Iori River Valley

Georgia

Giorgi Ianqoshvili

Restoring gallery forest and grasslands in the Iori River Valley, Georgia

The Iori River and its associated gallery forest are essential elements of the fragile Georgian steppe ecosystem. Home to magnificent birds of prey, wolves, bears and gazelles, and bordered by steppes and barren ‘badlands’, this dramatic landscape is currently threatened by unsustainable agriculture and the remnants of former Soviet infrastructure. This project has started to revitalise this steppe-riverine ecosystem, while enabling local pastoralists to manage the land sustainably in the long-term.

The Iori River Valley

The Iori River, and the gallery forest which stretches along the valley, are integral parts of South East Georgia’s steppe ecosystem – vast, biodiversity-rich grasslands, punctuated by scrub-covered ridges, dominate the landscape. As the region’s only permanent water source, most large vertebrates inhabiting the steppes including lynx, wolf, brown bear and Persian gazelle, are directly dependent on the Iori River.

The river shapes the dynamics of the landscape by creating periodic wetlands and transporting nutrients from the mountains to the lowlands. The gallery forest which runs along the Iori riverbed acts as a wildlife corridor, providing breeding sites and core habitat for many species including the endangered Egyptian vulture, Saker falcon and Eastern imperial eagle.

Project context and opportunity

Despite the area’s protected status, habitats have been degraded by inefficient land-use practices, resulting in biodiversity loss and a decrease in the land’s ability to support livestock. During the Soviet era, logging for firewood and the transformation of woodland into pasture drastically reduced coverage of the gallery forest. Tolerated in the absence of an alternative source of fuel, illegal firewood harvesting continues today in the Chachuna Managed Reserve, whilst unregulated grazing has led to widespread degradation and prevented natural regeneration. An abandoned dam project from the late 1980s (the Dali reservoir) also disrupt flood patterns and reduce surface flow and sediment load. The steppe areas themselves have been subjected to over-stocking with livestock, causing overgrazing, erosion and competition with native herbivores.

Despite this degradation, the landscape is relatively intact, and connectivity to other areas in the Caucasus Biodiversity Hotspot creates an opportunity for restoration. Few major roads cross this area, towns are small, very few lands are fenced, and no major infrastructure projects have been undertaken except the now defunct Soviet-era irrigation system – all factors that help make successful restoration a possibility.

Project achievements

Within the Chachuna Managed Reserve, this project has initiatated restoration of the natural dynamics of the Iori River, significantly improving the condition of gallery forest along its length in Georgia. It has laid the foundations for a rotational grazing scheme that has reduced overgrazing of the biodiversity-rich steppes. The restoration of native biodiversity has increased the resilience of ecosystems and improved the livelihoods of local communities.

  • A management plan for Chachuna Managed Reserve including biodiversity monitoring, wildfire management, floodplain restoration efforts, communications and education was developed
  • Rotational grazing has been implemented on over 3000 ha of pasture, lease agreements have been developed with farmers inside protected areas, and progress is being monitored
  • A gabion has been installed, re-flooding 2 ha of floodplain forest
  • In order to restore the floodplain forest, a 7km watering corridor was established, which helps to protect the floodplain forest from the entry and grazing of sheep
  • The collaboration between the border police and the administration of Chachuna Managed Reserve was strengthened, demonstrated by the mutual exchange of patrolling plans, sharing of detected violations and hotspots during patrols
  • A river basin management plan for the Iori and Alazani rivers has been developed, which envisages the Dali reservoir for the purpose of flooding the floodplain forest by releasing the reservoir in spring and autumn

Project Partners

BirdLife Europe
SABUKO
Agency of Protected Areas (Georgia)

Quick Facts

Project Lead

Project location:

Chachuna Managed Reserve, Iori River Valley

Country:

Georgia

Landscape size:

22,000 ha

Key habitats:

Steppe, grassland, scrubland and gallery and riverine forest

Focal species:

Egyptian vulture, Eastern imperial eagle, wolf, and brown bear

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