Group Report, Introduction, Conclusions & Learning Points

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Group Report for the Erasmus + Structured Adult Education for Staff Course

NET 4 Managing our Natural and Cultural Heritage Assets – “Biodiversity and Communities in Bulgaria” hosted by Devetaki Plateau Association from 23 – 30th September 2018


During September 2018 we, a group of 8 people from Scotland working in the field of nature and heritage conservation, travelled to the central area of Bulgaria to explore how they link cultural heritage and biodiversity, encourage engagement in their traditions and crafts, and how their heritage helps to sustain local communities and economies.

Expertly hosted by the Devetaki Plateau Association we experienced a range of excursions and conversations with experts which allowed us to experience how Bulgarian social and cultural landscapes are managed for the benefit of people, nature and heritage.

Our itinerary started in Sofia before travelling to Troyan to attend the Bulgarian Plum and Rakia Festival. During the next 6 days we visited the Craft Museum, Oreshak Village & International Crafts Exhibition, Troyan Monastery, Cherni Ossam Nature Museum, Vidima Waterfall & Central National Park, the Eco Art Guesthouse and pottery making, toured Devetaki Plateau including the cave inhabited by 35,000 bats at Devetaki Cave, Museum of Water, Fortress in Lovech, Gorsko Slivovo Village, Karmolin Village Cultural Centre and Grada Fortress, Etara Ethnograpic Museum, Kosmatka Thracian Tomb, Sofia Museum and Boyana Church in Sofia.

The study trip provided a very varied and immersive experience and exceeded our expectations as being an inspirational insight into the approach taken in Bulgaria to the challenges we also face in Scotland – loss of habitat and species, concern over connecting people to nature, pressures on land use and conserving archaeological heritage where the opportunity is greater than the funds available. Individually we aimed to develop our skills and understanding of different approaches and to bring back learning to our own organisations. We also made connections with colleagues in Bulgaria and within the Scottish heritage sector.

Our group report

Each participant found their inspiration and learning in a different aspect of the programme, therefore this report is structured with chapters authored by participants. We also used various approaches to recording these experiences including photography, audio recording, specimen collecting, journal creation, drawing, pottery, jewellery making and food/drink tasting! The journal approach was something the group were particularly inspired by, and both Rebecca and Ellie created artwork to record the trip. The journal work of Ellie Dimambro-Denson is provided in Appendix 1.

Contents include:

  • Hand working and crafting – Amy Mitchell, Consultant Chartered Forester and Surveyor

  • Connecting with nature – Ben Leyshon, Scottish Natural Heritage

  • Nature as our inspiration – Rebecca Crawford, Butterfly Conservation

  • Combining creativity with wildlife conservation – Ellie Dimambro-Denson, RSPB Abernethy

  • Protecting our woodlands and a perspective from Bulgaria– Ian Price, The Woodland Trust

  • Herbal drinks in central Bulgaria – Davie Black, Scottish Mountaineering Council

  • Partnership working, within and beyond the EU – Martin McComb, Scottish Wildlife Trust

  • Report editing and conclusion – Claire Carter, RSPB Scotland

  • Thanks and appreciation to Erasmus +, Arch Network and our hosts at Devetaki Plateau Association and Troyan Craft Museum.

Appendix 1 – Journal of study tour by Ellie Dimambro-Denson

Our group – exploring the Bulgarian Central National Park on way to the Vidima Waterfall

Conclusion and Learning Points:

We have returned home from our trip to Bulgaria refreshed with new ideas and an insight into how other European countries approach connecting communities with their natural and historical environment. Bulgaria takes a holistic approach by including arts, heritage, festivals, folklore and history into their engagement around our natural and cultural heritage. They encourage their citizens to engage in crafts using inspiration from the natural world, to appreciate the intrinsic value of nature and to conserve special places for future generations.

In summary the main learning themes were:

  • The connection of the people to their land can be seen in every aspect of daily life; in the food and drink, the crafts, festivals and traditions. The connection that people in rural Bulgaria have with their environment contrasts with the disconnect that many people in Scotland have with our environment although we have strategies in place to address this.

  • Events and festivals play a key role in Bulgaria and have been developed, linked to seasons or seasonal produce, to act as a focus of celebration, tourism, education and community engagement.

  • Tourism is still developing with most marketing not focussed on nature or heritage but directed to winter sports or the seaside resorts of the Black Sea. The Devetaki Plateau Association are marketing and interpreting their heritage and strengthening community bonds as a result. The wealth of archaeological sites and cultural heritage deserve more prominence on a world stage.

  • Bulgaria a country which is developing its tourism infrastructure but it relies on funding to preserve culture and heritage and interpret it beyond local communities. It is benefiting from EU funding as well as other funds with an interest in Bulgaria.

  • The small-scale production of crafts and food products that are made in traditional ways is a way of life and an economic necessity. Visitors arrive from all over the world to participate in organised training events hosted throughout the year covering a range of traditional crafts and in Bulgaria it is typical, even expected, to participate in, promote, educate and celebrate craft work.

  • While we often rely on science to explain our approach to nature conservation in Scotland, there is much to recommend how a well-rounded dissemination of information can be done, to catch the attention of visitors when communicating conservation to the public through creative approaches and arts-based activities.

  • Culinary uses of plants are very popular and herbal medicines have a strong tradition. The use of herbs as tonics and flavourings in drinks may fall between these two disciplines, or a link between the culinary and medicinal.

  • The Bulgarian national park is protected and there is the presence of brown bears, lynx and wolves in the vicinity providing an ecosystem balance which allows abundance of trees and native woodland.

We also benefitted from developing our own skills including:

  • Analytical skills around the interpretation of information,

  • Team working and networking with colleagues,

  • Reflection on experiences and turning these into tangible actions on return to our day jobs,

  • Artistic skills – where we experienced hands-on opportunities for pottery and jewellery making,

  • Language skills – although perhaps not as much as we would have liked due to our excellent guides being so proficient in English,

  • Stronger relationships across the Scottish heritage sector due to friendships made during the trip,

  • Ongoing affection and connections made with our hosts in Bulgaria – mainly Velislava Chilingirova from Devetaki Plateau Association and Desislava Vutova Curator of the Troyan Crafts Museum.

Thanks and appreciation

A huge thank you to Erasmus + for providing the funding and provision of this Adult Education for Staff Course.

Thank you to Libby Urquhart and Seona Anderson from Arch Network for organising the trip and ensuring we were prepared to gain as much learning from the trip as we hoped for. Overall, we all agree that the trip exceeded our expectations.

A very special thank you to Desi and Velis and all our other hosts for being so welcoming and providing such a wonderful experience. Our hosts at the EcoArt Guest house and Herbal House also made the experience truly memorable.

W e will certainly be telling everyone about the spectacular sights of Bulgaria and hope to be back for another visit one day! Velis created such an interesting programme and it was delivered with patience and attention to detail and she has created eight Scottish friends and advocates for the work of the Devetaki Plateau Association.

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