Program Life Nature
Conservation of French populations of Orsini’s viper (Vipera ursinii)
In France, populations of Orisini’s Viper (Vipera ursinii) are known to exist in just 12 localities (with unconfirmed sightings in three other localities). Its range includes approximately 9000 ha, of which 5750 ha (or more than 60%) are in the Natura 2000 network. The French populations are highly isolated from other European populations (the closest of which are found in Italy, in the Central Appennines), and they constitute at the Western edge of the species’ range. Thus, their current situation increases both their risk of extinction, and the potential value of conservation measures for this species.
In fact, populations have already experienced rapid declines at four sites, and may have disappeared altogether at three others.
Five factors are either certain or likely to have contributed to this decline, including (1) increasing size of forested areas; (2) controlled burns (though the effects depend on the date, area and intensity of the burn); (3) development of recreational sites in the mountains; (4) collection or deliberate destruction of the species; and (5) stochastic extinctions inherent in small populations.
Studied carried out since 1992 have revealed the key steps needed to protect the species.
The objectives of the project are as follows: (1) Protect and restore the habitat and increase its function and functionality. (2) In the mountain zones where the viper is found, limit the development of recreational activities that could have a negative impact on the viper’s habitat. (3) Limit illegal removal and deliberate destruction of vipers in these natural populations. (4) Allow for better management and protection of populations of V. ursinii in France and beyond by encouraging collaborations between specialists (both scientists and managers) and by making accessible the data obtained during the course of this project.
Actions and means involved
- 1) Determine the effect of four management and restoration techniques on the V. ursinii habitat, including cutting forest (eight sites), clearing brush (four sites), controlled burning (two sites), and pasture management (at least two sites).
- 2) Organize workshops and conferences (three per N2000 site) and site visits in the field, with the aim of providing information, raising awareness and stimulating dialogue among elected officials, landowners, farmers, and those involved in the tourist industry, and of promoting management activities that improve V. ursinii habitat.
- 3) Monitor illegal collection of rare species and observe recreational activities and raise their awareness of their impact at four specific sites.
- 4) Carry out field studies to obtain reliable baseline estimates for all 11 known populations, and look for new populations at seven sites.
- 5) Develop collaborations among at least three countries (Greece, Hungary and Romania) to improve understanding needed to implement and disseminate tools for conservation, census and management of populations
1) Management tools are put into practice and census methods evaluated, as is the possibility of transferring animals from other European populations.
2) Habitat area is maintained over an expanse of 295 ha among seven sites. Connections between populations are restored at two sites (58 ha).
3) Favorable conditions for long-term management and conservation are created: Orsini’s viper and its habitat are identified as a major part of the natural heritage of the country. Challenges to appropriate development and management of habitat are better taken into account by local political entities, including any elected officials, landowners, farmers, or those involved in the tourist industry who are associated with existing or potential habitat. A technical guide for how best to manage and track populations of V. ursinii through France and elsewhere is made available to public and private organizations associated with conservation of this species.
4) By 2010, the state of all populations is known, and specific risks of extinction have been determined for the five more endangered populations.
Brochure of presentation of Life program