NET Managing our Natural and Cultural Assets
Romanian Village Farming – 5-12th September 2016
Focus on Hay Meadows,
Leaf Hay & Subsistence Farming
Emma Beckinsale Ruth Carruthers Craig Dickson
Sarah Lewis Andy Robinson Rory Sandison
With thanks to our in country experts – Monica Oprean and Martin Clark and ARCH as The Project Managers and Erasmus+ as the funders
A Visit to a Romanian Meadow
Homorod Village Wood Pasture on the Mureș River
Food and farming
Romania Wild and Re-wilding
Forest Bison Reserve in Hațeg – on which side of the fence?
A Lesson in T-Budding
Romania’s Ancient Future – Landscape, Culture, Community and Unfurling (Eco)Tourism
Hay is at the base of almost all traditional meat and dairy farm products – even to the farmyard chickens eating grasshoppers brought into the yard with the new hay crop. Hay, especially cut with a scythe, has shaped Romania’s rural cultural landscape and resulted in enormous biodiversity of flowering plants, insects and birds. Other ecosystem shaping farming activities include grazing and cutting (shredding/pollarding) trees for leaf hay and for fencing without wire; Ancient Wood Pasture and more modern scale grafting of fruit trees. Of course consideration of wider enviro-social factors including hunting; re-wilding and associated reintroduction projects. These aspects of Romanian rural life were taught and studied as part of this week long course, as detailed within this report.
The six participants were from a range of Scottish environmental NGOs including the RSPB Scotland, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Trees For Life and the John Muir Trust and a wide range of disaplines within the group allowed them to make comparisons with practices in Scotland and deseminate learnings upon returning home.
With many thanks to Monica and Martin for shraing your knowledge and deep love of Romania.
Traditional Roof Structure Rimet
A Visit to a Romanian Meadow
Two species rich grassland sites were visited in Romania – a meadow above the village of Girbovita and a meadow high in the Apuseni Mountains within the community of Rimets.
The management of species rich grasslands within the areas visited in Romania has had a profound impact on the landscape. To the eyes of a visiting tourist from Scotland who grew up in the crofting townships of Glen Roy and the Isle of Lewis the landscape seemed somewhat familiar. Particularly in Girbovita the succession of land tenure has resulted in strips of cultivatable and meadow land visually reminiscent of the pre-enclosure runrig system practiced historically within crofting communities in the highlands of Scotland.
The meadows visited are scythe cut and hay is temporarily stored in in-field stooks or haystacks until required. The grasslands we visited were frequently small in size, steep and irregularly shaped peppered with isolated fruit and nut trees. These species rich grasslands perhaps owe their continued existence to the use of scythes and hand labour to maintain them. This was especially interesting to see as many of the grasslands managed by the Scottish Wildlife Trust, and other conservation bodies in the central belt of Scotland, are remnants of a much larger habitat that once covered a far larger extent. This extent has been reduced by agricultural intensification, urban sprawl and industrial development frequently leaving only the awkward, steep and isolated sites remaining. Perhaps re-exploring the tools and techniques observed in Girbovita could help enhance and restore the species rich grasslands found in the central belt.
Craig – Hay Stooking at Girbovita
The grasslands in Girbovita were largely managed as meadows with only irregular hefted sheep grazing. Their primary purpose was in the production of hay as winter forage. The domestic livestock appeared to be kept indoors. Perhaps this occasional and infrequent grazing of the meadow helps retain the high level of diversity as it maximises the number of flowering heads able to set seed rather than being nibbled by stock? Another aspect of the meadows sward that was noted was the remarkably low ratio of grass to forbes. In the majority of meadows visited the estimated ratio was over 95% forbes whereas on UK lowland hay meadow, NVC MG5, meadowland a ratio as low as 40% would still be considered favourable. The upper reach of the MG5 grass to forbe ratio is 90%.
