Rewilding the Danube Delta

One of the least populated areas in Europe, the Danube Delta offers a unique opportunity to restore a whole spectrum of biodiverse habitats – from open estuarine systems, naturally grazed grassland and vast reed beds through to freshwater marshes, coastal lagoons, shallow lakes and riverine forests.

Here, Rewilding Europe works with four main partners Rewilding Danube Delta (Romania), Rewilding Ukraine, Verde e Moldova and WWF-Romania. The joint work is focused on significantly improving the ecological integrity and natural functioning of 40,000 hectares of wetland and terrestrial delta habitat, using rewilding principles at on a landscape scale. Revitalised and self-governing natural processes, particularly flooding and natural grazing, will govern landscape formation, driving other natural processes, wildlife comeback, increased biodiversity and the development of a nature-based economy.

The Kartal and Kugurluy lakes in Ukraine were reconnected by culverts, with 500 hectares of marshland reflooded, and 10 dams were removed along the Kogilnik River to improve habitat connectivity and flow. Previous restoration successes on the Ermakov and Tataru Islands involved removing sections of dyke to enable a natural water current once again.
The regeneration of the Tarutino Steppe in Ukraine continues with the translocation of 20 kulan and eight male fallow deer. The kulan’s grazing presence will help to reduce the risk of wildfires and enhance biodiversity, after being absent for centuries – benefitting species such as the souslik and steppe marmot by keeping the grass short. It’s the first phase of a long-term plan that will see a free-roaming population of up to 300 reintroduced to the region by 2035. In addition, 40 konik horses were transported to Ermakov Island and the outer delta; the latter a core area of the Biosphere Reserve.

In addition, the Pelican Way of LIFE initiative, coordinated by Rewilding Europe is working on reducing the threats posed to the Dalamatian Pelican, while improving their habitat at 27 sites across this part of their range. Platforms have already been built and repaired in Bulgaria’s Persina Nature Park, with two further floating nests under construction. A third nesting colony has also become established on the island of Persin. A survey in the Romanian part of the delta estimated the number of breeding pairs to be between 446 and 486, compared with 252–432 over the last decade. The drivers behind this upward trend include better legal and physical protections and an increase in fish stocks and potential breeding sites resulting from wetland restoration.

The Danube Delta region is economically depressed, with high levels of unemployment, rural depopulation, low living standards and a strong dependence on natural resources. Rewilding Europe is working to create new opportunities for delta communities by supporting the development of nature-based business. In collaboration with partners, nature tourism infrastructure is being constructed, such as wildlife watching towers, panels and hides. The Rewilding Europe enterprise team is backing this up with theoretical and practical training sessions on the provision of wildlife watching activities.