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Endangered Snakes Conservation and Steppe Habitat Restoration in the Lower Dniester Ramsar Site

Elaphe-longissimaThe general goal of the project was to preserve wildlife, improve natural habitats and their management in the North-Western part of the Black Sea Region.
1) To save endangered species of snakes associated with steppe and forest-steppe habitats;
2) To improve baseline knowledge about rare fauna and flora within the Lower Dniester Ramsar Site territory;
3) To create conditions for restoring the critical steppe habitats.

Moldova is predominantly agricultural country with a high density of rural population; protected areas occupy 1.96% of territory only. Steppe-related habitats natively prevalent became the less conserved and seriously suffered from grazing. in the Lower Dniester Ramsar Sitea no. 1316, natural and subnatural areas in its hilly part are represented by 6 steppe-related biotops that are modified in diverse degree and require serious improvements, which would encourage ecological value with respect to threatened snakes, insects and other species, and carrying capacity for livestock. Project improved knowledge on local population of European-concern snakes and other species of Moldovan and Ukrainian Red Data Books, vegetation of steppe pastures; provide appropriate management planning based on these data; raised awareness of local people on steppe biodiversity values and created pilot nurseries in order to increase local resources for steppe restoration using method of agro-steppe. The method was elaborated in Russia while Moldova had no experience in steppe restoration till now despite the fact that about 12% of territory is under predominantly steppe grazing lands that became centers of desertification and biodiversity loss.
The crucial necessity of restoration of the steppe communities is evident from the both conservational and economic standpoints. Fragmentation and small areas of the better-preserved natural habitats strongly impedes spreading of plants and animals, especially snakes (which are not so mobile), as well as self-restoration processes in subnatural habitats of local communities. Lack of corridors interconnecting the natural and subnatural areas limits possible increase of biodiversity in subnatural lands. That means the physical establishment of ecological network is of priorities. The local biodiversity improvements are easier in fragments of the territory where is native type of vegetation comprising stands of the Pubescent Oak and steppe glades. Created steppe seed nurseries should be extended to increase source of steppe restoration. The crucial condition for practical restoration of steppes used for grazing is return to crop rotation in arable lands and installation of livestock-breeding farms that would allow relieving the pastures of excessive grazing.

The project field team had investigated the target area during 6 common expeditions. Field findings were databased and mapped. Analysis of distribution of threatened species and valuable habitats fulfilled, results mapped and generalized. Testing of state in endangered snakes populations based on distribution and age composition was carried for the first time in Moldova and brought important results from the viewpoint of their conservation.

Many trips were done to organize collecting of seed materials and prepare the creating steppe seed nurseries. Multifunctional Reserve “Steppe sector on the North of Budjac” was determined as the most appropriate source of seeds considering location (South of Moldova), high species richness and possibility to operate with different types of plant associations with various ediphicators. A permission to use the Reserve was taken from the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources and co-agreed with authorities of Gagausian Autonomy and the local community. Quantity of the feather-grass seeds was increased essentially by those collected on local places; additionally experts gathered seeds of early flowering Stipa pulcherrima in a site of Transdniestria. Thus, quite rich and diverse pool of seed material was obtained, prepared and put for storage. Soil preparation and sowing were organized in cooperation with local authorities, who were provided with recommendations on how to manage by concrete seed nursery in each community, and school children were involved to do main sowing work and to plant a hedgerow from purchased seedlings. Seeds reserves of two hectares each were created in three localities on the basis of agreements between juridical persons that fulfilled civil works for soil preparation and sowing, BIOTICA ES that provided technology, seed material and financing at the expense of grant (agreements notice financing from source of the Frankfurt Zoological Society), and local authorities that provided land allotment and engaged oneself to take care and manage seed nurseries in accordance with recommendations provided by BIOTICA ES. Project experts introduced five threatened and relict ephemeroid species in seed nurseries manually and provided sowing of Pubescent Oak, Royal Purple and Barberry (typical steppe shrub) along border of seed parcel situated in the main area of E. quatuorlineata distribution. That was done in order to hide nearest artificial planting and improve landscape in future, and also to design the edge of typical forest-steppe place. Planting of hedgerow around this parcel finished this work.
After researching the territory, specialists elaborated a Management Plan addressing to local authorities and the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources (full version in Russian) for the managing of steppe ecosystems. It includes three parts.
Part I is the General description of territory that comprises sections: General Description of Steppe Communities (Types of steppe communities with Brief on state of steppe Communities, Special value of territory); Key Natural Complexes (core areas); Bearing Areas of Ecological Network (sectors of ecological restoration); and Single Complexes Perspective for Ecological Restoration.
Part II is Evaluation and General Conclusions that comprises sections: Importance of Territory; Perspective Managerial Objectives; Major Threats and Managerial Issues (Recent processes and dangers including Processes of loss of biodiversity and resource importance of steppe ecosystems, Foreseen natural factors and connected the beginning processes, Lacks in management of natural resources and linked degradation factors; Main Managerial Issues); and Management Constraints
Part III is Managerial Measures for Areas Supporting the Steppe Ecosystems with sections: Present-day goals and tasks; Managerial Measures including Suggestions to create Protected Zones of the District Importance*; and Suggestions on Ecological Reconstruction of areas of the territory and support of protected species and valuable communities.
Annexes to the Management Plan include Recommendation on the radical improvement of forage grounds (there are two sections: Radical pasture improvement with sowing of mixture of herb cultivars; Steppe forage grounds – agro-steppes), Recommendations on surface improvement of forage grounds, Recommendations on enriching the steppe glades, forest edges and open steppe sectors.

Also popular brochure Steppes of Lower Dniester: richness and poverty was prepared and edited in Romanian and Russian versions that comprises useful information regarding the history and actual state of the territories with steppe ecosystems, the methods of their improving. This broshure is for everybody who is interested in conservation of the natural inheritance.

Last updated - 15.11.2007
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