In southeast Georgia, at the core of the Caucasus Biodiversity Hotspot, lies the Iori River Valley. This fascinating landscapes supports a range of life, including birds of prey, gazelle and lynx, as well as range-restricted plant species such as Caucasian hackberries, floodplain oak and juniper. Despite its rich biodiversity, this landscape is threatened by livestock overgrazing and climate change, demonstrated by eroded gullies along the river’s steppes, and the dominance of wormwood species such as Artemisia lerchiana. Now, a new project funded by the Endangered Landscapes Programme – “Restoring gallery forest and grassland in the Iori River Valley” – is looking at creative solutions to a complex problem.
Led by international conservation NGO BirdLife Europe and their local partner Society for Nature Conservation (SABUKO), this project will use funding from the Endangered Landscapes Programme (ELP) to restore the ecological processes, habitats and species within Iori River Valley landscape, including: steppe habitat, floodplain riverine forest, Caucasian light forest, and the heavily eroded but characteristic ‘badlands’.
As recently described by ELP Manager, Dr David Thomas, from his visit to the area, the Iori River Valley landscape is one of the most important winter pastures for tens of thousands of sheep descending from the surrounding mountains, part of a still-existing pattern of semi-nomadic transhumance. However, current overgrazing by sheep coupled with historical conversion to arable agriculture and irrigation, has caused large-scale degradation, desertification and biodiversity loss in the reserve.
Bringing livestock grazing down to sustainable levels, and allowing the Iori River Valley’s ecosystem processes and rich biodiversity to be restored, is one of SABUKO’s greatest challenges. The solution is not straightforward either; most of the steppe is now in private ownership, so landowners need to see and understand the benefit of managing livestock levels or be incentivised in some other way.
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