The LIFE SAFE-CROSSING is an international conservation project implemented in four countries i.e., Greece, Italy, Romania, and Spain, which aims at reducing the impact of roads on large carnivore priority species, improving habitat connectivity, reducing wildlife road mortality risk, and enhancing road safety for drivers. With several bear-vehicle collisions occurring over the last 20 years in northwestern Greece, the brown bear (Ursus arctos) was selected as the target species for the country. The project’s concrete conservation actions develop along two main axes and focus on improving connectivity and preventing Animal -Vehicle Collisions (AVCs).
First, we identified bear-vehicle collision high risk areas using telemetry and 10 years of AVC data from our study area. Based on our results, we selected four unfenced road segments where Animal-Vehicle Collision Prevention Systems (AVC PSs) will be installed and utilized as an effective tool to address AVCs. These systems detect the presence of an animal on the roadsides and activate an alert system for drivers, which is followed by the activation of acoustic scaring devices to drive wildlife to flight in case approaching vehicles fail to slow down. The exact location of the AVC PSs, as well as their configuration (e.g., number and type of detection sensors), was finalized after rigorous fieldwork and data analysis which resulted in a fine scale AVC risk evaluation. AVC PSs will be accompanied by wildlife warning signs and information panels to raise driver awareness and promote vigilant driving.
We also identified a motorway which used to be a bear roadkill hotspot (>20 bear-vehicle collisions within 4 years) prior its bear-proof fencing in 2013-14. We recorded all potential wildlife passages – ca. 150 underpasses of variant size (width range: 1-125m, height range: 2-40m, depth range: 10-400m) – and barriers to animal movement along the 55km motorway segment. Following, we assessed the motorway’s permeability using 45 solar-panel/battery powered cellular (4G) cameras and eventually, processing approximately 75,000 frames and videos. The outcome substantially contributed to the selection of underpasses to be technically improved in order to increase their attractiveness for wildlife and hence, safeguard their use. The improvements consisted of plantations of shrubby vegetation, ramp constructions, construction of dry ledges, light screens, pruning and removal of ground material that had downsized or blocked the underpass due to mud deposits. Following these interventions, we expect increased use of the upgraded wildlife underpasses to be evidenced with ex-ante monitoring. We expect that all actions taken within the LIFE SAFE-CROSSING project will bring us one step closer to safer roads in NW Greece for both wildlife and humans.