Transylvania has some of the most species rich hay meadows and pastures in Europe with traditional management, low fertilizer input and low stocking rates. Fundatia ADEPT, Opwall’s partner in Romania, has with the help of some experienced botanists, identified a guide of 30 plant species indicative of high conservation dry grasslands. What is not known is whether some of the indicators are more commonly associated with the highest value meadows or pastures and so act as ‘super indicators’. This can be judged by comparing the occurrence of each species against quality of habitat i.e. the total number of indicator species at a site. An association analysis of indicator species is also needed to identify which species tend to occur together (and so can be considered to be replicates of each other) and which are more unique. This study will be conducted at at least 12 sites already identified around 8 villages across the Natura 2000 site in Transylvania. Grassland surveys using these 30 indicator species were conducted at a series of sites around 8 villages within the Tarnava Mare region between 2013 and 2018, so there are existing datasets to compare against the survey data in 2019.
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!