Saturday, 15 March 2014

How many bears? Lots!

[photo of Slovenian bear by Danegger]

I am often asked how many brown bears Scotland could support. I answer that there hasn't been a proper feasibility study, but probably many more than people imagine. Most folk probably think bears need as much space as wolves. Think again!

There is an interesting article in the current issue of Ursus (the journal of the International Bear Association), about brown bears in Slovenia. The paper is about whether putting livestock carrion out for bears influences how much they attack livestock. The authors (Irena Kavcic et al) conclude it does not.

What's most fascinating is some of the basic data. Here are some examples:
  • There are about 450 bears in Slovenia, which is about a quarter the size of Scotland.
  • In their core area, the density of bears is high - in a farming region with more than 2000 people per 100 square kilometers, there are up to 40 bears per 100 square kilometers.
  • In the period 2005-9, there were a total of 400 sheep killed by bears, out of a total population of 133,800 - i.e. less than one per bear.
  • The annual cost of compensating farmers for bear attacks on livestock (97% of which are on sheep) is €104,500. 
Now Slovenia is much more densely forested than Scotland, and its sheep density is much less than ours, but even so, these statistics paint an interesting picture of a landscape that is full of people living in relative peace with bears. It at least gives us something to aspire to! For a nice summary about Slovenian brown bears, see here.

The final statistic, that of the €104,500 cost of compensating farmers for sheep lost to bears, is worth contrasting with Scotland's farm subsidy budget of £600 million (around €700 million)  (see this article by Rob Edwards for more on our farm subsidy scandal).

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