An interesting impact on the grassland sward was rooting by wild boar and wild pig. Rooting is the term given to the wild boar/pigs foraging activity where it turns over the surface sward to expose the soil beneath. Wild boar and wild pig are usually an animal of woodland/woodland edge habitats. Rooting can be damaging to the sward and negatively impact plant diversity although this impact can be highly localised and may, in fact, just increase structural diversity in the sward. Wild boar were reputed to have become extinct in Scotland in the 16th Century but there is growing evidence of viable, breeding populations in several areas of Scotland.
Hay meadow and stook – Apuseni Mountains
The meadows we visited are likely to face severe challenges in future years. Agricultural intensification and agricultural abandonment are having a negative impact on the extent and diversity of these meadows. The small subsistence farming communities which look so idyllic are labour intensive and have struggled to encourage their younger generations to stay within the community and work the land in the traditional manner. Rural development funding appears to be out of reach to these communities – perhaps the communities that require it the most. What will be lost if management practices do march towards intensification or abandonment? We will lose a beautiful landscape, rich in biodiversity, steeped in cultural heritage, an important socio-economic value and with as-yet untapped value as a tourist destination and/or communities producing high quality, high nature value sustainable produced foods.
Homorod Village Wood Pasture on the Mureș River
This area holds a concentration of ancient poplars and willows within a traditional wood pasture land use. Although obviously of long standing the traditional use is still relevant to today’s local inhabitants and must provide benefits of shade to cattle and cow herds, its pasture land (grasses and herbs) and associated biodiversity (from invertebrates to birds) within the wood-pasture landscape. The trees themselves can also bring direct benefits with leaf-hay being used within dry-poor grass years and whips-poles from trees used in-traditional whicker skills (fencing to basketry etc). Although familiar with wood-pasture’s potential importance in regards to biodiversity the wider importance of it within the habitat system as a supply of local resource/produce had not previously featured highly in our consideration. Perhaps due to a long disassociation within the UK from the more traditional uses of wood pasture trees.
The majority of the trees present were veteran tees of considerable age perhaps 5-600yrs very few younger trees were apparent. The veteran trees showed signs of old age – dropped limbs but also many exhibited crown die back. This did not appear, within the time there to survey the trees, to be related to an obvious disease within the trees and could perhaps be caused by stress due to drought. Such dieback can occur more readily within the deciduous species at Homorod due to physiology – higher energy / stress levels associated with the need to grow a new set of leaves each year when combined with the additional effect of drought.
Readily apparent crown death/stress within Homorod Wood Pasture
A few young saplings were present in areas where flood water had left debris sufficient enough in nature to allow their establishment i.e. prevents browsing/grazing. Ensuring a low density of regeneration within the wood pasture is required to ensuring its future. Regeneration should aim to be focus upon tree species of most use within the local area as a useful sustainable product crop – be that leaf-hay, whips for whicker, or poles etc for fencing. It was said that a train of thought exist that tree type is thought to be unimportant within the wood-pasture system however the focus here was on what could be considered more resource-useful trees. Tree type will obviously have an impact on biodiversity present within the wood-pasture system; in bird species for example Grey-headed woodpecker will utilize a wide range of species however migratory species like Golden oriole favor poplars. The role of climate change and alteration of suitability of tree species within an area for wood pasture is anther factor it maybe that anther species of poplar may be more drought resistant or in order to ensure a continuation of the wood-pasture anther species more tolerant to reduced water availability may be required.
It would seem that the future of this, as perhaps many, traditional wood pasture systems needs more consideration into how best to ensure it is maintained to bring both benefits to the local village and biodiversity especially set against the background of climate change. It may be possible to instigate a project to look across a range of wood pasture types or just within this important example at climate predictions/river flow and what tree species would be most robust in terms of climate change whilst also considering its potential as a village resource and its biodiversity importance. A recent study in the UK has focused upon tree species potential suitability to replace ash within native woodland situation in consideration of both their physiology and their ability to support important bryophyte/lichen assemblages.
Food and farming
The difference between the countryside in Romania and Scotland is stark when it comes to nature. In Romania wildflower meadows carpet the land, different species of birds pop up constantly, butterflies abound and the air is alive with the sound of insects and frogs singing. One of the main reasons for this is that compared to Scotland Romania still has a large amount of high nature value (HNV) farming taking place in rural areas.
