Conserving one of Europe’s last great lowland landscapes
A project is working with farmers to conserve one of Europe’s most extensive surviving High Nature Value farmed landscapes. This landscape in Romania is under threat as farms are abandoned and farming practices change.
Why Europe’s grassland systems are important
Europe’s traditional High Nature Value (HNV) farmed landscapes are globally important. They offer greater habitat diversity and often greater species diversity than wilderness areas. They also provide a range of important ecosystem services, including clean drinking water, flood prevention, resilience and adaptation to climate change, and carbon sequestration in the permanent grasslands.
These semi-natural lowland grassland systems are Europe’s rainforest – a haven of extraordinary biodiversityBut they are threatened: 97% of permanent lowland HNV grasslands have been lost in the UK since 1945. Poland has lost the majority of its HNV permanent grasslands in the last 20 years. They continue to be lost in Europe because of lack of market competitiveness, and adverse incentives under the Common Agricultural Policy.
Biodiversity in Transylvania
The Târnava Mare landscape of Transylvania is one of Europe’s largest surviving High Nature Value farmed landscapes: a semi-natural ecosystem, in which agriculture co-exists with extremely high biodiversity.
Bears and wolves still roam the area, demonstrating that the human impact on the natural world has not been as severe as in the rest of Europe. Recorded species include:
– over 1,100 plant species, including 10 species threatened in Europe, 80 species threatened at the national level;
– 23 mammal species threatened in Europe, including wolf, bear, wild cat, otter;
– 55 bird species threatened in Europe, including the lesser-spotted eagle, honey-buzzard, sparrow-hawk, goshawk and corncrake; and
– over 1,300 butterfly and moth species, at least six of which are threatened in Europe, including the Scarce Fritillary, Scarce Large Blue, Woodland Brown, Large Copper and Willowherb Hawk-moth. Twenty-two are threatened at national level.
This landscape is under threat. Fifty per cent of hay meadows are now abandoned, and already there is a measurable reduction of floristic diversity.
Since 2005 Fundatia ADEPT Transilvania, a British-Romanian NGO, has been carrying out a project with two broad goals: to highlight and publicise the scientific and cultural importance of this 125,000 ha area, and to develop methods and incentives to help farmers to continue traditional management practices.
ADEPT has had long-term funding from the UK Government’s Darwin Initiative and Orange Romania, and now from the European Commission DG Environment (LIFE+ funding), and Fauna & Fauna International. Operation Wallacea will begin monitoring projects in 2013 to identify biodiversity hot-spots.
ADEPT works with Romanian specialists to map and understand the area, and to set up a baseline for future monitoring. ADEPT also collaborates with the Romanian Government to identify the best ways to support the area’s farmers. The goals are:
- to encourage farmers to participate in agri-environment schemes. Pilot schemes indicate considerable enthusiasm in the farming community for these initiatives;
- to enhance the economic viability of farming practices. For example, ADEPT is working on the one hand with authorities to simplify food hygiene regulations that can be fatal for small producers, and, on the other, with dairy farmers and milk processors to improve production standards. Small-scale dairy farming is a key player in this environment and yet is perhaps the most endangered of all local farming practices;
- to add value to local products, through branding as eco-friendly and through such umbrella initiatives as SFI (Slow Food International).
These semi-natural lowland grassland systems are Europe’s rainforest – a haven of extraordinary biodiversity, lying close to home but still not sufficiently recognised and protected in Europe.
ADEPT works not only to help the survival of Târnava Mare, but also to influence policy at a European level with a view to protecting similar ecosystems throughout Europe.