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. 

Monitoring biodiversity around Europe’s largest planted forest

#Restoration Story by Priscila Jordão (EFI)

Is there room for biodiversity around Europe’s largest planted forest? The second SUPERB General Assembly took our 36 partners and Advisory Board members on a trip to the Landes forest in Aquitaine, France, to dig out the answer: a definite yes for biodiversity! There, the SUPERB partners INRAE, IEFC and Alliance Forêts Bois are planting 10km of hedgerows to protect Maritime pine plantations against windstorm and fire damage and provide corridors for wildlife.

While many people think of hedges as bush vegetation, they can also consist of trees. In the case of our demo, pairs of broadleaved and coniferous species such as oaks and stone pines will be planted in rows with enough space between them to create a barrier against fire, wind and pest dispersal. At the same time, the hedgerows will be connected in strategic locations to allow wildlife to move between them, explained the lead of the SUPERB demo in Aquitaine, Hervé Jactel, Director of Environmental Research at INRAE, during the excursion.

What will start with 10km of hedgerows has the potential to expand to approximately 850.000 hectares of pine plantations in the same area. But since upscaling can only happen with public acceptance and buy-in, the SUPERB team is monitoring already-planted, mature hedgerows so that their biodiversity and resilience benefits can be clearly demonstrated to land owners, forest managers and the wood industry.

For a glimpse of what this monitoring work looks like in reality, the project team visited one of 30 forest stands where classic and modern biodiversity monitoring techniques are being applied, including the use of classical traps but also of aerial drones and LIDAR systems. They are helping researchers from SUPERB and other projects to detect the presence of birds, bats, fungi, bacteria, insects, small mammals, butterflies, different shrub and tree species – and even reptiles – in the area.

The visit to the Landes forest wrapped up three days of intense collaborative work and meetings at INRAE’s and IEFC’s Bordeaux premises. As part of the SUPERB General Assembly, our project participants updated each other and helped connect the dots between the fieldwork that is taking place in the project demos and SUPERB’s different workstreams, spanning a wide range of topics from forest governance and biodiversity to restoration finance and stakeholder engagement.

One of the highlights of the meeting was the third day, dedicated to discussions around upscaling and how to make restoration resources available to a diversity of users. To accomplish this mission, a SUPERB “Gateway” is in the making: a platform providing a comprehensive information to stakeholders interested in forest restoration (from restoration best practices to modelling data, from decision support tools to information on potential funders). Stay tuned to learn about the next steps!

Restoring Forests, One Peck at a Time

#RestorationStory by Silke Jakobs and Ajdin Starcevic

It was an early arrival at the airport for departure on Saturday morning, packed with several layers of clothing and warm shoes. This time the trip was up North, with final destination Umeå to visit SUPERB’s Swedish demo area. We were first flying to Stockholm and from there taking the train onwards to Umeå. While looking out of the window from the airplane close to Stockholm, we noticed that everything was still very green, no snow in sight. Or at least not yet.  

At the train station we met with Magda, deputy project coordinator of SUPERB, who was also joining us. As we didn’t see any snow yet, we made a bet after how much time on the train we would see full snow cover. Of course, a full snow cover needed to be defined; “Enough snow to not wreck your skis.” Apparently, this was still open for own interpretations. In the end we were all too optimistic. It took longer than expected to reach our expected “winter wonderland”. But we had some beautiful views during the train ride, and the sunset was spectacular.  

During dinner that night in Umeå we had our second Swedish experience, eating reindeer. We would learn more about the role of reindeer for Swedish forests and forest-depending communities later. But now, after such a long travel day and a tasty dinner, it was time for a good night of sleep, so we would be well rested for the next day, exploring the demo area.

It seems that every time we visit a SUPERB demo, the sun is out. This time was no exception. We were picked up by Åsa Granberg and Johan Svensson (the Swedish demo leads) and Ruben Valbuena, our colleague from SLU. Åsa and Johan were also our personal guides for the day and took us to our first stop where forest restoration activities have been performed in 2019.  

