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Conservationists race to protect rich wildlife on edge of Bucharest

Conservationists race to protect rich wildlife on edge of Bucharest 1

By Luiza Ilie

BUCHAREST (Reuters) – On the outskirts of Romania’s bustling capital, within sight of its communist-era apartment blocks and suburban villas, lie swathes of wetland and forest teeming with wildlife that environmentalists are now working hard to preserve.

They have started cataloguing the birds, mammals and plants as part of a two-year project they hope will lead to the creation of a nationwide network of urban wildlife areas that can safeguard biodiversity and also help combat climate change.

“We have this interesting mosaic of hundreds of species of animals and plants living alongside apartment buildings, it’s incredible,” said biologist Vlad Cioflec, one of the team cataloguing the wildlife.

Very early most mornings, Cioflec can be seen sifting through the high-grass meadows and reed beds around the lakes in search of turtles, snakes, otters and muskrats and birds including herons, grebes, terns, kestrels and cormorants.

“From a naturalist’s standpoint it is special to have otters in the city, water snakes, turtles laying eggs on paths that people walk on. That all these would live together was inconceivable 20-30 years ago. To see it now is unique, hard to put into words for a conservationist,” he said.

Nearby, landscape specialist Bogdan Mihalache catalogues wild fruit trees, oaks and marsh plants.

‘MORE NATURE IN OUR LIVES’

The local flora and fauna have benefited from weak public administration, years of neglect and erratic real estate development, often spreading into areas where big construction projects came to an abrupt stop with the fall of communism in 1989.

But to flourish over the longer term, the wildlife needs stronger legal protection from construction, fires and the dumping of trash, say the environmentalists, who also aim to recruit civic groups and lobby officials.

They want to model any new protected zones on Bucharest’s Vacaresti Nature Park, which at around 180 hectares is one of Europe’s largest urban wetlands. It won protected status in 2016 after years of advocacy.

Vacaresti, too, is the result of an abandoned project of communist-era dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, to build a lake.

“We have a chance to change the legislation because we are in an interesting context now. The (coronavirus) pandemic and quarantine have made us all want more nature in our lives,” said Dan Barbulescu, manager of the Vacaresti Nature Park, which is overseeing the new project and employs Cioflec and Mihalache.

Some residents don’t need convincing.

Reza Zare, 61, who has a yard which opens straight onto one of the lakes said “I can’t name the species but what I see outside my house is better than television, hundreds of birds I haven’t seen anywhere else.”

(Reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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