Yes (it is worth of visiting), it is the best place to see the white-tailed eagle and it is also a good place to see what happens if you rewild and rewet large former agricultural lands. I was very enthousiastic about the opportunities of the area… You have  great wildlife and many good chances to improve it.

Leo Linnartz, ARK, Ecologist

Blog by Tim Kasoar: Kopice and Oder Delta Safaris

As part of my fieldwork, I spent a few days across the border in Poland, staying with Iwona who runs Oder Delta agrotourism in Kopice and she is a member of a local community’s network called Oder Delta Safaris. Firstly, it was a lovely place to stay – Iwona, her husband Reginald and kids were all incredibly friendly, the guest house was cosy, and Iwona ensured I never went hungry, providing a veritable mountain of delicious food! In the village around Iwona’s house, swallows flit to and fro, wagtails scurry around the garden, and a pair of hoopoes can even be heard singing in the surrounding.

From a wildlife point of view, I decided to include the area as an example of ‘high nature value’ farmland better than anything I could find across the border in Germany (where almost all the farmland around my study sites is intensive). The area is dominated by hay meadows, with some pastures, and interspersed with forest fragments – some natural, some plantations. It seems to be perfect for farmland birds – I saw many red-backed shrike (Iwona tells me the area has one of Europe’s largest populations), yellowhammer, meadow pipits and skylarks. There were many harriers too – over my visits, I saw marsh, hen and Montagu’s, and the Pallid harrier has also been seen in the area. White-tailed eagles were a regular appearance, and lesser spotted eagles are also common in the region. The weather wasn’t ideal for butterflies during most of my visits, but on the occasions there was fine and bright weather they were abundant too – we came across hundreds of common blues, gathered on the sandy track presumably to take in salt left by evaporating water. I also spotted several species of fritillary, black-veined whites, small heaths and large coppers. Other wildlife spotted included red and roe deer, wild boar, hares and even a badger. These are prey for the one of the region’s two (far more elusive) wolf packs.

So far, so good. However, I couldn’t help but feel (especially after talking with Iwona) that the region is stuck in a sort of limbo. While far better for nature than the intensive farms in Germany (and ideal for a handful of species such as the aforementioned red-back shrike) I sense it has the potential to be even better for wildlife if it was allowed to be. As in many places, this is partly down to conflicts of interest. Whilst Iwona is naturally a strong advocate for helping the wildlife in the area, there are also hunters, anglers, farmers, energy companies and foresters, who all have their own agendas. There are some synergies to be had – hunters and wildlife watchers both want a lot of wildlife in the area – but also inherent conflicts. However, some of the ‘conflicts’ are not inherent, but rather driven by perverse incentives. Large areas of meadowland are protected by dykes and mown for hay, but purely in order to claim agricultural subsidies – the hay is simply left baled in the fields. With the current system of subsidies, this is the most economical thing for the farmers to do. However, if the system changed to pay farmers for restoring wetlands, then the farmers could still be happy and wildlife could benefit.

There is also a sense that the local authorities insist on controlling nature for the sake of control – building dykes and pumping stations to control water levels at all times, even in remote areas where flooding poses no risk. Reconnecting the rivers with the landscape would be great for nature, and also save money. In the meantime, nature might just find its own way – beavers are hard at work undermining the efforts of human engineers, by building their own dams and digging through dykes when it suits them!

Overall, I really enjoyed my time in the area – a lovely place to stay, and some great encounters with wildlife. I only hope that in the future, the authorities are better at recognizing not only the importance of nature, but the opportunities that ecotourism can bring to the local communities and therefore prioritise this in their planning decisions.

Tim Kasoar

 

 

 

 

 

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