During the first two days of our trip we were lucky enough to spend time on our guide Monica’s grandmother’s farm in the tiny village of Girbovita, where we visited the vine yard, hey meadows, orchards, vegetable garden and farmyard animals before sitting down to a delicious home grown lunch, prepared in an outdoor ‘summer’ kitchen and washed down with home made wine and plum brandy, as is tradition. The fruit and vegetables are grown organically, which is general practice is rural Romania, and the meat eaten came from the farm pigs, fed on hey from the aforementioned meadows, smoked in their own shed before being made into sausages.
Back home, purchase of meat and vegetables produced in such a way is often viewed as a luxury of the liberal elite, but here it’s the norm and markets reflect the local and seasonal produce available – aubergines, peppers, tomatoes, corn, apples, peaches and plums at this time of year. Not a pineapple or steam of asparagus flown from Peru in sight.
Of particular note are the tomatoes – so rich in flavour and deep in colour that many on the trip said they were the best they had ever eaten. The glut available at this time of year are not only eaten fresh, but turned into preserves, along with the excess of peppers and aubergines, which will help sustain people through the long winter ahead and prevent waste. We were lucky enough to help make some ketchup, which is nothing like the stuff we buy off the shelf in the UK – a very welcome change!
Tomato Chopping for Chutney Making
Of course, subsistence farming is not the story across all of Romania. Intensive farming takes place too and you can buy plenty of imports in the supermarkets. This includes many processed foods, the abundance of which has increased greatly since Romania joined the EU in 2007. In this same year Romania also started receiving subsidies for agriculture, similar to the CAP payments received in the UK, and there is concern that Romanian farmers are now making money simply by cleansing the land – as has happened in Scotland. This approach along with intensified farming methods has been disastrous for Scottish wildlife and there is worry that the wildlife rich land described above might become a thing of the past in Romania over time too.
On day five of the trip we travelled to the city of Alba Iulia for a visit to the Environment Agency to talk about protected areas with Nicu Oprita, an environmental officer in charge of the protected areas in Alba County.
About 5.18% of the area of Romania has a protected status including the Danube Delta, which makes half of these areas. This includes 13 national parks, 15 natural parks and a Natura 2000 Network of 383 Sites of Community Importance (SCI) and 148 Sites of Protection for Birds and Animals (SPA). Unlike Scotland though Romania’s national designations protect only habitat and not species. One notable habitat we visited was Râpa Roșie geological reserve, near the town of Sebeș, pictured below, which we visited on day five.
Red Gorge aka Little Grand Canyon
With reference to the European Commission’s current ‘fit for purpose’ review of the Nature Directives (the nature laws that put in place Natura 2000 sites) Romania has stood up in defense of the directives and was one of nine Member States who last year wrote a letter to Karmenu Vella, European Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, stating that amending the directives “would not be expedient”, and that “greater emphasis on implementation” would be a better means of achieving global and European biodiversity targets
At a more local level protected areas are not always welcome though, as can be the case in Scotland and across Europe, and Romania faces a huge challenge to protect its natural assets in the face of increasing economic growth and industrial demand for land. Clouded by the false belief that protected areas are a burden on business many have sought to develop on protected sites and in some instances granted permission. For example, there is a current case in which a large caged chicken farm was permitted to be built on a protected area, however the European Commission are now taking Romania to court over the matter.
As in Scotland the majority of the public have little knowledge of protected areas and the government put little money to put into the management of protected areas, let alone awareness raising initiatives. This need for better awareness is emphasised by the fact that rubbish litters many areas of beauty, left by holiday makes and weekend BBQ parties.
Romania Wild and Re-wilding
Re-wildingOver the course of the study visit to Romania our group were fortunate to get the opportunity to visit a bison reintroduction project in the Slivut Forest, near Zimbrul, just south of Alba Lulia in the west of Romania.
Bison enclosure and information board
Bison (Bison bonasus), the largest native land mammal in Europe, have been missing from Romania from as far back as the late 18th century. Until relatively recently these hefty ungulates have been absent from the wild in Europe since going extinct in the early 1920’s due to centuries of hunting and a continual process of habitat loss.
