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Rewilding setting

Human land use in Velebit has undergone dramatic changes over the last 50 years and the level of land abandonment is now very high. Rewilding is already happening here since decades back.

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After that the E65 road was built in the 1960s, people in the coastal villages were no longer isolated and they gradually abandoned their traditional lifestyle – like bringing livestock to the mountains in the summer time – and instead started to focus their attention on the new economic opportunities generated along the coast, especially associated with tourism development. The Balkan conflict 1991-95 also brought a lot of change. The eastern slope of the Velebit Mountains was the frontline between the Croatian and Serbian troops. During and after the war, many homes were vacated and many inhabitants felt forced to leave their land. Still today, large areas of minefields remain north-east and east of the Paklenica National Park as well as further inland towards the eastern border of the Velebit Nature Park and in the open grasslands east of the mountains, along the main highway to Zagreb. Today most villages here are home to a rapidly ageing population, many houses stand empty or are in ruins, and livestock numbers are dwindling.

Forestry is carried out in most of the areas outside the two National parks. This is mainly done by more discrete methods than in northern Europe, with the logging happening inside the forest. So from any elevated vantage point, an uninterrupted forest landscape integrity can still be seen relatively intact. The recent changes in land use here have brought both challenges and opportunities for nature conservation. The expanding shrub lands and young forests could be seen as a blessing for some of the barren coastal areas, which previously suffered from heavy overgrazing by sheep and goats. But in many areas, the landscape diversity – and therefore the biodiversity – is now suffering. To maintain and even enhance the conservation values in the region, the parks now consider to promote the re-establishment of natural grazing systems, with wild mammals doing the job. The local hunters are seen as natural allies in these efforts. In the past, hunters here have been responsible for the re-introduction of previously lost species such as the chamois and the fallow deer.