Headlines are often dominated with conservation stories from Africa, Asia and the Americas, but across the European continent there are wilderness areas of significant ecological and economic wealth that are of global importance.
To help save wildlife from extinction and discover some of Europe’s last remaining wild spaces, The European Nature Trust (TENT) launched its Conservation Journeys. These are exclusive travel experiences aimed at supporting leading initiatives that protect and restore Europe’s wildlife, to connect people to nature and inspire them to protect these remaining wild places for the benefit of all. 100% of all donations to TENT go directly to conservation projects that are home to internationally significant biodiversity, and contribute to local rural communities through job creation, enterprise and educational opportunities.
TENT Founder Paul Lister said,
“Europe is full of wild and wonderful places, if only you know where to look. We want to help shift the consciousness of the curious traveller and inspire them to engage with wildlife conservation in Europe. We are all about impact: positive, life-changing impacts on our wonderful guests; and on the places and projects we support.”
These trips are not an off-the-shelf itinerary. They have been careful curated by the wildlife travel and conservation experts. Itineraries are flexible to meet individual needs while still keeping the essential ingredients of privileged access and insight into their research and conservation work.
To taste the experience first-hand, I set off to the Italian Appenines for a three-night trip to the National Park of Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise in south central Italy on the lookout for Marsican brown bears, wolves, Red deer and chamois.
– Day 1 –
Just after a two-hour drive from Rome, we arrive at the Parco Nazionale d’Abruzzo, Lazio e Molise. The national park boasts some 50,000 hectares at the heart of the central Apennines and homes 25 towns. It was established in 1923 to protect nature and the some of the region’s unique wild species from extinction. The region is home to the Marsican brown bear, a unique endangered species with a population of just under 50 remaining.
The scenery here is characterised by mountain chains, karst phenomena, rivers (including the Sangro River) and streams. It’s the ideal place to spend time in close contact with nature and to admire wild, uncontaminated landscapes, a rich flora and varied fauna.
We arrive at Pescasseroli and check in at our accommodation, the family-run Albergo Villino Quintilliani. Here we meet our expert guides, who take us to the local panoramic spot for sunset and wildlife watching before dinner.
– Day 2 –
After an early rise and breakfast, we set off in the quiet hours in the hope of seeing wolves who are most active very early at the morning. We spend time on the southern slopes of a mountain, home to panoramic views and pastures of deer as well as other wild ungulates.
Mid-morning, we arrive in the valley and transfer to Villalago for lunch and a visit to one of the Bear Smart Communities to witness first-hand the work being done to reintroduce the Marsican brown bear into these areas, ensuring bears and humans can coexist peacefully.
We then head off to Monte Meta, the second highest but the most symbolic mountains of the Abruzzi National Park, perhaps because it is considered the most aesthetically beautiful. In winter, this mountain is one of the ideal places to practise alpinism on snow and ice. We walk through UNESCO protected ancient Beech forests and learn about the inhabitants of this ecosystem. Bears, wolves and pine martin all reside in these forests. The wildlife here can be elusive, however our guide is on the lookout for signs of their presence and we are lucky enough to get some sightings. Set a camera trap in the hope of capturing some footage before a late evening return to the hotel.
In the afternoon, we set off to meet with members of Salviamo L'Orso (Save the Bear) to learn about the conservation projects and their efforts to protect the local wildlife. As a result of poaching, poisoning and land fragmentation, numbers of the Marsican bear have dwindled from their hundreds to around 50 remaining today. Thanks to projects by Salviamo L’Orso, awareness around this issue is growing, and huge efforts are being taken to protect and grow numbers within the Abruzzo National Park. Projects involve raising awareness of the bears presence and educating local communities with the ultimate goal to expand the area in which the bears can roam securely and coexist with their human neighbours.
The Museo dell’Orso is at their centre in Pizzone and makes for a well-worth visit to the town. The displays illustrate the life, habits of the Marsican bear and there is also an educational pond for children near the museum. It has a vegetable and a botanical garden populated with the most common and characteristic plants found in the Abruzzo National Park.
– Day 3 –
We take a challenging, two-hour mountain cycle ride up to Monte Tranquillo. At the top, the landscape is breathtaking. The warm sunshine, light mountain breeze and green grasses feel reinvigorating. We stop for a picnic lunch by the Maddona Nera sanctuary.
In the evening, we travel to the Terraegna, ready for a two-hour hike up to our mountain refuge. On the way, we get to meet the park guide and check out the camera trap footage. Back on the mountain track, we arrive at the isolated mountain cabin just in time for dinner and spend the night in the wilderness.
These trips are not for those who want wildlife experiences delivered on a plate but is for anybody with a love of wild, remote places and the wildlife that lives there. There are currently four TENT Conservation Journeys, supporting local foundations in Scotland, Romania, Spain and Italy:
- Rewilding and restoring the Highlands at Alladale Wilderness Reserve in Scotland – discover the rewilding vision at this reserve, surrounded by including the planting of native forest, and conservation work with endangered native wildlife such as the red squirrel and Scottish wildcat.
- Creating Europe’s largest forested National Park in Carpathia, Romania – an immersive journey through the untamed wilderness of Romania. Explore rich and diverse wildlife and medieval villages in the Carpathians, where over half of Europe’s virgin forest and a third of its large carnivores are found.
- Saving the Cantabrian brown bear from extinction in Asturias, Spain – enjoy exclusive access to an extraordinary conservation area in the Cantabrian Mountains, home to European brown bears, the Iberian wolf, Cantabrian chamois and extensive flora.
- Saving wildlife from extinction in Abruzzo, Italy – discover Appenine wildlife in the heart of the region’s 150,000 acre National Park, including the Marsican bear (of which only about 50 remain), wolves and boar.
TENT Conservation Journeys can be book through Steppes Travel. There’s a choice of tailored shorter journeys as well as more adventurous, longer trips, including cycling and hiking. All the itineraries include authentic accommodation, delicious local food and unparalleled access to the projects that TENT supports.
FACT BOX – Wildlife Conservation, The Apennines, Italy
Spend 8 days exploring the rugged wilderness of the Apennines accompanied by expert guides and staying in small characterful lodges. Working in collaboration with The European Nature Trust, Steppes' 8-day conservation journey in Italy costs from £2,145pp, based on a private group of six people, excluding international flights. Includes all accommodation, meals and guiding, plus a donation to Salviamo L'Orso.
For more info, visit Wildlife Conservation Apennines.