These expeditions have a week each in two different valleys in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains in Transylvania. The area is one of outstanding natural beauty with species rich meadows that have been managed with late hay cuts and no fertilisers for the last 700 years and ancient forests that were once part of the forest that covered much of Europe. On this project you will be working with specialists quantifying change in different taxa and using a wide variety of ecological survey techniques. The surveys include assessing the value of meadows from the occurrence of 30 species of plants that are indicators of high quality meadow communities, forest structure surveys from 20m x 20m quadrats and estimating carbon levels, pollard counts and sweep net surveys of butterflies, point count and mist net surveys for birds, small mammal trapping and camera trapping for the large mammal species including bears and wolves. In addition, there is the opportunity to go out with a member of the local community and see if you can see some of the larger mammals in person, for example bears, wild boar and wild cat. Interview based surveys of small farms are used to assess whether the farming practices (date of hay cuts, amalgamation of fields, use of fertiliser etc.) are changing in a direction that would threaten this spectacular scenery and wildlife. At the end of each week you will travel over the mountains and down into the next valley to repeat the surveys. Note, with European train passes it is possible either before or after your expedition to explore by train other parts of Europe including Budapest, Vienna, Prague and many other sites.
The foothills of the Carpathian Mountains in Transylvania are one of the most spectacular and biodiverse areas in Europe. The species rich landscape has been nurtured by the low intensity farming practices stretching back up to 900 years. However, since Romania joined the European Union there was a gradual depopulation of the countryside coupled with moves to increase the efficiency of farming by combining fields and more intensive agricultural practices. To prevent these areas of outstanding natural beauty in the foothills of the Carpathians being affected by intensification, the EU offered farmers grants to continue farming using traditional techniques so as to maintain the landscape.
The Opwall teams in Transylvania are working with a local NGO called ADEPT and a series of scientists monitoring whether farming practices and biodiversity are changing in a series of 8 valleys within the Tarnava Mare region. Changes in farming practices such as any moves to silage production, removal of hedges, usage of fertilisers and pesticides or drainage of wetland areas are being monitored since they could have a big impact on the biodiversity. Direct monitoring of the biodiversity of groups such as meadow plant indicator species, butterflies, birds, small mammals and large mammals such as bears and boars are also being monitored as part of this programme.
The Transylvania expedition is a mobile one, spending only a week each in eight different villages scattered through the Tarnarva Mare.
Each village is unique in its own way, and facilities do vary from one to another. For the majority the conditions are relatively basic with tented accommodation and long drop toilets, as you are staying in the gardens and on the properties of local farmers rather than actual campsites. For others however the expedition is in guesthouses or more prepared accommodation and campsites. As the village order is only finalized a couple of months prior to the expedition, we can only give an indication of where you may be going during the training presentation in March/April.
The weather is generally good, averaging the mid-twenties for the majority of the summer – although it can get very hot occasionally. As the expedition is Europe, rain is also a possibility!