NATURE EXCHANGE 12TH – 19TH MAY 2012
Funded by the Leonardo da Vinci Agency
Introduction and acknowledgements
This Nature Exchange was organised by the Arch Network in Scotland and Satul Verde in Romania. We were led by Manuela Beloescu of Satul Verde (Green Village). The hire car had broken down so Manuela brought her own jeep and her friend Dan Dimitrou and his car to drive us round all week. The exchange was funded by the EC’s Leonardo da Vinci Agency. We collectively extend our thanks and appreciation to these organisations and individuals and to everyone else who guided us and talked to us about their lives and work.
We were visiting Banat the SW Region of Romania which is mostly bordered by Hungary and Serbia. Satul Verde promote rural heritage and traditional skills and focus on sustainable use of natural resources and nature conservation. Theme for the week was managing rich biodiversity in a cultural landscape scarred by industry.
Five people went from Scotland to Romania on this on the Nature Exchange, all involved in land use and training to some extent: 2 ecologists, 2 foresters, 2 farmers and a fisherman (some of us have more than one job).
This is the joint report of three of us: Natalie Fleming, Nim Kibbler and Carol Crawford for whom brief biographies are give below
Day 1. Arrive Timisoara airport, visit Union Square, Timisoara, drive 115km south to Cicolva Montana near Semenic-Cheile and Cheile Nerei-Beusnita National Parks.
Day 2. Walk old hill trackway through forest and meadow to Oravita. Guided visit to old Opera House and Pharmacy. Sheep milking in Ciclova Romana, Cow milking in Ciclova Romana.
Day 3. Drive to the Rudaria river gorges. Guided visit to grain mills used by the villagers of Eftimie Murgu. On to Anini to meet priest. Lunch in church and hear about mining decline and restoration of the church and its paintings. Return to Oravita on old train.
Day 4. Drive to Bazia where Danube enters Romania. Drive along Danube to near Moldova Nova for lunch. Visit fishermen in their village then drive to forest village of Bigar.
Day 5. Visit village of Gornea and a garden. Drive to Danube and along to the Danube Gorges National Park and a fossil park. Lunch at Baile Herculane spa town. Visit meadow above town.
Day 6. Guided Walk in Cheile Nerei-Beusnita National Park with the biologists. Visit monastery and walk up to a famous cave on Rol Mountain. Learn wildlife and its protection.
Day 7. Drive to Sasca Montana in National Park. Walk to the blue pool and Beiusnita waterfall. Visit fish farm. Lunch in Oravita. Afternoon along Nera gorges on old route with tunnels
There are more details in relation our work and interests in the individual reports which follow.
These biographies are in the order in which reports appear. We each says more about our life and work in their own reports
I am project manager for a little charity in East Ayrshire, we have two members of staff and do environmental projects around the coal mining area. It suffers from the decline of deep mining and still has active surface coal mines today. Our charity is a partnership of eight organisations including industry, conservation groups and the local authority. Recently we have been focusing on creating habitat networks and providing volunteering opportunities for local people. I’ve also worked at SNH and spent some time living and working in a theraputic community (theraputic horitculture – growing vegetables). I have a really wide range of interests and love sport (particularly running and cycling).
I came to Scotland from Yorkshire about 6 years ago; I’ve lived in Edinburgh ever since. I am a youth worker at Gorgie City Farm, where we run a youth project for people aged 13 to 18 years of age. These young people come from a range of backgrounds and often have many barriers in their lives, causing them to be socially excluded in some way. They volunteer with us half a day a week and learn to care for our pet and farm animals. It’s hoped that they learn new skills and that the project helps them develop themselves. I’ve been doing this 3 years. I also volunteer for Oxfam and work with young homeless people I also have an allotment….
I’ve always lived in south Scotland (except 2 years VSO in Malawi). I’m and ecologist and forester and have been running my own consultancy in Ayrshire for 25 years. I specialise in botanical and vegetation surveys, ecological impact assessment, conservation management plans and ecological monitoring. Voluntary commitments include Royal Scottish Forestry Society Council (RSFS) and main organiser of the Native Woodland Discussion Group (NWDG) annual excursion in Galloway in April. I enjoy these things more than working for developers…. Spare time interests include travel, art, photography, fine wine and just botanising.
