Brown Bear Protection, Rural Development and Community Empowerment 

Success in El Bierzo: In an Ecological Restoration Stakeholder Workshop, stakeholders reached consensus on brown bear protection, rural development and community empowerment. The Carracedelo municipality hosted this meeting to show the options of ‘exporting’ the work carried to improve the habitat of the brown bear in El Bierzo to similar territories

On almost 140 hectares, reaching over six municipalities, in the region of El Bierzo (León, Spain), a series of actions will be carried to restore and improve the living conditions of the residents of the area. This refers both to the flora of the region and, in this particular case, also its fauna, paying special attention to one of the most emblematic species of the area, the brown bear. The next stage is to evaluate the upscaling options of the plan, which was studied in a participatory process with the main stakeholders in the region. 

Cesefor and the Junta de Castilla y León, the two entities that manage SUPERB’s demo area in Castilla y León in SUPERB, introduced the restoration plan and its upscaling options, as well as the SUPERB project, on February 6 in Carracedelo within the framework of a stakeholder workshop. 

About thirty people participated in this meeting, which was held at the facilities of Quality Products from El Bierzo. The purpose of the organisers was to ensure that all the socio-economic agents of the territory were represented, from civil society to professionals from the business world, forest management, education or tourism, among other fields. 

Rocío Gallego, SUPERB coordinator at Cesefor, presented some of the strengths of this project. ”Our demonstration areas encompass entire socio-ecological systems, protecting and restoring them, while taking into account people’s needs for ecosystem services and benefits.” She also emphasized that “our goal is to find best practices and gather practical and scientific knowledge on the success of forest restoration and aggregate it for implementation.” 

Stand for potential food provision of brown bear (photo: Cesefor)

Cesefor’s forestry officer Darío Arias, presented the restoration project in the pilot area, which was developed by Cesefor, the Territorial Environmental Service of León and the General Directorate of Natural Heritage and Forest Policy of the Junta de Castilla y León. This project, among other actions, has included the implementation of measures to improve the habitat of the brown bear by planting species suitable for feeding the bear, increasing the production of acorns and the creation of mixed forests. ”We will also carry out forestry activities to reduce forest fuel and decrease the risk of fires. Furthermore, we will promote chestnut plantations with the aim of revitalizing rural areas and their development and involving the local population in the management of these forests,” said Arias in his speech. 

Stand for future chestnut plantation (photo: Cesefor)

Javier de Dios, forest ecology officer at Cesefor and co-leader of the SUPERB work in Spain, introduced the proposal for the upscaling plan for all these actions (i.e. the ‘export’ of this model to other areas of similar properties). He did that based on a participatory process in which all the attendees were involved.  But before pointing out the most feasible scenario for the upscaling, covering the real and potential distribution area of the bear in Zamora, León, Palencia, Burgos and Soria, Javier emphasized the main political, economic, social, legal and technical barriers that have to be faced. 

Widespread consensus on a broad range of topics of interest 

De Dios had a major role in participatory process in which all the attendees were involved. For the organisers of the workshop, this participatory process “has been very useful not only to know first-hand the opinion of those who live in and of these territories, but also to include their contributions in the upscaling plan (expansion of the Cantabrian brown bear habitat restoration project)”. 

Among the main conclusions of the meeting, both the imminent tender of the restoration project and the great participation of all the attendees have to be mentioned. The stakeholders highlighted the need to promote association, cooperation, land concentration and tax incentives for forest owners. They also required actions to disseminate forestry work and the problems associated with the presence of the bear for the rural and urban population. Finally, they emphasized the need for establishing suitable financial systems that cover long-term monitoring and maintenance after restoration actions. 

The necessity to involve the private sector in restoration and maintenance actions, potential payments for ecosystem services, streamlining procedures bear damage,  the need for a regulation in the Forestry Law and to link management plans to specific regulations (and not to guidelines) were other topics on which the attendees agreed. 

Before concluding, all attendees were again thanked for their participation, and they were invited to attend the third workshop, which will be held in May 2025 and will address the results of implementation of restoration activities in the SUPERB demonstration area in El Bierzo. 

Spotlight on the SUPERB Spanish demo at the IUFRO conference in Évora

The SUPERB Spanish demo took center stage at the IUFRO Forest Environment DIV 8 Conference 2023 in Évora, Portugal, showcasing its tailor-made approach for addressing three challenges at once: land abandonment, heightened forest fire risks and fragmentation of Cantabrian brown bear habitats.

From October 24th to 27th, SUPERB’s Judit Torres (CESEFOR) attended the conference, representing the Spanish demo in the session “Forest Landscape Restoration: resilient socioecological landscapes in the making”. The session explored solutions for designing, implementing, and monitoring forest restoration in collaboration with stakeholders from academia, NGOs, government, and the private sector.

Rural abandonment in the SUPERB Spanish demo, located in the region of Castille and Leon, has led to insufficient forest management and landscape degradation, resulting in scrubbing of the landscape, homogenisation of the territory and increased forest fire risks. This situation also poses a significant threat to the recovery of the Cantabrian brown bear, a highly endangered species in Europe, due to loss of habitat. At the IUFRO conference session, Torres shared insights into the project’s progress and lessons learned while addressing these interconnected issues, focusing on topics such as stakeholder engagement, improvements in interactions between residents and the environment, and possibilities for upscaling forest restoration.