The European bison, with a wild population of over 3000, is currently classed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, however there are projects in Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Slovakia, Russia, Lithuania, and Kyrgyzstan as well as in Romania working to increase their numbers.
The project in Zimbril started in 1958 after the arrival of a mating pair of bison from the captive population of 54 beasts in Poland, where all European bison have been bred. The group has been working hard, on a limited budget, to build up the herd as well as increasing its habitat from 15 hectares to 160 hectares and beyond, where 17 animals were recently released.
Romania retains a high proportion of natural ecosystems. Almost half of its land area is covered with natural and semi-natural landscapes, including some large areas of undisturbed forest, providing ample habitats for bison.
The quality of the Romanian forest ecosystems is demonstrated by the presence of a large range of European forest fauna. The country supports half of Europe’s brown bears and 30 per cent of Europe’s wolves, with increasing populations of wild boar, beaver and lynx.
However, the pressures on biodiversity and natural resources have been increasing since Romania joined the European Union. Although there is an extensive protected area network, there seems to be a very limited support from an already cash-strapped government. The protected areas suffer from a lack of structured management and legal backing, however the current management of large mammals appears to be a robust system as far as mammals are concerned, however it is not clear what measures are in place to protect and enhance their habitats.
Another site visit found our group on the outskirts of Alba Lulia in Alba County, one of the 42 counties in Romania. We met with Bogdan Dragomir who manages the Asociatia Judeteana a Vanatorilor si Pescarilor Sportivi Alba (Association of Hunters and Anglers in Alba). There are around 3000 members with 2000 anglers and around 800 active hunters. Hunters pay a yearly fee of 300 Euros (80 Euros for anglers) and can only obtain a licence to hunt following a year’s apprenticeship and ownership of a valid gun licence and a registered gun.
Bogdan Dragomir Woodcock – Stuffed Trophy
– Association of Hunters & Anglers
Bogdan overseas 5 areas within Alba County, covering just over 22,000 square kilometers, which is approximately 40% of the total area of Alba county. Each year Marian Drăcea (National Institute for Research and Development in Forestry) sets the cull numbers for each hunting association, taking into account factors like the type of area (mountain, hill), how much forest, how much agricultural land, the number of animals, etc. The cull estimates have up to a 20% margin of error and are based on figures provided by the hunters themselves.
The cull numbers approved by the Ministry of Environment, for Alba County in 2012/13 were:
15 stags, 243 roe deer, 273 wild boars, 317 hares, 440 pheasants, 130 partridges, 1580 wild ducks, 2250 quails, 3950 wild pigeons, 6700 thrushes, 3600 larks.
Note that there were no wolves, bear, wild cat or lynx in the cull figures for 2012/13, however we were informed that if there are any particular issues between communities and predators then it is dealt with on a case by case scenario.
One such case was that of a pack of 15 wolves that were reported to have killed 65 sheep in 3 separate enclosures in one night. Another case was that of an old bear that was frequently visiting a small village and exhibiting aggressive behaviour.
All wild animals are owned by the State and management of the cull is split between the Association of Hunters and Anglers and European hunters or guests, with the split being 70% to 30% respectively.
The 30% of visiting hunters generates income through payment for the opportunity to hunt and a fee for the game killed, usually based on the weight/size of the animal.
Romanian hunters keep the meat for themselves and their families as the processes and equipment required to put the meat into the main meat markets, such as larders and paperwork, requires an investment of time and money, something that seems to be in short supply at the moment.
This model of wildlife management may be of interest to those parties in Scotland who are working to reintroduce missing species like beaver and lynx and to those who have to deal with the increasing numbers of feral boar and continually increasing deer populations as there will be, in my judgement, a need to monitor and manage large mammal populations as long as we live together on the land. Using paying hunters to reach cull targets in Romania alongside state rangers appears to be a win, win dynamic!