We’ve written about parts of the programme most relevant to our work and interests. Inevitably there is some overlap. Reports also contain comparisons with and lessons for Scotland
Natalie: Influences on the Landscape: Mining and Renewable Energy Industries
Nim: Community and Rural Skills
Carol: Land Use and Habitats
Natalie Fleming, CEI Project Manager
East Ayrshire Coalfield Environment Initiative (CEI)
INFLUENCES ON THE LANDSCAPE:
The challenges and impacts of the mining and renewable energy industries
We took off from Glasgow International Airport on 11th May 2012 en route to Timisoara, Romania. As I looked out the window we flew over South West Scotland where I live and work. Whitelee Windfarm stood out in the landscape, heading south I watched as we flew over the Afton Valley in New Cumnock, past Windy Standard Windfarm and out across the Southern Uplands. In passing it occurred to me how much easier it was to navigate using windfarms, reservoirs and coal sites rather than natural features as reference points, I put this down to hours studying maps of local developments.
When we arrived over Romania the landscape was nothing like the large fields of oil seed rape and dairy pasture we have in parts of the UK and instead was a patchwork of small arable crops intersected by straight roads and meandering rivers, it was clear that this was a very different landscape. During our week stay I discovered that there were many differences and similarities between South West Scotland and South West Romania in terms of landscape, industry and communities.
In Scotland I work in the coalfield area of East Ayrshire. This area continues to suffer from the legacy of the loss of the deep mining industry, in terms of economic decline, multiple deprivation and environmental degradation. Local regeneration is a key priority; through improving community pride and ensuring that the environment is protected for future generations, we are working to ensure a high quality environment in which people will enjoy living, working and visiting.
Romania: The Banat Region
In Romania we were exploring the Banat region in the West of the country. The presence of minerals and a history of mining and exploitation soon became apparent. On our second day we walked from our village, Ciclova Montana over the hill to Oraviţa where we visited the oldest theatre house in the country, a fully functional scaled down version of the Burghteater in Vienna. The theatre was built as a result of the rich metals in the area (uranium, copper, coal and gold) to entertain the Austrians and Hungarians who settled in the area. During 1856 a coal railway was built running from Serbia to the River Danube, passing through Oraviţa and Anina which we were visiting the next day.
Anina developed from an initial thirty-three Austrian and German families who settled to exploit the forest in this region. After discovering high quality coal the first mine was opened in 1790 and the coal exported via the Danube River. During the Communist period coal was mainly used within Romania or exported to Russia. Anina has only ever had deep mining, the deepest of these mines being 1km in depth. At its largest the town was home to over 20,000 people, today the population has decreased to 6000 as many people have left due to the high unemployment following mine closure, the last of which shut in 2006.
Initially and during the Communist regime coal mining shafts were dug by hand or using very basic tools. In 1920 a collapsed shaft resulted in the death of 200 people and in 2006 7 people died as a result of an explosion. The accident occurred during the change of shift in the morning as a result of a cable which wasn’t properly insulated creating a spark within the mine. It was five hours before emergency crews could access the mine.
When I arrived in Romania I knew that there was a history of coal mining, but I thought that some of this would be using opencast (surface mining) methods similar to what I am used to in Scotland. In Ayrshire as a whole deep mining shed around 17,000 jobs since 1945 and 4,000 jobs in the East Ayrshire coalfield since 1980 alone. There are now no deep mines left in East Ayrshire and surface mining is the predominant activity in the region. In 1992 surface mining was thought to employ around 450 workers in East Ayrshire who often required specialist skills so often came from outside the region Today the number of people directly employed by the mining industry has grown to around 750 people and there are many indirect economic benefits which are considered by the local authority when assessing applications for new mines. The area however still suffers from very high unemployment rates in comparison to the rest of the UK.
