Visiting Alba and neighbouring counties in Transylvania, Romania was the highlight of my working year. I applied to go on this ERASMUS funded Arch destination as I thought it would be an interesting in-sight into how other European countries manage the funding opportunities provided by the European Common Agricultural Policy, particularly to benefit the small scale farmer and small rural communities. My main area of work during the year is assessing Agri-Environment and Climate Change grant applications. In Scottish Natural Heritage we assess any applications which involve land management on designated sites or deer management. As Romania is one the new member states to enter the European fold, lies in Eastern Europe where in the past agriculture has had many challenges, I was interested to see and hear their story and find out if and how the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy was benefitting agriculture and the environment in Romania. I live and work in the North West Highlands of Scotland, one of the Crofting Counties where small scale agriculture dominates. Romania is a country where small, semi subsistence/subsistence farming is of great importance. Is there a future for this type of farming in the European Union?
In Scotland, we have lost many of the attitudes to livestock husbandry that allow coexistence with predators. The exception to this is with smaller livestock such as chickens, were the concept of protection is well understood. If we ever bring back any of the larger predators, we can learn from the practices employed in countries like Romania.
Finally, if we are going to be able to support a viable wildcat population in perpetuity in Scotland (i.e. without risk of hybridisation), we may need to look at the environment in Romania and see what we can take from it that helps both wildcats and biodiversity more generally.
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.
An openness of this kind to new ideas could be key to the sustainable development of Transylvannia and many other places like it. Outsiders could come to live in these remote regions, enticed by the free land and materials, and make a commitment to work the land – undertaking to do the hard graft, and to learn from the community, before these skills are lost. There is huge interest from people in the UK and beyond, who recognise this need to get back to the land, who would undertake this – within a system they can trust, and that works for everyone. If the new road leads to developments in infrastructure which eventually allow faster internet, then a whole new raft of possibilities open up to people working part time on the internet for some income, but remaining committed to small scale farming practice – knowing its value from having seen the results of over development in their various countries of origin.
Hay is at the base of almost all traditional meat & 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 & birds. Other important & ecosystem shaping farming activities include grazing and cutting (shredding/pollarding) trees for leaf hay and for fencing without wire.
The course ‘Investigating Traditional Lime Burning and Products’ was organised by ARCH Network in Scotland and Satul Verde in Romania. The course was funded by Erasmus+. For the week Monica Oprean from Satul Verde and Martin Clark from ARCH were our guides and transport, as well as the source of never ending information and stories. […]
Our journey started when we closed our front doors behind us, but the experience of Romania began when we landed at Cluj-Napoca late in the evening: fellow passengers burst into applause as the plane bumped onto the runway. Our guides, Martin Clark & Monica Oprean, welcomed us at the terminal. There were nine participants altogether: […]
On day 1 we stopped in Ciclova Romana and Manuela went to collect sheep’s cheese. It was as if we’ve stepped back in time: green grass transported by horse drawn cart, hens pecking about, a cock crowing and the smell of mown hay and dung. When I went to primary school in the early 60s we passed a field with the last working horse; all farms had tractors by then. We hardly saw farm machinery in this part of Romania. Ten yards after the village of Ciclova Romana ends Ciclova Montana begins. We stayed there in a village house, within walking distance of forests, meadows and the Cheile Nerei-Beusnita National Park. We tried local produce and experienced some rhythms of village life, as we ate our first meal we heard bells from cows being driven home for milking. One day the water pump broke and we brought in water from the well in the garden and used the toilet there which emptied into the river rushing past.