A new five-year plan has been developed for the period 2015-19 that outlines all the activities and results we are planning to achieve. A dedicated “Rewilding Velebit” entity was established (“Udruga Divljina Velebita” in Croatian).
The Rewilding team has been further increased, now comprising a team leader and rewilding/enterprise, communications and wildlife officers.
Significant time was invested in establishing and further strengthening working relationships with key stakeholders in Croatia. Important meetings about Rewilding Velebit were held with a number of authorities, such as the Ministry of Agriculture, and in particular the heads of the Hunting and Forestry Departments, the State Institute for Nature Protection, the Ministry of the Environment and Nature Protection, the directors of Paklenica and North Velebit National Parks and the Velebit Nature Park. We presented and discussed our vision, plans and objectives for the area and explored further cooperation with these institutions.
In 2015 we purchased the majority of shares in a newly established company (Lagosta d.o.o.) which owns a 17,000 hectare hunting concession. This is a very relevant and significant development for our work in Velebit, establishing a priority area where concentrate some rewilding and enterprise activities.
Rewilding Velebit d.o.o. further strengthened by a new board member.
A five-year partnership agreement was signed with the board of Rewilding Velebit in 2017 on the development of the Velebit Mountains as a major rewilding initiative.
An archaeo-zoological study to try to determine the historical presence of large wild mammals has been completed, proving the existence of ibex and other species of potential interest for reintroduction.
A freshwater study has been completed, proving the importance of natural water resources for natural wildlife densities in the area (availability of summer water is a key limiting factor).
A commissioned study on the ecological role of the bark beetle has been completed, underlining the impact of the species, which opens up, diversifies and regenerates parts of the forest, as a key natural process in the area.
The 17,000-hectare Lagosta hunting concession was secured in the heart of the rewilding area, including three offshore islands. Camera traps were set in the rewilding area to monitor wildlife presence and behaviour.
An agreement was signed with the University of Zagreb’s Faculty of Forestry to scientifically investigate, define and describe the fundamental forest communities in the Ramino Korito old growth forest. This will be done by describing its vegetation and related ecological features, measuring the structural parameters and surface area, and highlighting the forest’s unique, rare and representative values in order to create an expert basis for the designation of Ramino Korito as a special forest vegetation reserve. The outcomes of the study are ready and will be presented at the end of 2017.
Under the same agreement above, another study is being developed involving the mapping and protection of brown bear dens in the Velebit Nature Park. The main goal of the research is to identify active and potential brown bear dens for the purpose of protecting them from the construction of primary and secondary forest infrastructure, with the ultimate goal of creating positive conditions for the improvement and increase of population.
36 red deer were purchased from a Croatian breeding site to release into the Lagosta wildlife reserve. The aim of red deer restocking is to increase its population in an area where there is now no more hunting, and in general in the Velebit rewilding area. Four females and one male have been fitted with GPS/GSM radio-collars.
A temporary ban on the hunting of red deer and Balkan chamois has been approved by Croatian hunting authorities.
In 2015, after closure of the natural grazing project in the Malo Libinje area, the herbivore herds involved were transported to the Licko Polje (Lika Plains). This 53,000-hectare plain of abandoned grassland is part of the Natura 2000 network. Thanks to an agreement with two families holding grazing rights, different herds of Tauros and horses have been brought to the site. As of October 2017, the total number of big grazers in the area stands at 158, comprising 98 Bosnian mountain and konik horses and 60 Tauros (Sayaguesa, Boskarin and Podolica breeds).
In 2017 a potential new Tauros breeding site was identified and evaluated in Croatia outside the rewilding area.
A fifth and sixth REC are both linked to Lagosta: for the limited company, to start up the management and development of the area, and a loan for setting up a Rewilding Flycamp – a mobile tented camp, fully serviced and used for wild camping, run by local entrepreneurs.
A business plan for Lagosta has been developed that will come into effect as part of the signed agreement. This will include wildlife restocking, creation of wildlife breeding zones, increasing wildlife densities and promoting wildlife watching.
Under the plan for the Lagosta hunting concession, two wildlife watching hides were built, placed and opened in the area in 2016. In 2017 two more wildlife watching hides were constructed and became operational. Wildlife watching in the Velebit rewilding area is now offered as a bookable activity by the European Safari Company, with a tourist vehicle purchased to support wildlife watching business operations.
A limited company has been estsblished to sign commercial and other agreements with different local stakeholders for rewilding and enterprise activities.
Strong support has been received from the Ministry of Tourism for the development of wildlife watching as a key economic activity in the Velebit area.
At the end of 2016 Rewilding Europe spoke at the second Croatian Eco-Tourism Conference on the topic of nature tourism.
A training seminar was held for Zagreb-based tourism operators to encourage nature-based tourism in Velebit.
An inventory of existing local businesses has been carried out, identifying a number of nature-based enterprises that could be developed further.
A Dutch journalist reported from Velebit in a series of newspapers in November 2013, reaching about a million readers in countries such as the Netherlands, Belgium and Croatia.
A Rewilding Velebit Facebook page already has more than 1500 likes.
Several factsheets (Tauros, Wild horses, ERN, REC, EWB and Bison) have been translated to Croatian and produced in hard copies.
At the end of 2014 a survey took place in the area to determined the attitude of local people and stakeholders towards rewilding in general, and Rewilding Velebit in particular. A second survey on the topic of rewilding and Natura 2000 was carried out in mid-2015.
In September 2013 a team from the BBC World Service visited Velebit and showcased the area on televison, radio and web for millions of viewers. The area was highlighted for its wildlife comeback and the opportunities that exist within rewilding.
Between April and September 2016 a photo exhibition titled “Velebit – Wild Heart of Croatia” was opened in the medieval coastal city of Senj. The purpose of the exhibition was to promote the Velebit Mountains as a must visit nature travel destination, demonstrate the value of wild nature and wildlife, and show the local community the opportunities that can arise from developing a nature-based economy.
Velebit and the Lika Plains have been promoted in numerous international magazines and covered by Croatian national TV and other media, reaching out to more than 6 million people.
A 25-minute documentary featuring renowned TV presenter and Dutch Postcode Lottery Ambassador Humberto Tan showcased the Velebit Mountains rewilding area in 2017.