The participants of the Cyprus visit take part in the great Adobe brick making contest, and along the way encounter silver smiths, mosaic artists, lace makers, and pottery makers.
We have returned home from our trip to Bulgaria refreshed with new ideas and an insight into how other European countries approach connecting communities with their natural and historical environment. Bulgaria takes a holistic approach by including arts, heritage, festivals, folklore and history into their engagement around our natural and cultural heritage. They encourage their citizens to engage in crafts using inspiration from the natural world, to appreciate the intrinsic value of nature and to conserve special places for future generations.
Our short but fabulous visit to central Bulgaria, demonstrated without any doubt that the Bulgarian people maintain, and continue to foster, a deep and genuine respect for their identity through their cultural heritage. Their high regard for ancient traditional skills and crafts are embraced with a proud consideration, and this is ultimately clearly demonstrated by the way they incorporate ancient traditional skills and crafts into modern day life.
The challenge for the people that live in the small houses, farms, villages and towns within and around the Central Balkan National Park and on the Devetaki Plateau is to keep their connection with nature. To hang on to it whilst embarking on the journey to market and promote their diverse heritage. To enjoy it and allow others to do so as development and tourism in this fascinating country inevitably grows.
The trip has also given me ideas of what festivals I could consider planning around peatlands – incorporating things like folk music and culture like we saw with the Plum Festival on the first day. These seasonal festivals provide a link back to nature, its products and its importance to local communities.
Through combining both of these aspects into the trip, which are perhaps often seen somewhat as contrasting ways to understand the biodiversity, whilst additionally learning about the rich history and traditions of the country, this has provided a valuable insight into how well-rounded disseminating information can be done, integrating many perspectives for understanding the environment into a single day alone to link together and catch the attention of visitors when communicating conservation to the public.
So what lessons to draw? That deer numbers have to be significantly reduced if we are ever to restore our environment and its wildlife in Scotland, is hardly a revelation. But the destination – where rich, native forests are compatible with human needs and where people have a real connection with nature – should surely be one worth striving for.
This gives an idea of how connected folk were in the past with where plants grew, when they flowered, when they set seed, and what beneficial properties they reputedly had in days before mass-produced pharmaceuticals were available.
I found it particularly inspiring that the Devetaki Plateau Association, as a small collective, could reach beyond its own borders and the EU to find support for its mission in the Swiss & American agencies discussed earlier. Although we can hardly compare the wealth of Scotland to that of Bulgaria, I can’t help but wonder whether the challenges we could all face from Brexit may see us reach out to partners beyond our own conservation neighbourhood.
Whilst this is just one example of cultural heritage as green infrastructure, we encountered numerous others. From traditional barrel making to organic production of medicinal herbs (linked to rigorous scientific analysis and development); from an environment that invites you to swim in every lake, river and seashore…
…to foraged berries and fresh meals cooked with fresh food every day – our daily experiences and memories made were based on the health and integrity of the environment around us and its place in culture and history.
Without this we would not have found the social cohesion in our group that came about from sitting by the river in the evenings blethering away, listening for wolf calls at night, or stargazing under the Milky Way.