Danube Delta

Ukraine, Romania & Moldova

Andrey Nekrasov / Rewilding Europe

Restoring the Danube Delta, Europe’s largest wetland

The Danube Delta is the largest natural river delta in Europe, and home to large populations of breeding birds, including many endangered and threatened species. Changes to the natural flows of river systems and industrial infrastructure have damaged the area, but there is now an opportunity to employ rewilding principles to restore the landscape and encourage the development of a nature-based economy. This will help restore the delta’s unique environment and its amazing biodiversity for future generations.

The Danube Delta

Situated in Ukraine, Romania and Moldova, the Danube Delta is Europe’s largest remaining natural wetland. This unique and extensive ecosystem of unaltered rivers, lakes, marshes, steppes, dunes, lagoons and climax forests is home to more than 60 species of fish, including four species of sturgeon, and mammals such as otters and the European mink. Breeding bird colonies totalling tens of thousands of individuals (notably terns and herons), including several globally threatened species, also inhabit the area. They include most of the global population of pygmy cormorant and most of Europe’s populations of great white and Dalmatian pelican. Some 50 kilometres north-east and functionally connected to the delta’s wetlands, the protected Tarutino Steppe in Ukraine is a unique landscape and the largest remaining piece of Pontic Steppe in the Danube Delta region.

Project context and opportunity

Despite the Danube Delta being the largest surviving wetland in Europe, widespread development of infrastructure during the twentieth century has led to a deterioration in local water quality, salinisation and biodiversity loss. Associated attempts to “tame” natural river dynamics have negatively impacted local inhabitants, particularly fishing communities, and much of the resulting infrastructure that has caused these impacts is now dilapidated and obsolete.

The steppe areas surrounding the delta were once inhabited by large herds of wild horses, saiga antelopes, aurochs and wild ass (kulan). During times of severe drought or intense cold these herds would enter the fringes and larger dune systems of the delta and play a role in shaping these landscapes.
Agricultural developments have led to the disappearance of these large herbivores and connections between the steppes and the delta wetlands have been broken.

This rare ecosystem could be restored as a living landscape, managed and maintained by herbivores and birds through the reintroduction of keystone species such as saiga antelope, kulan and the demoiselle crane.

Project achievements

This project has taken vital steps forward in restoring one of the largest delta systems in Europe (700,000 ha), by significantly improving the ecological integrity and ecosystem functioning of 40,000 ha of wetland and terrestrial (steppe) habitat in the Danube Delta region. Key natural processes, in particular flooding and natural grazing, are being re-established as driving landscape-forming processes. Fostering these processes is encouraging wildlife comeback, increasing biodiversity and underpinning the development of local nature-based economies.

  • Ten obsolete dams and obstacles were removed in the Kogilnik, Kagach and Sarata rivers to restore natural flow, spawning grounds and meadows.
  • Ecological processes and natural hydrology were restored on Ermakiv island by partial removing of dykes surrounding the island.
  • Water quality was improved, productive shallow wetlands restored, and native fish species populations supported by improving the connectivity and water exchange between the Danube River and surrounding lakes.
  • The dynamic natural processes in the delta were revived by restoring natural grazing with the releases of large herbivores, including 63 Konik horse, 20 red deer, more than 30 fallow deer, approximately 20 water buffalo, 10 Hucul horses, 40 kulan, and 23 fallow deer.
  • Five hundred hectares of Tarutino steppe was restored, improving conditions for natural grazing.
  • Growth of nature-based tourism was facilitated by constructing a wildlife hide and observation tower on Ermakiv island, as well as information panels and other infrastructure on the Tarutino steppe.
  • Eco-ethno festivals held near Beleu lake in the Republic of Moldova and in the Tarutino steppe in Ukraine engaged local communities, reviving the sense of pride for their nature and culture.
  • An education campaign was launched in all three project countries.
  • Ten juvenile eagle owls were released in the Danube Delta as part of the reintroduction programme aiming to re-establish a viable eagle owl population to boost trophic complexity in the region.

Project Partners

Rewilding Europe
Rewilding Danube Delta
Rewilding Ukraine
Biosphere Reserve Authority Reserve (Romania)
Danube Biosphere Reserve
WWF Ukraine
Verde E Moldova

Quick Facts

Project Lead

Project location:

The Danube Delta

Countries:

Ukraine, Romania and Moldova

Landscape size:

40,000 ha

Key habitats:

River delta, marshes, reed beds, coastal lagoons and grasslands, dry forest, and riverine forest

Focal species:

Dalmatian pelican, eagle owl, red and fallow deer, wild horse, water buffalo, kulan (wild ass), and steppe marmot

Download Project Factsheet

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