This experience has provided insight into a country that has been dealing with the management of a healthy mix of mammals (albeit mostly for hunting purposes) that live alongside a population with a strong agricultural identity. It will be interesting to see what impact joining the European Union will have on the management of the landscapes, the wildlife and the agricultural practices in the long run. Hopefully the wonderful diversity will not be squeezed out by the overwhelming influx of regulations and drive for modernity but instead be seen for the gem that it is and protected for generations to come.
Forest Bison Reserve in Hațeg – on which side of the fence?
This sections provides a more detailed consideration of re-introduction projects with some slight repetition as back ground on the Hațeg – Zimbril reserve was founded in 1958, with two bison from Poland (with anther female shortly afterwards) today the visitor enclosure holds just 7 bison. The herd here has reached a maximum of 23 animals. It is an area of oak, hornbeam and fir forest with the bison kept in a large forest edge enclosure with nearby handling facilities. It was interesting to see the scale of handling pens required to deal with such a large / powerful animal (up to 6-900kg and 1.8m high and 3+m in length).
The reserve is used for breeding and a total of 47 calves have been born with some of them sent to found reserves in other areas of Romania but also other animals have been brought in to Romania with recently 37 from Sweden in 2014. The current numbers of European bison is relatively low, estimated at 4600, of which Romania holds about 100 animals with its numbers slowly increasing. This raises the question about larger scale reintroduction within Romania. It appears that Bison bred at Vama Buzăului and Bucşani bison reserves are moved to Neamţ a Natural reserve within the Carpathian mountains. Here there is a project to release them into a semi-wild state through removal of assisted feeding. A small group are kept for visitors and related PR but most of the bison here are kept away from the public in a semi-wild state within an 180ha enclosure. If this would ever become a more feral state without any confines remains unlikely.
On which side of the Fence should they be – Bison inside and our group outside or both outside?
The aim still appears to have bison in a semi-wild state but not a full reintroduction / truly wild release. This raises some questions in relation to the reintroduction program many of which are pertinent in relation to other re-introduction projects across the EU. Perhaps a key issue is public perception and wider support of any project to re-introduce bison, although not a predator being such a large animal their are potential impacts on forest edge crops (herd animal av10-13 female and young) and fence damage and even perhaps a perception of them as a threat to humans? A driver is their demise was hunting/poaching would this occur today or could it be regulated similar to other hunting within Romania once the population was self-sustaining? Is there sufficient wild/native habitat to hold a viable population of such a large herbivore within current day Romania? Is habitat condition right with sufficient glades and open spaces for them or would this need creation by man prior to a true wild release? What if any would be the impacts of large predators such as wolves and bears would these take sick/old animals only? What benefits would occur – ecotourism and a more natural re-wilding of forest habitat and a more natural eco–system and how to assess these benefits in monetary terms?
Visiting the Bison reserve stimulated a lot of discussion and raises a lot of questions about reintroduction of species once present as part of the native ecosystem within the EU. With so many re-introductions programs throughout Europe perhaps a project which tries to distill over-ridding best practice and issues learned that could be applied to future proposals from a number of these re-introduction projects from all sides involved (national and local government, NGOs, Conservationists and local inhabitants etc) would be more than timely.
A Lesson in T-Budding
During our time in Romania we visited a Fruit Tree Nursery, just outside of Aiud, where we met Fenesan Oliviu, a horticultural engineer with over 40 years experience in the nursery industry. After a brief introduction we set out to see the large outdoor tree nursery. We drove through dusty fields all neatly lined-out with row upon row of plants. Their stock ranged from fruit trees to roses.
We stopped at a field in which two groups were working, and Oliviu explained that the trees were being grafted. Grafting is a method used to ensure the fruit or plant is true to type, and is a dependable way of maintaining desired characteristics within a crop. Grafting works by taking material from one plant and attaching it to the rootstock of another, compatible, plant. With fruit trees the general rule is that all stoned fruit are compatible and all seed fruit are compatible, but you cannot mix the two. This method works by fusing the vascular cambium tissues of the separate plants to form one plant.
