Danube Delta: Europe's Unrivalled Wetland

The Danube Delta on the border between Romania and Ukraine is outstanding in Europe—due to its size (over 600,000 ha), intact river dynamics, unexploited coastline (shaped by the Danube River and the Black Sea together), wide horizons and large-scale landscapes without significant infrastructure (Fig. 9.7). It also has the largest reed beds in the world, in addition to millions of nesting and migrating birds, many of them rare and some even globally endangered. However, some of the key wildlife species are still missing, such as wolf, red deer and beaver. Due to poisoning, numbers of species like black kites ( Milvus migrans), golden jackals ( Canis aureus) or vultures are extremely low. Apart from legal enforcement, giving value to these species as part of the wildlife watching economy should stimulate social control to avoid these illegal practices.

Fig. 9.7  The Danube delta, Europe's largest delta. (Photo credit: Staffan Widstrand/Rewilding Europe)

The unique Letea Forest mosaic savannah, situated in the Romanian section, is one of the few “primeval” forests of the country that has trees up to 700 years old. Through the designation as UNESCO Biosphere Reserves by both the Romanian and Ukrainian governments, with some relatively strictly protected core areas, the delta enjoys a high level of formal protection. Buffer areas and economic zones around these also provide opportunities for local developments without jeopardizing the natural values.

A lot of effort was spent the first year to ensure that the rewilding project is firmly anchored in two main communities in the outer and drier part of the delta, and with the relevant authorities at several levels. A key concept that should be tried in the Danube Delta is the development of one or two community wildlife conservancies[1], alongside with reintroduction of species, and with wildlife tourism providing income to these communities. This will allow for developing several different rewilding enterprises that start providing jobs and income to the people who live here. To achieve this, geographical boundaries of the possible conservancies in Letea and Sfantu Georghe are identified in collaboration with local stakeholders. An inventory was made of the existing local businesses and other operating businesses in Sfantu Georghe, which is important information for the establishment of the community conservancy. Regular meetings for setting up a Community Conservancy in Sfantu Georghe and CA Rossetti municipalities brought mutual trust in and knowledge of the Rewilding Europe initiative. An MoU has been signed between the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve Authority (DDBRA) and the local rewilding partner, WWF Romania, about the development of the rewilding area. Finally feasibility studies for the reintroduction of beaver and deer are subcontracted to ICAS, a research centre at the Brasov Wildlife Department. The deer release is in preparation.

  • [1] For an example, see the program of the Namibian Association of Community Based Natural Resource Management (nacso.org.na/).
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