The Tarnava Mare Natura 2000 Region comprises 85,000ha of particularly rich landscape and is one of Europe’s last medieval landscapes. The area has arguably the most extensive flower-rich grasslands remaining in lowland Europe, as well as the continent’s last remaining lowland bears. The landscape still presents a medieval land-use pattern: forested ridges and gullies, pasture and hay meadows on gentler slopes and terraces, and arable land and smaller meadows on the flat valley bottoms near villages.

  • Overview
  • Objectives
  • Skills you gain
  • Costs to Consider
  • Site Conditions

Inclusion of the area in the EU Natura 2000 network enables funding to be obtained to maintain the low input traditional based farming that has created such a high biodiversity. The Opwall teams are completing an annual biodiversity survey of the region in order to assess the effectiveness of maintaining the traditional farming practices in protecting this outstanding area. The work is being completed with ADEPT, a Romanian based NGO, with the Opwall teams providing annual data on a series of biodiversity performance and farming criteria.

One Week Itinerary

During this expedition the teams will spend their week in one of the picturesque and remote Saxon villages in the foothills of the Carpathians. The study sites have been paired into villages and over the course of the expedition the students will survey one of these study sites.  The students will be split into one of several survey teams and over the course of the week will have the chance to participate in each of the teams.

  • Large mammals: This team will position camera traps in key locations in the forests and on the valley transects in order to capture sightings of large mammals such as bears, wild boar and deer. The team will also carry out track and sign transect surveys checking for scat and any additional evidence of large mammals. Students will also get the opportunity to join a local bear expert for an evening to potentially view large mammals such as bear, wild boar and red deer.
  • Small Mammals: This team will set small mammal traps late at night which will be checked and emptied each morning; students will assist with taking morphometric measurements of any mammals captured.
  • Birds: The bird team will be leaving at dawn and walking the long transect sample routes that traverse the valleys either side of the village. They will complete point count surveys at 500m intervals en route, looking for sightings and listening for calls of the wide range of birds found in the area. The bird assemblage includes an abundance of woodpeckers, shrikes, warblers and many birds of prey (such as eagles and hawks). In the evening call-back surveys are also completed for corn crake and owls. There may also be the opportunity to observe and assist with a bird ringing program where species can be seen up close.
  • Plants: The plant team will be focusing on 30 target species which are good indicators of grassland types or have medicinal use. Transects will be completed in low, medium and high nature value grasslands along the different sample routes where the presence of different key species will be noted. Because this area contains some of the most diverse grasslands in Europe this project will be a chance to work in a spectacular and rarely seen habitat.
  • Butterflies: The butterfly team will be covering the same 50m transects as the plant team, recording the butterflies encountered and using sweep nets to catch and identify the rarer species. Light trapping will be completed for moths in the evenings, with early mornings then spent identifying those species caught.
  • Bats: The bat team will be using a number of methods to establish the species present in the area which may include the use of recordable bat detectors, observation of roosting bats and mist netting. To quantify the species present, various survey techniques will be used such as, counting bats emerging from roost and using handheld bat detectors on walking transects.
  • Farms: The traditional farming methods used in this region play a crucial role in the maintenance of high biodiversity. Part of the monitoring effort therefore includes visiting a number of farms in each village and recording the numbers of livestock, dates of grassland cutting, type of arable crops etc. They will also be gathering data on bear attacks on the livestock and will have a unique opportunity to experience methods of farming which were lost many years ago in most of the world.

The students will also be completing a Transylvanian ecology course comprising the following lectures: Transylvanian landscapes (Saxon history, management and threats to the landscape and farming strategies), sampling techniques (the types of survey methods employed and how certain species can act as indicators), biodiversity in Tarnava Mare (biodiversity and endemism in general terms and specific to the region), classification focusing on the mammals and herpetofauna of the region (amphibians and snakes of Europe and bears, wolves and cats), bird diversity and classification, and conservation strategies in Transylvania (habitats and bird Directives, ecotourism, traditional products).

Transylvania Research Objectives

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 mitigate against 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 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 eight 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 are also being monitored as part of this programme.

  • Attend lectures/workshops on biodiversity and conservation
  • Learn the survey methods for Plants, Birds, Small and Large Mammals, Bats and Butterflies
  • Learn to ID common European bird species
  • Understand the historical and modern interactions between humans and their environment
  • Learn and experience about historical Saxon culture

The costs of a school group expedition can be highly variable. There is a standard fee paid to Opwall for all expeditions but the location you are flying from, the size of your group, and how you wish to pay all impact the overall cost.

You can choose to book the expedition as a package (which includes your international flights) or you can organise your travel yourself and just pay us for the expedition related elements.

If you are booking your expedition as a package, you also have the option of being invoiced as a group, or on an individual basis.

We have eight different Saxon villages paired with our study sites scattered throughout the Tarnarva Mare, which village you will stay at will depend on the time of year.

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.

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!


  • Transylvania
  • Romania
  • Saxon Villages

Want to get involved with this project?


Want to get involved with this project?

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