Comparing Anina, Romania and Ayrshire, Scotland
A similar town in Scotland for comparison would be New Cumnock in East Ayrshire. The town has a population of 4,022 (Census 2001) however the 2005 estimated population statistics show the population fell by nearly 1000 to 3,040. In 2001 it was reported that 32.59% of persons aged 17-74 were in full time employment (7.66% below the Scottish average), 29.32% of the population have a long term limiting illness (9.01% above the Scottish average) and 57.8% of persons aged 16-74 had no qualifications (24.57% above the Scottish average).
Top: Anina, Banat, Romania
Above: New Cumnock, East Ayrshire, Scotland
Commercial coal mining began in New Cumnock in the 1700s with the formation of the Afton Mining Company. The opening of a railway in 1850 created a boom in the industry and larger companies began to emerge including the Bank Coal Company and the Lanemark Coal Company which later merged to form New Cumnock Collieries Limited in 1901. The collieries were nationalised in 1945.
On Thursday 7 September 1950 at about 7.30pm a field of peat lying half a mile SW west of Knockshinnoch Colliery collapse down into the main coal seam. There were 135 people working underground at the time, 6 escaped through the downcast shaft, 116 managed to get to an unaffected area, which left 13 men missing. The rescue made headlines around the world, the 116 men were rescued using breathing equipment however the missing 13 all died in the disaster.
After almost 200 years of mining the last deep mine closed in the late 1960s; New Cumnock was badly affected as most people employed were in the mines. There is still a vast amount of coal in the New Cumnock valley, much of it now being extracted by surface mining methods.
The graph opposite shows the number of redundancies as a result of deep mine closures in Ayrshire, it should be noted however that prior to closure, most mines would have made substantial redundancies over time as operations ran down, so the true redundancy figures will be much higher. Towns in East Ayrshire are still suffering from the legacy of this decline with high unemployment, deprivation, high crime rates and many derelict buildings as businesses and people move out of the area.
Speaking to Alin, an Orthodox Priest in Anina, we learnt that now the mines are closed the hospital has also closed (creating a journey of over 100km for some people seeking medical attention) and similar to the situation in Scotland the area has experienced massive depopulation. There is still a nursing home in Anina. 90% of the people who come to the church are retired, in this region pensions are low but just enough to live on. Since moving to Anina, Alin has finished renovations on the Orthodox Church. He goes out to the wider communities particularly to the more remote areas, and he supports 13 children and 30 families.
Alin felt that politicians used the 2006 accident in Anina as an excuse to close the last of the mines. It became a political issue; it was easier to shut mines than to modernise the industry.
Alin reported that there may have been a little pollution at the surface when the deep mines were working at low depths but as there was only deep mining pollution was not an issue like it is for surface mining in Scotland. This is interesting as I heard reports from New Cumnock that during the height of the coal mining era the coal dust was so thick that it would settle inside people’s homes.
In Anina the trend is now for one person from each family to move abroad to work and send money back to sustain the family. Manuela told us that alcohol and drugs were not considered a problem for rural Romanian towns and villages, this is contrasting to our experience in Scotland where alcohol and drug related problems are prevalent in deprived rural towns.
The Orthodox church in Anina was originally built on the waste from the mines. The land was gifted by the Austrians/Hungarians in 1908 to build a church. It had to be built on foundations of wooden pylons (30m in depth) due to the wet and marshy conditions. Close to €1billion has been put into restoring the church – this funding has been provided by people with important connections to the mining industry. Today the congregation is 200-300 people every week.
In Scottish coal mining towns religion is also important with a range of Churches found throughout the region. During the height of the mining period miners also used to club together to improve their towns or provide social activities. In New Cumnock workers used to live in terraced houses called miners rows. In these small groups of houses there was a strong sense of community, however since the adoption of surface mining techniques these homes have had to be demolished to extract the coal from underneath. The communities were moved into a council estate built on the hill overlooking New Cumnock, however no attempt was made at the time to retain individual community groups from the miners rows and hence the community spirit and pride was lost.
On 25th May 1995 the Cumnock and Doon Valley Minerals Trust was set up in Scotland to hold and distribute funds from coal operators to offset the adverse affects caused within the former District of Cumnock and Doon Valley by opencast mining operations. Coal companies are required to pay a minimum rate of 27.5 pence per tonne of coal removed from a site into the Trust. The Trust has paid for many fantastic community projects; however the declining trend in population and unemployment has not been reversed in this region.
