The European Union is funding a project (LIFE14 NAT / IT / 000484) which has as main objective the improvement of the state of conservation of the Griffon vulture in Sardinia. The project includes, among other issues, the creation of a network of so-called "farmers carnia" to mitigate the food shortage and the release of 60 Griffons from Spain to resolve the critical demographic situation of the existing population.
“Farmers carnia" (i.e. charnel-houses) are equipped sites where the farmers are allowed and encouraged to leave livestock carcasses in selected areas where Griffons live. The carcasses will provide food for the Griffons that therefore can feed themselves, as once happened in nature. Furthermore, there will be two additional and similar “feeding stations” to integrate the network of the “farmers carnia”.
The project includes the following Special Protection Areas (SPA) and Sites of Community Importance (SIC): ZONES SPA: ITB013044 - Capo Caccia: its inner area, known as the "Arca (Ark)", is a permanent wildlife protection oasis (L.R. 23/98), while the coastline is part of the Marine Protected Area (MPA) of Capo Caccia and Punta Giglio (L. 979/82). That is a permanent oasis of wildlife protection and capture. The area falls within the Porto Conte Regional Park (L.R. 31/89) and it is considered one of the most important breeding sites for the Gyps fulvus and the Hydrobates pelagicus.
ZONES SIC: ITB010042 - Capo Caccia (with the islands Foradada and Piana) and Punta del Giglio - ITB011155 - Lake Baratz, Porto Ferro: the only natural lake in Sardinia, fed only by the catch basin that surrounds it. Geologically the area consists of formations of sedimentary rocks, mainly sandstones and sands, and metamorphic rocks of schist type.
Pending the entry into operation of the “farmers carnia”, one of the feeding stations has been located in Marina di Lioneddu (Porto Conte).
So far, that is what we can read in the project website called "Life Under Griffon Wings"
Due to some unfortunate circumstances, the project designers, and many of the entities in charge of controlling and authorizing it, must have neglected the fact that all the areas described above are located within a 13 km. radius from the civil airport of Alghero.
The distance of 13 km. has been set as a limit, under the national (Civil Aviation Authority) and international (ICAO) regulation, in order to avoid the settlement of attractive sources for wildlife, considered as potential hazards to air navigation (Cod.Nav. art. 711). In fact, the local airport Authority years ago delivered to the Municipality of Alghero, within whose boundaries both the airport and the project areas fall, the so-called constraint maps (Art. 707 C.N.), i.e. the territorial boundaries within which wildlife potential attractive sources are in general not allowed.
At least one of the feeding stations is therefore already existing and active within a radius of 13 km. from the airport, while the others (“farmers carnia”) will be completed as soon as the authorization process will end.
What could be the impact on air navigation safety resulting from a population of more than 60 Griffons hovering above two feeding stations within a zone which should be immune from attractions sources?
The Griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus) has a wingspan of 2.5 m. and can weigh up to 12 kilos. It can fly up to 6,000 m. (about 20,000 ft.). Griffons can form separate colonies and are quite loyal to their permanent locations. Usually they move in flocks of several individuals. With a network of feeding stations and “farmers carnia”, it is very likely that the flocks will move from one to another inevitably crossing the take-off and landing paths of Alghero airport.
In Spain, where about 8,000 pairs of Griffons live, statistics show many collisions with military aircraft that often carry out missions at low altitude (certainly more than 14 events from 1987 to 1991- Kitowsky 2011), but also with civil aircraft, causing several casualties among pilots and passengers of small general aviation airplanes.
The following are the updated data of the latest impacts, as reported by the media:
18.07.1996, Pamplona, Robin DR380, crashed after colliding with a Griffon vulture, 3 dead;
13.05.2012, Madrid, Iberia A340, struck a vulture that remained embedded in the nose cone;
16.01.2016, Cerro de las Rabadanes, TB20, struck a vulture, 4 dead;
30.03.2016, Perales, Cessna 172, collided with a vulture, 3 dead;
19.05.2016, Arbizu, Robin DR400, collided with a vulture, 3 dead;
16.09.2016, Palma de Mallorca, Lufthansa A320, struck a vulture that remained embedded in the nose cone;
We think no additional comment is needed.
If no expert will ever support the feasibility of a “zero hazard” with regard to the impacts of aircraft with birds, we really do not feel any need to increase the hazard level if we can easily do without. We hope, therefore, that the project managers would reconsider the location of such attractions sources and restocking, maybe moving them to areas less critical for air navigation.
Finally, we would like to mention a similar experiment underway in India (although for different needs and in a different context) in which however the feeding stations have been located at 100 km. from the nearest airport:
Air traffic control plays a fundamental role in accident prevention within a generally clear and detailed regulatory framework. However, some air navigation service providers have been involved in legal proceedings following birdstrike events; at least in one case the Control Tower has been sentenced by a Court to refund part of the damage following an assignment of liability.