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Bark Beetles, Bora and Green Bridges in Croatia

August 26, 2011

„Look at how the bark beetle influences the spruce forests – the affected trees appear as small islands in the larger forest landscape”. Tea Silic, biologist at the Northern Velebit National Park, shows us around in the park in preparation for the start-up of one of Rewilding Europe’s field projects.

A closer examination of the ground below those trees that already died shows a richness of young tree saplings. The bark beetle seems to play an important role for the natural re-generation of the spruce. Those smaller gaps in forest also attract red deer, roe deer, chamois and wild boar – even the brown bear, which all profit from the sprouting vegetation. A living forest with many of the natural interaction of small and larger creatures still intact!

This phenomenon has been studied here for six years already and the national park is planning to publicize the report in 2012. Rewilding Europe would like to take advantage of this opportunity and give the information European-wide distribution as part of the initiative for Velebit.

Together with colleagues from Croatia, Staffan Widstrand and I are here on a mission to finalise the planning for the start-up phase on the Velebit rewilding project. In the hot summer weather the temptation to spend our time swimming in the Adriatic Sea is almost irresistible, but our duties force us to climb the steep limestone slopes, freeze on the alpine meadows swept by the cold Bora wind, fight the mosquitoes in old-growth forests, travel through the landscape in hot cars, and sit in meetings. But the Velebit area offers spectacular views with deep canyons, dramatic mountains, and endless forests on the slopes – all at the proximity of the glittering Adriatic Sea with an archipelago of islands.

The 150 km limestone Velebit mountain chain rapidly rises to more than 1700 metres to phase out into a higher level plateau in the east. The area hosts an extraordinary diversity of different habitats, from the Mediterranean landscape at sea level to almost boreal systems at higher altitudes – where the bark beetle again is allowed to do its job. This biodiversity has led to the establishment of the two national parks Paklenica and Northern Velebit, situated like islands in another, surrounding protected area – the larger Velebit Nature Park. Together the three areas occupy more than 220,000 ha.

But the Velebit area is ecologically well connected also with huge, mainly uninhabited areas all the way up to the border of Bosnia-Herzegovina in the east, even to the world famous Plitvice National Park.  A more detailed mapping will soon clarify the situation, but it’s already clear that this part of Croatia hosts one of the largest areas potentially available for rewilding in central Europe. The new highway from Zagreb to Split, east of the nature park goes through many tunnels, and along several of the more open stretches, “green bridges” have been constructed. Studies have shown that basically all kinds of larger mammals use the bridges, including brown bear, wolf, wild boar, and red deer. This shows that rewilding and some modern developments can be compatible, if we only want to.

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