I asked Alin if he would like to see the coal mining return, he answered that he would like it to return so that families could return and could live together, so that they could have jobs, because without them the city is dead. I later asked Manuela the same question, she answered that if the coal mining wasn’t going to return then they needed to think of or attract another industry to the area.
All the young people have left Anina as they all want to work abroad. There are also no opportunities for people from Anina to move to and work in Timisoara because the rents are so high in comparison to the wages achievable. If Romanians move abroad they can send money back to their families and so a lot move to European countries such as Spain.
The train station in Anina was going to close as well but money from Austrians has kept it open for nostalgic reasons (as a tourism line) as it was built during the Austrian-Hungarian regime. Many Austrians visit in the summer but none of them stay in the area and so there is no tourism benefit in Anina and no real benefit for the town despite the beautiful surrounding landscape.
Alin admitted that it has been very sad in the last few years, there are no opportunities in the town for anyone; he worries if an investor did come to the town there would be no one left to hire. Alin felt that there was little chance of surface mining being adopted as the political situation and European regulations would make it very difficult.
Above: Craigman OCCS, East Ayrshire, Scotland Above: House of Water OCCS, New Cumnock, Scotland
Above: Hannaston OCCS, Scotland Above: Airds Moss (SAC designated site) with coal trucks, Scotland
I was struck by Alin’s commitment to the town and the amount of community work that he does which is over and above what most priests would do in their areas. Alin also has a young son, and of course he worries about the future for his family and could foresee having to leave the town for his family at some point in the future if things don’t improve.
In Anina the pit closures are still very recent (within the last six years), I went back to a couple of interviews with local New Cumnock miners where they discussed the immediate impact of the deep mines closing in New Cumnock to see whether their feelings and challenges were similar.
From: New Cumnock Interview with two of the men on the effects of pit closures in the Area – Cumnock and Doon Valley District Council Report (November 1992)
How would you describe what it was like in New Cumnock immediately after the closure of the Barony which was the last of the deep mines?
Mr Ferguson: “In talking to a lot of the other men, the majority of the people were in the same boat after the closure. Everybody was asking one another how much [redundancy] money they were getting, [……] there seems to be a level for the fifty to fifty four age group, and after fifty five it dropped. If you were perhaps sixty you got even less and these were the men that were complaining as some of them had been in the pits for forty-five year, and yet they were leaving with about £3000, £4000 or £5000 and some of the young men who had been in the pits for maybe eighteen years were leaving with £16,000 or £17,000. There was a lot of animosity at the time and a lot of unrest, and saying that ‘we would be better off working’, which you are. As far as I am concerned the best man is the one who is working everyday. After the closure it did not do away with the anger and hatred for the men who broke the strike. I know that because of a chap that I am friendly with. He was one of the men who broke the strike, and you could have no idea what this man has to stand even yet. The fact that he broke the strike has never been forgotten.”
Is it possible to give a rough figure from the New Cumnock area on the number of men who have managed to get and alternative job?
Mr Ferguson: “I would reckon taking some of the men who managed to get a job in England and what has been found round the area, I would say about 15%.”
What do you see in the future for the community of New Cumnock?
Mr Allan: “Well, I was going to say it’s only going to get worse, but it couldn’t get any worse. We are at rock bottom just now. I don’t agree with the opencast because they have helped this community and other communities for the pits to shut and they are reaping all the benefits out of our community and they have never put anything back in, so where is all the profit going to?
From what you are saying it’s probably quite galling to the miners that don’t have jobs, to see all the coal coming out with the opencast methods, and all the deep mines have closed?
Mr Allan: “It’s sickening seeing that happening in your own village”
What about the children, I mean there must be teenagers now that have left school, probably knowing they won’t get a job, do you think they will just kind of grow up and accept that as a way of life because they won’t know any different?
Mr Allan: “For what I see in this place, 90% of them are turning to crime and it’s a sin to see it.”
