First annual workshop held in Carpathian Mountains with ELP projects

Last month, 17 grantees of the Endangered Landscapes Programme (ELP) and the programme’s management team travelled to Romania’s Carpathian Mountains for the first annual ELP grantee meeting. The workshop convened representatives from all eight of the programme’s implementation projects, each of which is delivering a vision to restore some of Europe’s most charismatic landscapes.

The group of ELP delegates travelled far and wide to meet for the first annual ELP grantee meeting. Photo credit: ProParks Foundation.

Participants travelled by planes, trains and automobile; together with two delegates from the Cairngorms Connect project, I made the 3000 km journey from the UK by train (an adventure rather than an ordeal, I assure you!). As we weaved through the mountains to our meeting site, we were treated with dramatic views of the Fagaras mountain range; swathes of beech and spruce in the valleys rose up to meet alpine, snow-capped peaks; hillsides were flooded in deep amber from fallen beech leaves.

The layers upon layers of pastel mountain tops in Carpathia’s views are a watercolourist’s dream. Photo credit: Georgina Mayhew / Endangered Landscapes Programme

This spectacular region is the project area for the ELP-funded Carpathia project, led by Foundation Conservation Carpathia (FCC), who attended as well as hosted this first gathering of ELP grantees. FCC have been involved in the Fagaras area since 2009, in response to the illegal logging of virgin forest that was triggered in 2005 when nationalised forest land was given back to historical landowners. FCC have a vision for a world-class nature reserve to be created in the Fagaras mountains, with the intention that land purchased by FCC will ultimately be returned for the state to manage in the long-term.

At the week-long workshop, delegates spent two days in the field, allowing the FCC team to demonstrate the context for their project activities. Local rangers explained the challenges of restructuring and replacing spruce monocultures, which were planted by state and commercial foresters to repopulate land cleared of the native, mixed woodland.  These monocultures lack resilience to storms and disease. We were shown newly built enclosures for two herds of bison, which will be arriving later this year from Romania and Germany and later reintroduced in the area, restoring this key and iconic herbivore to the ecosystem.

An example of spruce monoculture (left), often created in place of clear-cut forest (right). Photo credit: Georgina Mayhew / Endangered Landscapes Programme.

The FCC team also introduced us to several enterprise mechanisms which support the foundation, including a biodiversity farm which breeds Carpathian shepherd dogs (for guarding livestock), and wildlife hides up in the mountains. At these hides visitors can have a true ‘wilderness’ experience and have a good chance of seeing charismatic wildlife including roe and red deer, bear, lynx and wild boar. And judging by the visitor books from the last two summers, they were not left disappointed!

A significant amount of time during the week was also dedicated to projects updating each other on progress since officially launching their ELP-funded activities in January this year. Ecosystem restoration at this scale is never straightforward – whether you consider ecological, social or economic factors – and delegates were able to share both successes and challenges in their projects as part of a trusted community of practitioners. This is important to both allow adaptive learning within the project cycle, as well as delivering the ELP’s objective of understanding and sharing what does and does not work in landscape restoration.

Wildlife hides are just one example of a nature-based enterprise supporting the Carpathia project. Photo credit: Georgina Mayhew / Endangered Landscapes Programme.

The workshop was an intense but immensely valuable week which allowed participants to build trust and share their experience and knowledge with each other. What strikes us as a programme team is the entrepreneurial attitude of so many of our delegates – they are conservation’s game-changers. Bringing together our grantees in this way demonstrates their collective, exciting vision for Europe’s landscapes, and we are proud to support them as part of the Endangered Landscapes Programme. These are individuals and teams who are not only brave enough challenge the processes which have degraded natural landscapes but are bold enough to reimagine nature’s recovery in a way which allows wildlife and people to flourish.