Felled conifer trees

The restoration area was located just outside of Umeå, a popular bird-watching destination for locals. The goal of the Ume river delta restoration activities was to improve the habitat quality for the white backed woodpecker. This was primarily accomplished by removing Norway spruce and Scots pine from the site to promote the establishment and growth of broadleaved trees, primarily birch.  

As we have heard from our colleagues, the white backed woodpecker tends to avoid forests with as little as 5% Norway spruce in the species composition. It appears that some forest managers in Central Europe could learn a thing or two from a bird. But anyway, some spruce trees were mechanically felled and left in the forest to increase the amount of deadwood and favor some wood decaying fungi species, while others were girdled to become snags and provide future habitat for other wildlife. Our host, Åsa, even shared a rumor of a great grey owl making the restored forest its home.  

Signs of a woodpecker feeding on a birch tree

We concluded that the restoration efforts here were a success which left us optimistic and hopeful for the restoration activities to be done on the SUPERB demo site.  

The second stop was at a possible SUPERB restoration site where the municipality has already been trying for four years to restore the forest. In 2023 it might finally happen. Marlene Olsson, one of the ecologists at Umeå municipality told us about the restoration activities which aim to improve the habitat for the white backed woodpecker. This white backed woodpecker is a national focus point in Sweden. But why is that? Can you imagine that around 200 different species benefit from creating good habitats for the woodpecker. Another national focus point in Sweden is to have more broadleaf trees and a better connection between those broadleaved areas. In the case of our SUPERB demo this implies that the conifer species alongside the riverbed will be removed. Besides a positive impact on the biodiversity our demo partners expect that this will also improve soil stability and prevent soil erosion as root systems of the broadleaves reach much deeper into the ground.  

Before continuing our trip to the next location, we needed to refuel our bodies. Åsa and Johan took us to this cozy place called the Brännlands Wärdshus. The food was delicious, it left us all speechless for a while with only the sound of a crackling fire in the corner. We could have stayed a bit longer, but there was more to be seen and daylight is scarce in Northern Europe’s winters.  

The Skatan ecopark, another of the SUPERB project’s restoration sites in Sweden was the final stop on our Sunday trip. We even had a chance to look at our previous night’s dinner in the eyes on the way there. 

Reindeer close to the SUPERB restoration sites

Reindeer herding has a long tradition in Sweden within the Sámi culture, and it represents their main livelihood. The activity is legally reserved only for the Sámi who own about 250,000 reindeer in Sweden. Climate change and intensive forest management have posed an increasing threat in recent years. Because of the nowadays shifting winter temperatures, the snow melts and freezes repeatedly even in the middle of the winter and forms an ice crust above the soil, making it difficult for reindeer to reach the lichens on the forest floor, which are a main source of food during the winter months. Moreover, the cover of ground lichens has decreased a lot (70% over a time period of 50 years) due to soil scarification and too dense forests Furthermore, because of the dense forest hanging lichens, an as important winter grazing resource, are not easily accessible. The Sámi work with forest managers to address this issue by thinning certain areas and opening up the forest canopy. This promotes lichen growth and increases the amount of fodder available to reindeer.  

Finally, we were unable to visit any of the exact locations where the SUPERB restoration activities will be carried out in Skatan ecopark because the forest roads leading there had not been cleaned. Instead, we stood on the frozen lake, with one of the sites on the other side, which allowed us to see the big picture both literally and figuratively.  

View at the SUPERB demo site
View at the SUPERB demo site

One of the restoration activities, according to our hosts, will be to simulate fire disturbance, a natural occurrence that has been suppressed in recent decades. This should improve the forest’s naturalness while also supporting ecosystem services other than commercial timber and biomass production, such as recreational values and biodiversity. 

Driving back to Umeå, we could look back at another great SUPERB demo visit thanks to Åsa, Johan and Marlene. And we hope next time we visit we’ll meet one of those famous woodpeckers.   


All images in this Restoration Story were provided by the authors Silke Jacobs and Ajdin Starcevic. Silke and Ajdin are PhD students with Wageningen Research.