She shared the round table with three other speakers: René Zamora Cristales (World Resources Institute), Alejandro Huertas Herrera and Mónica Toro Manriquez (Centro de Investigación En Ecosistemas De La Patagonia). The session was moderated by John Devaney (Maynooth University), Anna Barbati (University of Tuscia), and João Azevedo (Instituto Politécnico de Bragança).

You can learn more about the SUPERB demo in Spain and their restoration measures here.

Forest fires, field recorders, and four females

#RestorationStory by Sara Uzquiano

It is Monday, 6 am. My Colleague Patricia and I (working for Land Life Company) are leaving our office in Burgos heading to Ribera de Folgoso (León), where our SUPERB colleagues from CESEFOR Judit and Rocio are waiting for us. Today we will accompany them to collect and place again field recorders in the plots of our Spanish SUPERB demo in Castilla/León. 

Within the SUPERB project, we have 12 Demo-areas across Europe. In our Spanish demo we amongst other activities investigate degraded areas after a recent wildfire, and look at different states of forest recovery. In this regard, the aim of the field recorders is to identify different bird and bat species present across all these different recovery levels. Birds and bats play a very important role in many habitats as pollinators, insect controllers, dispersers, “reforesters” by regurgitating, defecating, or burying seeds, and they help the tree to “awake” the seed as it passes through their digestive system. Finally, they are of course indicators of biodiversity. Thus, their presence, or absence, can tell us a lot about the state of our forest. 

After a 3 hours’ drive, we finally arrived at our meeting point with Judit and Rocio, who explained to us the plan for the day. We would look for the six field recorders which were placed one week ago, transfer the recordings to the laptop and place the field recorders again in other plots of our demo area. It sounded like an easy task to do, but as we soon discovered, nothing could be further from the truth.  

The first challenge in each of them was to find the less risky entrance, as the majority of the plots are located in the middle of very steep terrain and we had to look for trees and bushes to hold on to and thus, to avoid slipping and falling while looking for the plots. And then we had to walk among the tangled forest to the center of the plot either to pick up or place the recorders. 


Plot after recent fire (photo: Sara Uzquiano)
Plot after recent fire (photo: Sara Uzquiano)

Throughout the entire day, we were able to witness the recovery of nature after a wildfire. Our first stop was the most shocking for me. We walked on the black grass looking for the field recorders, soon our hands and boots were also black. This used to be an oak forest which suffered from a wildfire last year. The smell of burning logs could still be distinguished as if it had just been burned the day before. We pictured a landscape where it is very difficult to think a recovery is possible after all, much less any kind of life surviving in the surrounding area.

Finally, we visited plots totally recovered from the fire they suffered 40 years ago or more. Surprisingly, it was not obvious at all anymore that fire destroyed this landscape once. We could see a very diverse forest structure, with some big oak trees at the canopy level, but also small trees making their way and some natural regeneration surrounded by shrubs. This is what we, foresters, call an irregular forest, which means the trees within that forest cover the entire age spectrum, and thus, the forest presents a complex structure with trees at different levels that make it more resistant and resilience face to disturbances, and providing the perfect habitat for many special and shy species as this little viper we could see in one of the plots. We were so lucky to get to see it – vipers are endangered species and usually quite shy. 

What an impressive viper! (photo: Sara Uzquiano)

We did not realize we were a working group of four women until we stopped in a small village to replenish our energies, looking for a cup of breakfast coffee and a “Pincho de Tortilla” to eat. The moment we entered, we attracted the attention of the place, and soon, two men were not long in approaching us: “Are you on holiday?” they asked. “No. We are working.” – we replied. They could not hide their amazement and were even more curious about what we were doing. – ”Oh! As we saw you in mountain clothing on a weekday, we thought you were on holiday” they said,  as an apology, I guess. The same happened again to my colleague Patricia and I when we stopped to have lunch. The waiter could not help but approach us and directly asked how the hike was. 

Certainly, we still need to improve our understanding how ecosystems function to find the best way to help nature to build resilient forests but also, in our way doing that, we need to continue “normalizing” that four women in mountain clothing during a weekday are most probably working and not on holiday. And all this is what we are contributing to with SUPERB!  


Featured image by Sara Uzquiano. Sara is a Forest Data Analyst with Land Life Company.

Meet the managers of the SUPERB demos in Spain, Sweden and Croatia!

Promoting peaceful coexistence between bears and humans, reconciling indigenous and industrial forest uses, and creating climate-change adapted forests in a former war zone: these are some of the challenges faced by our SUPERB demo areas in Spain, Sweden and Croatia.

At the SUPERB Governance Innovation Lab, the managers of the SUPERB demos in these three locations introduced their approaches to forest restoration and worked on solutions to their governance challenges together with a panel of experts.

Do you want to find out more about their work and meet the faces behind our restoration case studies? Then watch the video interviews below, recorded at the Lab:

Interview with Judit Torres (CESEFOR), SUPERB demo area in Spain

Interview with Anders Esselin (Man & Nature), SUPERB demo area in Sweden

Interview with Martina Đodan (Croatian Forest Research Institute), SUPERB demo area in Croatia/Serbia