The transfer of skills to the RSPB and National Park volunteers (and others interested in attending) would be an extremely valuable and sustainable asset. Scything and stacking the fen vegetation may not entirely replace the need to use machinery over this extensive site. It would however be a very useful addition to the methods available to maintain these important sites for wildlife.
The hay meadows face many difficulties in a changing Romania. No one can halt the tide of industrialisation, especially if it makes life easier for an aging population. Romanians are not living in a museum, and they must be allowed to change in the same way as we all do. However, the Apuseni mountains – the name translates into Sunset Mountains – feel like they’re on the brink of change, and that change could lead to a complete loss of hay meadow culture. And, as with so many of these things, Europe may not realise the value of this place before it becomes lost to history.
The Romanian experience has led to a great deal of reflection on how hay, orchards, amenity grassland, ‘rough grass’ and agricultural set aside is managed in Britain. The tendency to use rotary mowers and in the agricultural setting mower conditioners, must have an impact on invertebrate life. In Romania, we were able to experience what is possible with grassland management when it is more sympathetic to biodiversity. It has been enlightening.
What did I learn from Romania? Firstly, it reinforced to me how important these less intensively managed High Nature Value landscapes are for wildlife. Whether visiting the beautiful Romanian hay meadows or the Uist’s Machair, these really are special places and we must find ways to make sure communities are given sufficient support to ensure these areas can maintain their biodiversity value.
Even though the management of the land has to make economic sense to the Romanians it seems that they do value the importance of trees more so than a lot of English farmers that I work with. This might be because of the way the land is farmer on a smaller scale with less intensive machinery which makes it easier to work around a tree or hedge in the field. This might be because the agri-environment schemes work differently or simply because they recognise that trees have a wide number of benefits that can lead to both economic and environmental sustainability.
In Romania outside space seemed to me to be valued, planted and used well. But would a return to this type of growing really work for us? Can we really change our thinking and green our grey by filling our gardens with useful, valuable plants? How would our manicured and grey slabbed neighbours respond? Perhaps not to corn or vines in our Scottish climate, but to a front garden filled with ‘untidy’ raspberry canes, tattie shaws and strawberry runners? It shouldn’t really matter.
The villages of Girbovita and Rimet are located high in the Apuseni mountains, nestled within a landscape which has hardly changed since medieval times. The valleys and peaks are breathtakingly beautiful, but the reality of life in this part of Romania is not so rose-tinted, with many areas facing an uncertain future.
The outcomes of this colourful week in Romania can be split into two areas. Firstly, the biological/ecological prospects for further study and secondly, the ecology of the group to allow better recognition of who is willing to do what to secure prospects of further trips and studies.