Track the Wolf

1. Juni 2018

A wolf volunteering expedition will take you to the beautiful lowlands of Lower Saxony,in northern Germany, to help monitor and protect the returning wolf population

A Love-Hate Relationship

Working in small teams mainly around the famously picturesque Lüneburger Heide (Lüneburg Heath), you will record signs of wolf presence such as tracks and kills, as well as survey prey species such as deer and wild boar. You will also camera-trap the animals and collect samples to study wolf diet and for genetic analysis. The expedition base is a charming guesthouse with all modern amenities, right on the edge of the Lüneburg Heath.

After an absence of several hundred years, wolves started returning to the state of Lower Saxony in 2006, from Poland via former East Germany. The species is protected by EU and German law and official wolf monitoring studies conducted by the Environment Ministry via the State Hunting Association have shown that the wolf is now also breeding again in Lower Saxony. Another study concluded that there are many more areas in Lower Saxony suitable for wolf re-colonisation and recent experience has shown that the wolf is so adaptable that it even colonises areas previously thought unsuitable for supporting wolves. In addition young wolves are actively looking for new areas to found packs in and more wolves are pushing into the state from healthy breeding populations in the east. All this means that the threat of real and perceived conflict with humans, livestock and game species is ever increasing, as is the need to educate and inform local people. More wolves are spotted in the wild by people, there is increased media coverage and livestock is being predated upon. This has resulted in a measurable decrease of wolf acceptance amongst local people, especially hunters and livestock owners, who play a crucial role in wolf survival.

If the wolf is to have a future in Lower Saxony, people must be educated about the wolf’s movements and habits so that human-wolf conflict can be reduced as much as possible or avoided altogether. The expedition, through working with the state’s Wolfsbüro (wolf bureau), makes an important contribution to this by providing science-based answers and strategies.

Activities are usually decided the night before and then confirmed in the morning, depending on the weather. The whole set-up of the expedition is quite flexible so that you can participate according to the weather conditions, your skills and general fitness and how you feel on the day.

In the morning the expedition team will divide into sub-teams of two or more people, who will be assigned a route to cover during the day. You will then be taken to the start of your route and set out on foot or bike according to the terrain and your preference & existing skills. When you find tracks or other signs of wolf or other study species, you will record them using GPS receivers, cameras and notebooks. In the case of wolves, you will then follow the tracks for as far as possible in order to collect further data on their movements and activity. On other days you will also assist in a systematic assessment of prey numbers, you may be involved in camera trapping or you may participate in assessing livestock protection methods. You will return to base in the late afternoon to log results and discuss findings with the rest of the team and the scientist. It may be possible to stay overnight in the field/rustic guesthouse with a small team during the week, but this will be decided at short notice.

The expedition will take place in Lower Saxony (German: Niedersachsen), a German state (Bundesland) situated in northwestern Germany, which is second in area, with 47,624 square kilometres and fourth in population (8 million) among the sixteen German states. The state capital is Hanover (German: Hannover).

Lüneburg Heath (German: Lüneburger Heide) is a large area of heath, geest and woodland in the northeastern part of Lower Saxony. It forms part of the hinterland for the cities of Hamburg, Hanover and Bremen and is named after the town of Lüneburg. Most of the area is a nature reserve. The extensive areas of heathland are typical of those that covered most of the north German countryside until about 1800, but which have almost completely disappeared in other areas. The heaths were formed after the Neolithic period by overgrazing of the once widespread forests on the poor sandy soils of the geest, as this slightly hilly and sandy terrain in northern Europe is called. The Lüneburg Heath is therefore a historic cultural landscape. The remaining areas of heath are kept clear mainly through grazing, especially by a north German breed of moorland sheep called the Heidschnucke. Due to its unique landscape, Lüneburg Heath is famous in Germany and beyond.

Another landscape that the expedition will cover includes deciduous woodlands that contain trees with broad leaves such as oak, beech and elm. They occur in places with high rainfall, warm summers and cooler winters and lose their leaves in winter. As some light can get through, the vegetation is layered. Beneath the taller trees is a shrub layer. The shrub layer contains species like hazel, ash and holly. Grass, bracken or bluebells can be found in the ground layer. Animals present include various species of deer, wild boar, red fox, badger, brown hare, golden eagle, osprey, raven, pine marten, stone marten, racoon dog and otter. There will also be wetlands such as bogs that accumulate peat, a deposit of dead plant material – often mosses, and in a majority of cases, sphagnum moss.

Images: Courtesy of Biosphere Expeditions

More information, all dates and conditions: biosphere-expeditions.org

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