24th June 2015
Study tour of Romanian wood pastures
Blog by Suzanne Perry
The wood pastures in Romania are rumoured to be interesting, but nothing prepared us for the scale and diversity of what we were to encounter during a four day visit to southern Transylvania.
The UK Wood pasture and parkland Technical Advisory Group, and supporters of the Ancient Tree Forum visited five different wood pasture sites in this region of Romania in mid-May. Among the group were representatives from the National Trust, Natural Resources Wales, Natural England and the City of London Corporation.
The group included invertebrate, bird, plant, lichen and tree specialists, as well as those with knowledge of the wood pasture management systems in this part of Romania. The species lists created will form a record of our visit. The lively buzz of chatter throughout the week suggested minds being opened to new ideas and new ways of thinking about landscape, wood pastures and our place in that system.
Common livestock ownership is the basis of management of the wood pasture sites we visited. Sheep and mixed herds of cattle, buffalo and horses are still owned by the village and shepherded in small groups, grazing the herb rich pastures during the summer months. Scattered trees provide much needed shelter for the stock, and provide a stable habitat where the presence of key lichen species indicates ecological continuity. Close encounters by certain group members helped remind us that the shepherds dogs do a good job of protecting the livestock from bears (and tourists).
But there is change rumbling over the horizon, sheep numbers are increasing, at the same time as cattle and buffalo numbers decrease, with consequent changes in the quality of the sward. Trees, no longer regarded as being productive are removed, with no replacements. Membership of the EU means Romanians now have commitments to fulfilling various requirements, which have impacts on livestock management and wood pasture management. For example, it is now necessary to regularly ‘clean’ the pastures, removing scrub and tree regeneration in the process.
The experience was an eye-opener, which emphasised the value of engaging communities in managing their own cultural and ecological heritage, and the inevitable link between society and our natural and cultural heritage.
Thanks and appreciation to those who inspired the trip in the first place, to Tibor Hartel in Romania for being an excellent tour guide, to the staff of Poganyhavas, especially Robert Biro for facilitating our visit. The good company of the group and their specialist knowledge contributed to the success of the study tour. I hope, should a return visit in 10 years be suggested, we would encounter a similar biodiverse landscape.