Our week in West Pomerania was designed to give us an insight into as many different aspects of nature conservation as possible including state managed national parks and landscape parks, as well as nature reserves owned and managed by NGOs. The full programme gave us a feel for the biological richness of the area and the challenges facing both state and private interests who are managing these areas, often without secure funding and with constrained resources. The fact that membership of NGOs in Poland is very small compared to Scotland restricts both their resources and their ability to affect policy change. Given the size and resources available however, they play a very important role in direct land management and in catalysing new projects and approaches to conservation.
Throughout the week we returned again and again to the importance of national boundary changes and land ownership after 1945, meaning that the communities living here do not have a cultural connection with the area. Historically this feeling of impermanence resulted in a reluctance to commit or invest in land management. The predominance of large state owned farms during the communist era and subsequent fall of that system also resulted in a lack of personal connection or feeling of ownership of the area. Combined with relatively recent entry into the EU, this has meant farming systems have not been intensified as they have elsewhere and in some cases land abandonment has favoured wildlife. For many habitats though, extensive farming systems are crucial to their maintenance and in the next few years, there is a very real challenge in striking the balance between getting active management of nature conservation areas and avoiding the intensification that has seen the dramatic decline in farmland wildlife elsewhere in the EU investigate this site.
A less obvious result of the lack of connection to the land is a low level of awareness of the biological richness of the area and few attempts to capitalise on this. We saw almost no instances of marketing of local products and, with the exception of the cheese produced by the NGO, none were using the link with management for wildlife as their selling point. There is a significant opportunity here to both enrich the experience of visitors to the area and benefit local communities. It appears that the Polish market for this type of produce is currently very small but it will inevitable grow and the idea of marketing a quality product that benefits the local wildlife should be a way for people to get a greater return from their product.
The potential for ecotourism in the area is significant and currently largely untapped. Despite this not being the best time of year to visit many of the wetlands and the area being particularly dry, we saw a wealth of wildlife during our stay. Crucially we felt we were in a wildlife rich and diverse landscape, quite different to in many other parts of Europe where a nature reserve may feel like an island in a sea of intensively managed land. The easy with which visitors can get stunning views of species such as white tailed eagle and the abundance of these birds alone would make this a significant tourism draw at home but this is not the case in West Pomerania. As potential visitors 20 we could see the need for more in the way of viewing facilities and interpretation to create a good visitor experience and it was good to hear innovative ideas being developed like the cycle route across the old railway bridge. However, we could also see that more resource is required to make this a success, in particular an investment in core staff within NGOs is required and we understand the challenges in financing this. It was also apparent that without greater care in the way EU agricultural subsidies are distributed and EU legislation such as the Water Framework Directive implemented, there is a real danger that the fantastic wildlife of this area will fail to benefit and may even be damaged, as it has been elsewhere. This would be to the detriment of the communities and economy of the area as well as the wildlife.
The course was an intensive way to learn a lot about nature conservation in an area none of the group knew before the visit and we certainly achieved that. It was also a wonderful opportunity to experience the wildlife of an area that has a lot to offer the eco-tourist in the company of the people who are working hard to conserve it. The memories of such an abundance of white-tailed eagles, cranes, red-backed shrikes and stunning landscapes will stay with us all for a long time, as will the commitment and enthusiasm of the warm and friendly staff who enhanced our experience so much.
We are grateful to everyone who gave their time to show us their sites and projects during the course. In particular to Dorota Janicka (Director of Landscape Parks) and her colleagues Igor Szakowski and Karolina Bloom for their welcome and for arranging excellent field visits within Cedynia Landscape Park and to the Marshal Office in Szczecin for their hospitality. Thank you to Konrad Wypychowski, Director of the Ujście Warty National Park and Malgorzata Torbe of the Society for the Coast for making time to show us some of the amazing wildlife and sites under their care.
Above all, thank you to Dr Kazimierz Rabski for hosting and coordinating all aspects of this course. His knowledge and enthusiasm for the wildlife, history, landscape and culture of West Pomerania were key to making this course so successful.
This course was made possible thanks to generous support from Erasmus+. Thank you to Libby Urquhart of ARCH for facilitating our participation on this course.
Aedan Smith (Head of Planning and Development, RSPB Scotland)
David Anderson (Inner Forth Futurescape Officer, RSPB Scotland)
Glen Campbell (Reserves Project Officer, Scottish Wildlife Trust)
Sheila George (Land Use Policy Officer, RSPB Scotland)
Thomas Quinn (Parliamentary Officer, RSPB Scotland)
Zoë Clelland (Conservation Manager – South and West Scotland, RSPB Scotland)
Back to the start: Case Study 1: Ujscie Warty National Park