Do you feel that to ensure that New Cumnock will survive for generations to come that there really has to be work?
Mr Allan: “Yes, for our dignity we have to have work, we have lost our dignity and everything now; we have no dignity, because we have to have work.”
We also learnt a lot about the impact of Communism on Romania, and the effect of its withdrawal. Driving about we saw a lot of evidence of empty factories which had closed down since Communism and the almost empty blocks of flats where people lived. There were also a lot of wealth or wealth generating industries or tourism facilities that would have been open during the Austrian-Hungarian period but which were closed during the Communist Regime. All these buildings are left standing within the landscape and nature has begun to reclaim these sites. Dan expressed his desire to see these empty buildings taken down so that the land could be restored.
Far left: Baile Herculane, Spa Town now mostly derelict, founded by Emperor Trajan, Romania
Left: Buildings from the Anina – Oraviţa train journey, Romania
New Cumnock was also mined for Iron Ore, Limestone, Clay, Lead, Graphite, Copper, Antimony and Freestone. Today there are five operational surface mine sites surrounding the town and an extensive range of restored mines, bings and tips. Alin said that he thought it would be highly unlikely that surface mining would come to Anina. In my experience the environmental impacts of surface mining has been significant, despite improvements in restoration in recent years. There are a lot of surface mines in East Ayrshire and new sites are always opening up, the pressure for mining on the local authority and through the planning system is robust. I was worried about the potential future impacts on this area in Romania if surface mining was ever introduced as the landscape appears much more pristine and conserved at the moment; the area also has uranium, copper and gold as well as coal. The economic drive to open mines could be very significant; during the week both Dan and Calin mentioned companies from abroad who were interested in the region.
Above left: House of Water OCCS from the air, New Cumnock, East Ayrshire, Scotland
Above right: Restored Site: Knockshinnoch Lagoons, New Cumnock, East Ayrshire, Scotland
The National Park & Planning for Developments
Calin is Biologist for the National Park, which we visited on the last two days of our trip. I asked Calin about the pressures from industry, how the planning system worked and how they responded. We also discussed the rise in pressure from renewable energy. New Cumnock in Scotland is now under pressure for windfarm developments around the town (over 400 turbines could be sited between New Cumnock and Dalmellington) and windfarms are a very contentious issue in South West Scotland which has the highest concentration of them in the UK. I counted nine turbines in total during our travels in the Banat Region.
The National Park office in Oravita has twelve other members of staff, six of those are rangers and six are office based (including PR and IT support). Calin however is a survey biologist and has responsibilities in the office. There is an environmental committee of 12 experts across Romania which he sits on which deals with planning applications for developments.
Below: Cheile Nerei-Beuşniţa National Park, which has a canopy of beech (Fagus syvatica) and contains the amazing Ruscus hypoglossum
In the case of wind turbines,in Romania they are especially cautious of bird migratory routes, in particular along the boundaries of the forest and agricultural land. Calin gave an example where turbines placed on agricultural land led to the loss of that land for arable agriculture as the raptors have moved away from the area and the mice population has flourished.
Bat strike is also a problem due to the lights placed on top of the turbines. The lights attract insects and there is evidence of foraging bats being killed as a result of direct collisions with the turbines.
Calin was quite positive about the European protection afforded to species and to the National Park, I hope that this is something which will be sustained in the future as from my experiences in Scotland even European protection can sometimes not prevent development if a strong case (normally economic) is presented.
Above: Single turbine spotted from Oraviţa, Romania
The one area which Romania would really benefit in developing would be recycling industries. The rivers were carrying significant numbers of plastic bottles and we discussed the challenges of introducing modern recycling facilities and persuading people to recycle.
As we drove around we commented that there were no fences, that there was little monoculture agriculture (and no expanses of dairy pasture!) and instead there were vast waives of wildflower meadows and wide buffer strips around mixed low impact agriculture. In Ayrshire one of the new policies we are adopting from the Scottish Government is the Central Scotland Green Network, which aims to create networks of connected habitats within a fragmented landscape. It was wonderful to see that in Romania natural green networks were continuous; there was no habitat fragmentation in comparison to Ayrshire and the Central Belt of Scotland. Calin described the structure of the National Parks –the core and ‘integrated’ protection areas were surrounded by conservation zones and buffer areas which were all totally connected.
