A Bewitching Search for Bears in Romania The Guardian’s Jane Dunford goes wild in some of the last virgin forests in Europe

A Bewitching Search for Bears in Romania
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Few things are as exciting as seeing wildlife up close in its natural habitat – and our group watches in silence as a brown bear wanders towards the hide. We’re deep in Romania’s forested Carpathian mountains – home to around 5,000 Eurasian brown bear, the largest population in Europe – on a trip that promises thrilling wild encounters, while protecting the environment. It’s bewitching to watch the young male as he paws the ground and forages for food just metres away, and later a majestic stag appears, grazing nearby, oblivious to our gaze.

Bears out in the evening.
Bears out in the evening.

I’m here with The European Nature Trust (TENT) who recently started offering ‘Conservation Journeys’ to projects they support in Europe, with the goal of connecting people to nature and helping raise funds. “People think they need to go to Asia or Africa to have a safari-style experience,” says Paul Lister, environmentalist and founder of TENT, “but there are wild places in Europe with incredible wildlife watching. We think if people visit they are more likely to want to help protect what they’ve seen.”

Tree House

In Romania, TENT is working with Foundation Conservation Carpathia (FCC), with ambitious plans to create the largest forested national park in Europe. Using a model inspired by Doug and Kris Tompkins, famed for the parks they founded in South America, they are buying up land and hunting rights, aiming for a 250,000-hectare protected area that will eventually be handed back to state. TENT’s trips are tailormade – and include time spent with those behind the conservation projects and we’re joined by FCC executive directors Christoph and Barbara Promberger. While the southern Carpathians are home to more than half over Europe’s virgin forests and a third of its large carnivores – wolves and lynx roam wild here too – it’s also suffered from devastating logging and deforestation, we learn.

Amfiteatrul Tranilvania

“We have messed up our continent so badly, these are some of the last places that are still wild and we have to protect them,” says Christoph. “Our vision is for a Yellowstone or Serengeti for Europe – a vast national park. It’s an opportunity to develop the rural economy and to increase people’s quality of life, have a mitigating effect on climate change and protect the region’s biodiversity.” FCC is employing local guides, building an education centre and working to engage local communities too.

Our trip starts in Amfiteatrul Tranilvania, an eco-lodge with fairytale hobbit-style houses and 360-degree mountain views. The next day we’re taken close to the hide by helicopter – not the most eco-friendly way to travel, but it gives us an aerial view of the incredible landscape and the swathes of forest that have been clear-cut.

Fagaras mountains where Bunea-Hide

FCC has several hides – ours Bunea, on the edge of Pecineagu Lake, is the biggest: simple and comfortable, with two sets of bunkbeds and a double, the luxury comes from being surrounded by wild nature. At dawn more bear appear, as well as wild boar. There are plans for bison and beaver to be re-introduced to the area soon, too.

TENT trips may include a visit to Cobor Biodiversity Farm, a showcase for how proper management of grasslands can conserve biodiversity, with birdlife from golden oriol to spotted eagle and over 250 plant species in the meadows.

Bunea Hide Daniel Mirlea

A trip here with TENT is an incredible opportunity to gain an insight into one of the most important conservation initiatives in Europe – and satisfying to know that you’re contributing to its success just by visiting.

Fact file: Four nights cost from £1,950pp, staying at Amfiteatrul Lodge and wildlife hides, including a contribution to FCC. Find out more here.


Editor’s Note: NOW is supporting Forests Without Frontiers

Help us plant trees!
The world is in crisis: our forests are burning, species are dying, temperatures are soaring… planting trees is one of the most important things we can do to fight climate change.

Forest Without Frontiers is a new charitable initiative set up to plant trees around the world and protect our last ancient forests. Our first projects are in Romania’s Carpathian Mountains – an area of wild beauty, virgin forests and Europe’s largest populations of brown bear, wolves and lynx. But it’s under threat from deforestation.

We are reforesting degraded land – creating vast forests of native species on land that will be protected. We have access to huge areas of land for new forests.

Set up by UK-based DJ/artist Nico de Transilvania who comes from the area, music and arts will be a platform to spread the message and raise funds.

We are working in partnership with established conservation organisation Foundation Conservation Carpathia (Carpathia.org) whose goal is to create the largest forested national park in Europe.

* Please join us and help plant 50,000 trees this autumn – that’s an area around 15 football pitches. 
* Offset your flights with us.
* Help us create the largest carbon sink hole in Europe.

Find out more and donate at forestswithoutfrontiers.org

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