Velebit Mountains: The Wild West of the Adriatic Coast

Velebit is situated on the Adriatic coast of Croatia. This limestone mountain chain is 145 km long from north to south, and lies parallel to the coast (Fig. 9.4). Following a cross section from the crystal waters of the Adriatic in the west, it rapidly rises to 1757 m, and then phases out into a higher-level plateau towards the east. The area hosts an extraordinary diversity of different habitats, from barren Mediterranean landscapes at sea level, a large network of spectacular caves, to almost boreal systems at higher altitudes. This has led to the establishment of the two Paklenica & Northern Velebit National Parks as well as the Velebit Nature Park. Together the three areas occupy more than 220,000 ha. The area is declared a UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve and has been included in the UNESCO Tentative List of World Heritage Sites. Inside the Nature Park and outside the protected areas in the

Fig. 9.4  Limestone peaks in the Velebit mountains. (Photo credit: Staffan Widstrand/Rewilding Europe)

south and west, there are very promising areas for rewilding, consisting mainly of abandoned farmland and grazing lands.

Lobby and advocacy at government level for rewilding, by the local partner WWF in Croatia, has generated genuine interest, however due to changes in government composition and policies, this interest is difficult to consolidate (e.g. revisions in hunting legislation are postponed by the parliament). Due to very active networking on the ground, a lot of promising contacts with local entrepreneurs and hunting associations have been made.

The study on bark beetle ( Ips typographus) emphasizes the importance of this species in opening up forests as a key natural process in the area. The archaeozoological study on the historical presence of larger mammals, proved among others the existence of ibex ( Capra ibex) in Velebit. Because the availability of water is a key limiting factor in these limestone mountains, a freshwater study was executed to map water resources for establishing natural wildlife densities in the area. An overview of the (19) existing hunting concessions has identified opportunities for creating large breeding zones and negotiations have started with several concessionaires. Finally a successful seminar was held with local entrepreneurs focusing on wildlife breeding in two places and wildlife watching in combination with the creation of breeding sites.

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