What can be learnt from all this? Preserving traditional land management, culture and ways of life in Transylvania is crucial, not as a quaint museum piece, but within a wider narrative that draws out their interconnectedness with the natural world. Supporting younger people to remain in rural areas, and to develop low impact, ecologically conscious tourism at a rate and scale that supports rather than destroys the existing balance and pattern of life could be part of the answer, and providing agri-environment grants and packages that are easily accessed, and truly supportive of small scale subsistence farmers could be another. From a UK perspective, we need to learn as much as we can.
Years ago a friend visited Romania and when he returned he commented that the countryside he found there felt to him how he imagined much of Scotland must have once been. We are a nation working to restore natural habitats that have been lost and to repair the mistakes we have made in the past, while they are a country who still hold the potential to learn from the mistakes made in other lands and work to protect and celebrate their wild landscapes, before they need to be saved and restored. I look around the vast scenes of canopy covered mountains and wonder if Transylvania isn’t just a glimpse of what Scotland has lost but of what it could also recover.
Following my structured training course in Romania and subsequent discussion with my colleagues, we now have plans to bring some of the traditional village farming methods from Romania onto Balmacara Estate. We have a demonstration species-rich meadow on a high profile gateway site. Next year before the harvest we will get the students from the crofting course at Plockton High School to establish a number of fixed quadrats on the meadow. They will record and quantify the plant species and invertebrate life within these quadrats giving us a base sample. When the meadow is ready to cut, half will be done by the students using scythes, creating Romanian style haystacks in the process. The other half of the meadow will be cut using modern machinery creating round baling hay. On an annual basis the crofting students will carry out the same procedures, and we will monitor the quadrats to check what is happening to the biodiversity within each half of the meadow.