T-Budding at the Fruit Nursery
In the field one group were preparing the rootstock for grafting, this involved removing all soil from the stem with a cloth. This is important because a dirty graft site will increase the risk of disease and infection, which in turn will affect the success of the graft and could possibly kill the rootstock. After the stems had been cleaned a second group of workers grafted buds on to the rootstock. They were using a T-budding technique, which has a 90% success rate.
T-budding is a technique where a bud rather than a shoot is attached to the rootstock to create a new plant. The grafters had a bucket of cut stems from which they were removing the buds to graft onto the rootstock. They would slice the bud off the stem, leaving a strip of bark about an inch long either side of the bud. A T-shape incision would be made on the rootstock, this would cut through the protective bark right down to the vascular cambium layer. The bud strip was then inserted into the T-shape cut beneath the bark. The graft site was then wrapped around with plastic to hold everything in place, and to protect the wound from the elements. Eventually the bud and rootstock will fuse, at which point the rest of the rootstock plant is cut back leaving only the grafted material to grow.
Romania’s Ancient Future
Landscape Culture Community
You can’t help feeling a sense of being spell-drawn into a time where life has stood still and for good reason. The landscape and much of its fruitful capacity in the rural Romania we visited appears to be testament to a folk connection with the land and its nature. It is more and more common to see this working knowledge left behind; as agricultural trends have changed, trading in sustainable productivity in search of providing for the modern man. This contemporary demand has the characteristics of a dilutification of quality, lack of clarity of source and involved processes, plus inevitable surplus and waste.
In Monica’s home village Girbovita, it is understood that there is still a community connectivity and dependency on one another. For labour-some jobs like turning the field for vine planation, or building a roof then the neighbours, family, community may still get involved. Knowing ones neighbours allows a sense of trust and openness. But there is uncertainty about the future, just as we experience in the Highlands where the outflow of the young threatens crofting culture.
As old ways fade with people, memories and new demand; we loose a valuable part of not only practical and sustainable skills, we loose with that the very heart of what unifies and makes communities work. With the constant rhythms of flux incomers in rural areas become more common, this also brings along new ideas. Rather than fear of the change, make the most of it. Learning from mistakes is as valuable as learning from successful methodologies; it’s how we chose to blend this all together that shapes the future of our natural environment.
We learnt that each region has a representative who can bring the views of the community to the table of the Local Council. Capturing a true voice in an ageing community will be challenging, but it is important that all generational views are heard in order to best bring together what is needed for the future along with what is worth keeping from the past. Ways which work and stand up to time and imitation are those that work, such as the delightfully decorative guttering around many of the rural houses we saw installed by the Romany Gypsies, which continues as a stamp of regional craftsmanship.
Rimets presents an opportunity to provide a functioning medieval landscape as a working model to learn from and rather than having to see the example through museum like boundaries, you can be part of it and live it. On Skye there is an Eco-museum which attracts a lot of funding (eg HLF) all of the information comes through the internet and limited, themed interpretation boards, there is no hub, just online information to point you in the direction of experience.
The internet and social media is what draws flocks of visitors to sites. This has become an issue for Skye in the past few years; the infrastructure cannot cope with the numbers. Pre-empting this with online management and mitigation is part of the solution. Romania with its excellent internet service could be in a golden position to facilitate a sustainable rate of tourist trade.
There appears to be scope for really leading by example through agri-environmental models as discussed in this group report and scope for recreational opportunities and enterprising green industry through renewables such as solar paneling. Whilst still looking after the countries natural resources and keeping what is needed to provide benefits for the local people.
Colourful meadow picnic
Unfurling (Eco) Tourism
Based on what we saw it is clear that the landscape has influenced the culture and is tied into everything. The rich connection with people and the land that the Romanian’s have is an incentive in itself for people to be drawn to this warm hearted and beautiful country. Where the fresh food tastes even more colourful than it looks and each plum brandy that welcomes you has a new tale to share. The romance of the stalls lining the sides of the roads selling local fresh and pickled fruit and veg, so personal and allowing us to know source to mouth details of what food we are permitting to our bodies.
