Rothaargebirge

I’ve been on a boat in the Netherlands for the last few days seeing my mates from home. It’s been awesome; one of them is finally near home after a year and a half travelling, another managed to tear himself away from his young family for a few days and another, who is a teacher, used some of his precious summer holiday to come out. Nothing’s changed when we meet up, except there are more stories to tell, more “wisdom” to share and more hilarious injuries / mishap. Good times.

Yesterday Anna and I met up again in Bad Berleburg, Germany. It took me 9 hours on four trains to get here, although I guess that beats five days cycling! It was worth it though, I have to admit I did miss her a bit.

This morning we went to meet Coralie at her office in Bad Berleburg. Coralie is the Bison Researcher at Wisent Welt (Bison World). Wisent Welt is a project that has re-introduced European Bison into a managed-forest environment here in western Germany. The idea came from Prince Richard Prinz zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg who owns a large part of the land in this district and decided it would be better with bison on it. In 2010 the first bison were introduced to the forest, where they were kept within a fenced enclosure. In 2013, a group of eight bison were released from the enclosure into the wild.

The first stage of the project is coming to a close, and Coralie is really busy writing up the project report. She still found time to spend the morning with us explaining the project and talking through some of the successes and challenges that the bison have presented. It was really interesting and I wish I could remember it all, but here are some of the highlights.

The project area is very close to the border of two districts. There was broad approval of the project from the district where the Prince lives. In the neighbouring district, approval was markedly less, but still 50% of people asked were in favour. Tourists are over 95% in approval.

Since the release of the bison into the wild there have been some conflicts with local landowners. Bison like to eat the bark of trees, and when people are growing trees for timber they prefer the bark to stay on. In each year since the release, there have been about €10,000 paid out in damages from the bison. There are no figures yet to show how this matches up to the tourist revenue generated from the bison, but I suspect the tourists are bringing in more. I guess the trick is to make the bison pay in all sectors of the economy, rather than costing in one and paying in another.

The reintroduction of the bison has been monitored to detect potential impacts on other species in the area. There have been no negative impacts documented so far. In a small positive impact, the bison dung  have been shown to support a higher population of dung beetles than is supported by the domestic and other wild herbivores in the area.

After lunch Coralie had to go back to her report, so we got on the bikes and cycled to Wingeshausen, which is where we will camp for the next few days. We’re just outside the village across the road from a hotel and next to the trout ponds! We met up with Olaf, who is one of the Rangers here and will be showing us round for the next few days. After saying hello he left us to ourselves, so we got some dinner and an early night, expecting to be put to work tomorrow.

– Dave

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