Česká verze

Claims for brown bear damage in Europe

29.7.2016, Carnivores.cz

We have already informed here that the populations of large carnivores in Europe are recovering and that they are gradually returning to their former home range. This is also true for the brown bear (Ursus arctos) – currently the continent’s most abundant large carnivore. It is present in 26 European countries where it inhabits a wide range of habitats including relatively densely populated agricultural landscapes. Its broad diet often includes anthropogenic food, such as livestock, crops, and beehives. This often leads to conflicts between people that suffer losses and those aiming to conserve large predators which represent key species for ecosystem functioning. To mitigate the conflicts arising from damage to human property, compensation schemes to offset losses are established by law in most European countries (with the exception of Latvia, Belarus, Ukraine and Albania).

The Journal of Applied Ecology has recently published a study aimed to improve understanding of human–bear interactions in Europe. Its authors compiled brown bear damage claims across its European range in 2005–2012 and explored the factors associated with damage claims across those countries and regions that use similar compensation schemes. Specifically, they evaluated status and management aspects of the bear populations, landscape features, such as forest availability and human land use, and socio-economic factors. This is the first study of wildlife damage that integrates an assessment of the incidence of compensated claims with an analysis of ecological and socio-economic factors at a continental scale.

At the time of the study, the distribution of the brown bear in Europe was clustered in 10 populations most of which were spanning more than one country. For purposes of the study authors defined 18 management units, based on the distribution of each bear population or subpopulation overlaying national, regional or county borders.

(a) Average number of damage claims per year in 18 European management units in 2005–2012

(b) Distributions of European brown bear populations (from Chapron et al. 2014) and the management units included in this study. Dashed lines in (b) delimit the studied management units. Countries with grey colour had no bear distribution data.

In Europe, over 3200 claims for bear damage are compensated per year by the responsible authorities. Most of the claims corresponded to damage to livestock, primarily sheep (59%), followed by claims for beehives and agricultural losses (21% and 17%, respectively), mainly in Mediterranean and eastern European countries.

The damage ratio (defined as the average number of claims divided by the estimated number of bears in the unit) varied greatly among management units even within the same bear population. The French Pyrenees and the Scandinavian population in Norway showed the highest damage ratio in Europe, with more than 7 compensated claims per bear annually. Estonia had the lowest damage ratio, with less than 0.1 claims per bear and year, followed by the Western Carpathians of Poland and Slovakia, with less than 0.2 claims per bear and year. Interestingly, in Norway, up to 95% of compensation payments are not verified, and livestock (mainly sheep) is generally free-ranging and unprotected. On the Swedish side of the border where farmers have to prove the use of preventive measures in order to receive compensation (similar to the situation in Slovakia) the number of damage claims is significantly lower.

The study confirmed the hypothesis that claims will be less frequent in units with supplementary feeding. A plausible explanation is that the availability of supplementary food buffers the variations in the availability of natural foods, which may affect damage occurrence. Some studies, however, show that the presence of attractants may increase the risk of bear damage at regional scales. Supplementary feeding is most common in central and eastern European countries, many of which have a history of coexistence with large predators. Therefore, people in these countries may keep using traditional prevention measures to coexist with large carnivores. Such factors (not included in the analysis) could have a greater overall effect on damage reduction than supplementary feeding. The authors thus highlight the need for further research on this topic.


There was no conclusive evidence that legal hunting and the reduction of bear population density would always result in decreasing livestock losses. Also, increase in predator’s culling quotas does not necessarily improve people’s tolerance towards the species. In the areas were limited bear hunting is allowed, fewer claims for apiary damage were recorded. The underlying reason could be that disproportionate amount of damage is often caused by the bears that have learnt or inherited an attraction to beehives, often located close to human settlements. These “nuisance” individuals are then more likely to be selected by hunters.

There were fewer claims for damage caused by bears living in areas with prevailing agricultural use. A straightforward explanation of this result is that areas with high land-use intensity are less frequented by bears. Losses due to predation on livestock were more likely in areas with fewer people.

Significantly, no association between the number of damage claims and the number of bears in the area was found. For example, livestock depredation rates have decreased in both Poland and Sweden over the last two decades, even though the bear population in Poland remained stable, whereas in Sweden it has tripled. In the Apennines, damage rates have increased, although the bear population was stable, and in Norway over the same period, both the number of bears and sheep losses compensated have roughly tripled. Although a better understanding of these situations requires a more in-depth analysis, the above comparisons illustrate that the variation in the number of damage claims in a given region is not necessarily related to the variation in the size of its bear population.

The authors conclude their study by stressing that the number of claims for bear damage is a complex issue determined by multiple factors, including the functioning of damage compensation schemes, human land use, and management practices. This complexity must be taking into account if proposed policies are to be truly effective in reducing claims. The schemes are required that implement prevention and compensation of damage in parallel, and condition compensation on the application of preventive measures. Prevention efforts should be prioritized in areas where damage claims are more likely to occur, for example in the case of reintroduced or expanding populations. The findings of the study are, however, applicable across the whole of Europe.


The author is a translator.

Full version of the article:

E. Revilla et. al.: Patterns and correlates of claims for brown bear damage on a continental scale, Journal of Applied Ecology (British Ecological Society)


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