In Remets we heard from the Mayor that a new asphalt road will be connecting the lowland towns with the mountain villages, this had already commenced. This should help the flow of new ideas for appropriate development to the area. The impression is that land ownership is preventive in moving forward in many cases, we were informed that land ends up being sold as people can’t manage it and inheriting land means that people don’t know land boundaries that past generations ‘just knew’. A comparative situation with croft land ownership in Scotland has meant The Crofting Register 2010 now ‘requires’ or ‘encourages’ a voluntarily register of your land holdings, but I would suggest there needs to be more onus on incentive to register and not just a fee, as is presently the case. Ultimately though people would at least know who owns the land and then can be organized about what interest groups would like to do with it.
Working in land management in Scotland we face funding restraints and similar land ownership frustrations, if you can continue to move forward at the beat of your own drum, there is much merit in that. Ideas for unwanted land which there are working examples of in the Highlands would be a ‘community buy out’ this could bring the land under the key families who have an invested interest, which could open possibilities for future funding.
Making more of interlinking walking routes or improving access and providing some interpretation to some of the nature sites and reserves could be beneficial, depending on how much of a secret you want to keep these special places. As we experienced at the ‘interesting to get to’ Râpa Roșie geological reserve; intriguing that this is such a challenge to get to and there is no form of erosional protection for the formation. This novelty was part of the beauty of the place as well though and feeling you were part of it, not just a spectator.
On arrival back home I was interested to see what guide books were available for climbing and walking areas and what levels of awareness; asking around within the mountaineering fraternity, I learnt that it is no secret how wonderful the Romania recreation mountain resources are. Apuseni area provides many multi-pitch routes in the Trascau Mountains and the Turda gorge. There is an E4 Trail (more than 10,000km – starting in Portugal, ending in Greece), which at present has no one responsible for the upkeep of the Romanian part (which also is not properly defined), which sounds nuts considering the traffic this route could receive. This is a route of European importance so it would be desirable to see some sensitively thought out mountain huts and pensions be instated.
Because there remains such a day to day reliance on the land, there is mutual benefit in knowing how to look after it well. So much of the culture we experienced in Romania derives from this natural source, the beauty of this has universal interest and applicability.
Useful Interpretation panel at Ramet
Whilst compiling this report it came to our attention that the Romania government had just passed a law which bans trophy hunting of brown bears, wolves, lynx and wild cats. This appears to be a sudden and surprising decision. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/oct/05/romania-bans-trophy-hunting-of-brown-bears-wolves-lynx-and-wild-cats . The report suggests that the shooting of Romania’s large carnivores has grown considerably to feed a multi-million pound industry with atrophy costing €10,000 for an alpha bear. This seems far from the fact/information that we were presented with while there – it seemed based upon counts (albeit undertaken by the hunters) and with an admitted large margin of error considered in the setting of quota. It is now thought that many hunting associations counted the same animals (since they cover large areas over-estimating their populations by thousands.
Whilst there we discussed within the group the odd nature of the hunters being the origin of the count but not appreciate that the hunters provided an estimate of number of carnivores causing the damage, in fact talking to Nicu Oprita gave the impression that damage had to be proved and was carefully monitored before quotas were issued. Obviously it is problematic that hunting associations provide a figure for those causing damages before any damages occur. The government feels that the ban puts things back on the right conservation path as intended under the Habitat Regulations and blocks the loophole that they can be shot if damage occurs.
It is particularly interesting in light of Brexit that this is an example of the Habitats Regulations assisting in the conservation of large carnivores. Whilst here in Scotland a consultation is currently underway about merging Forestry Commission and Scottish Natural Heritage, with the budgets of the later cut yet again, it appears that effective Conservation agency is not high on the Scottish Governments agenda. The possibility of a weakening of conservation regulations post-Brexit is a serious one (either through West Minister or Scot–Gov) and would remove us further from a fair integrated society. Food for thought (and perhaps a little late in the day) is that if many of the pro-Brexit voters had the opportunity to go on a similar programme to us that showed current issues within another member state, promotes cultural exchange and understanding plus illustrates the high value placed on EU membership the Brexit outcome could possibly have been very different.
Turda Gorge, Cheile Turzii Nature Reserve