The Adventures of a Conservationist in eastern Europe

It is exactly one week since James Robbins's talk on his adventures in Hungary & Estonia and I am still telling people about it ~ I hope that James will allow a couple of his photos to be included in this report later on.

His trip to Hungary was funded by a travel grant from the National Trust with the aim of learning new conservation skills and management techniques that are being used on some of the Hungarian nature reserves. We are talking about areas of about 60,000 acres employing a hundred staff  where the land is managed and farmed with grazing animals like water buffalo and the very hardy Hungarian Grey Cattle. Much of the work is still experimental, using huge modern machinery to cut grass at varying heights forming a mosaic pattern across vast meadows. One of the intentions is to provide safe habitats for Corncrake to nest in and some of the work involves searching for their nests to identify the most favoured places. Much of the land was quite flat with gentle hills and mountains in the distance.

James showed us photos of some beautiful species of butterfly ( I hope that I noted their names correctly!): Scarce Large Blue; Dusky Blue; Large Copper; Queen of Spain Fritillary; Lesser Purple Emperor and other insects such as the Scarlet Darter and Common Glider. 

Although Hungary is home to four species of dormice and James did go out with the rangers to check the nest tubes, he was to be disappointed and did not see even one (ever elusive!).

Then in 2016 James was able to take part in a project organised by EuCAN, a community interest company that provides volunteers to work on conservation management schemes in the UK & Europe. For two weeks last June, James worked in Estonia on surveys for Capercaillie, Hazel and Black Grouse through areas of forest across fifty hectares.

Estonia has a small human population; fifty percent of the land is woodland grown for timber and this area is increasing but much of the land with conservation value is wet bog, mire and old forest. Results from the surveys will hopefully identify the best areas to reinstate the mire, felling trees to enhance this important habitat.

More butterflies were photographed including the Poplar Admiral; Swallowtail; Map; Scarlet Fritillary; Northern Chequered Skipper; Black-veined White; Baltic Grayling; another Blue which I cannot spell and a superb Moorland Clouded Yellow. They have 32 species of butterfly.

As well as the European Brown Bear and the wolves heard at night, there are Lynx, Wolverine, Elk, Flying Squirrel(rare), wild boar and the Racoon Dog which is not indemic at all and has become a problem for ground nesting birds.

Finding themselves very close to the Russian border at times, the volunteers were warned about border patrols and the hazards of making too much noise at night!

The last slide showed two enormous round stacks of wood, seemingly as high as a house reminding us of the importance of wood as a fuel for this country.

But then the questions started until after twenty minutes, Tony Atkinson stood up to offer a vote of thanks on our behalf, all 47 of us so thank you James, very much. 

It was good to see so many people and to be able to catch up with news. And the tea and cake was good as well, thanks to all involved.

Hopefully, some pictures are to follow.