with the start of the Carpathian mountains – one of the last great wildernesses of Europe. Unfortunately, there is a great deal of human activity in the area, and the area between Brataslava and Vienna is particularly complex.
Green bridges would have to be built across the many roads in the area. Many of these roads are 6 or even 8 lanes wide, making the bridge a significant undertaking. Never-the-less, having crossed this distance, there would be a safe corridor, from the western edge of Spain through to central Europe. This will be a great step in the direction of protecting the big mammals of Europe.
There are also plans of extending this network north, to connect the large wild populations of north-eastern Europe into the greater network.