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In exactly three weeks time I will have arrived in the Romanian province of Transylvania and will be getting to know the rest of the Operation Wallacea team with whom I’m to spend the next month-and-a-half. Its not a country I’ve visited before, or even know much about, except through Bram Stoker and Hammer Horror films, and while immensely entertaining probably not the best introduction to a country which is one of Europe’s largest, with a rich mixture of cultures including ethnic Romanians, Magyars, Germans, Russians, Ukranians, Serbs, Slovaks, Bulgars, Gypsies, Turks and Tatars. As a lover of stories, I think I’m in for a real treat.
I’m going to Romania as a mammal ecologist on the first Operation Wallacea expedition to Tarnava Mare to provide annual data on a series of biodiversity performance and farming criteria that need monitoring on the ground. This data will be used to test the effectiveness in maintaining the traditional farming practices and in protecting the biodiversity in this outstanding area. The work is being completed with ADEPT, a Romanian based NGO and with Oxford University Biodiversity Institute -are responsible for the satellite monitoring of change in habitats and farming practices (eg crops, field size, hedgerow length).
Sighisoara-Târnava Mare is a Site of Conservation Importance declared under the EU Habitats Directive and is one of the most important High Nature Value Farmed Landscapes in Europe. It is characterised by traditionally managed dry grassland habitat type which are threatened in Europe in a mosaic with ancient oak and beech forests. Unspoiled villages centred on fortified churches lie peacefully in the valleys. Traditional farming is carried out in ecological balance with nature. This landscape supports an astonishingly rich wildlife of plants, birds, mammals and insects.
A significant part of the habitats in the project area are either abandoned or overgrazed for economic reasons. Farmers do not get sufficient economic return for managing them traditionally. Overgrazing causes loss of species richness. Abandonment leads to the spread of thorny scrub, and accumulation of dead grassy material. In both cases, loss of habitat condition of grazing land and in hay meadows leads to loss of associated flora and fauna including important bird and butterfly species. These effects are obvious but still easily reversible by re-establishment of traditional management.
Operation Wallacea (OpWall)
runs a series of biological and conservation management research programmes that operate in remote locations across the world. These expeditions are designed with specific wildlife conservation aims in mind – from identifying areas needing protection, through to implementing and assessing conservation management programmes. OpWall concentrates large teams of academics with specialisms in various aspects of biodiversity or social and economic studies at the target study sites giving volunteers the opportunity to work on a range of projects. In each country, a long-term agreement is signed with a partner organisation to achieve a survey and management development programme at each of the sites.
ADEPT’s mission is to preserve these Hign Nature Value Farmlands by promoting nature friendly farm management with local involvement and local benefits. They deliver a package of measures aimed at educating local communities in the practices that maintain high biodiversity value landscapes which in turn provide benefits for people (ecosystem services).
I have trained as an ecologist with a special interest in the role that connectivity plays in supporting biodiversity in fragmented landscapes. My current work as the Living Landscape Officer for Surrey Wildlife Trust involves the delivery of a landscape that is rich in opportunities for both people and wildlife. At the heart of my work is the education of local communities to deliver an ecologically coherent landscape rich in wildlife. In this the goals of Surrey Wildlife Trust are very similar to those of ADEPT
This expedition will be a chance for me to learn from my conservation colleagues at ADEPT about the tools that they use to promote biodiversity and engage their community. I hope through my own skills and experiences to enrich their work too. I am very much looking forward to meeting the much richer mammal fauna of the region- probably species like the white toothed shrews (Crocidura spp) , the southern birch mouse Sicista subtilis and the European suslik Spermophilus citellus but perhaps if I am fortunate the Steppe Polecat Mustela eversmannii and if I’m inappropriately unfeasibly jammy a Eurasian Lynx Lynx lynx, Grey Wolf Canis lupus or Brown (Grizzly) Bear Ursus arctos.
I’ll be posting blogs as much as internet connection and charging points allow (I am taking a freeloader for solar charging), so sign up for updates and join me on what I hope will be a thrilling and educational trip.
Fundatia ADEPT http://www.fundatia-adept.org/?content=activities
Tarnava Mare http://www.discovertarnavamare.org/discover/nature/
Surrey Wildlife Trust www.surreywildlifetrust.org