I left Romania with a wonderful sense of having explored a landscape in which people live sustainably in terms of nature conservation, the meadows, low impact agriculture and field margins demonstrating such valuable connected habitat for biodiversity. The connection between people and their environment in rural villages through a culture of food growing strikes me as something we are striving to get back, people seeming more content, happy and healthier in later life.
I was also very aware of the similarities facing Romanian towns in terms of unemployment and a decline in industry with those faced at home in Ayrshire, the tales from Anina could have easily been those from a mining town in Scotland. I hope that the people living and working in towns like Anina can find a solution for their communities and that they can avoid some of the social problems which now persist in some of our Scottish coal mining towns during this period directly following the closure of Romania’s deep mines.
I hope that as economic pressures increase, the stunning green landscape of the Banat region is not lost and that the people championing the Romanian environment can successfully conserve this amazing resource sustainably whilst continuing to enable the country to grow and develop.
Nim Kibbler, Youth work officer, Gorgie City Farm
I am currently employed as a youth worker at Gorgie City Farm (GCF), a 2.5-acre farm in the centre of Edinburgh. I’m responsible for funding, development and expansion of the youth work and social enterprises within the organisation. However, most of my work is based around the delivery of youth work and teaching animal husbandry skills to those accessing services from across Edinburgh and the Lothians.
We work with 13 – 18 years olds who are socially marginalised and/or struggling in mainstream education. This translates as many varied backgrounds and circumstances. We offer animal care as a tool to help the young people develop themselves and hope they find new skills that allow them to choose positive pathways.
I have also worked allotments in Edinburgh for the last 2 years. I find this to be a great place to learn about other living things. I also work for the Rock Trust, an organisation that works with young people experiencing homelessness.
My first impressions
Preconceptions: what I was expecting to see and what I believed I already knew.
- to see a strong family bonds and a wider understanding of community
- to see good organisation of community based support and assistance
- to witness high levels of self sufficiency, widespread arable and livestock based agriculture and much work being by hand, so being high in labour
- those providing this labour to be a mix of ages and community members
- crop growing and livestock raising done in a structured and organised manner
- this work shared between members of different families and community members
- to meet people with a lot of inherited skills, passed from generation to generation
I believed I knew:
- a little about the major social changes that have occurred in regards to the country’s politics and it’s people
- about the hardship that poverty and low wages causes within countries.
My first impressions didn’t differ too much from my expectations. The fields had wide margins with little in the way of fencing and a mixture of crops. The picture that emerged from meeting people who work and live in the villages Ciclova Romána and Montana, lived up to expectations about community structure, growing food, raising livestock and the skill sets they possessed.
It became apparent that there is a lack of young people taking on roles within the agricultural systems in place. While I met/saw a few young people in the village, these people were rarely helping with crop or livestock activities. My host explained that this was due to unemployment within the village, predominantly through the death of industries – specifically brewing in Ciclova Montana. Due to this young people had left to work abroad or in major cities such as Timisoara. The host explained that over the last 30 years young people had turned their backs on the traditional, self-sufficient but simplistic lifestyle of the older village members. They had chosen not to learn traditional crafts and skills or gain knowledge of growing crops or raising livestock.
Due to the abundance of land that villagers commonly have I was surprised to see young people turning to a more complex life on home or foreign asphalt. This seemed counter-intuitive to a British national who dreams, hopelessly and endlessly, of commanding her own land for food production. It also made me think of the number of young people who wish to access the youth project at GCF and the skills that they are seeking to learn.
This led me to reflect on the creation of city farms and community gardens across the UK, and wonder why so many grassroots organisations have called out for these green spaces since the 1960/70’s. This was summed up nicely recently by Monty Don of the BBC’s ‘Gardener’s World’:
“Working with the soil and the seasons, growing crops that are nurtured from tilling the soil to harvest and then shared with friendly people is one of the sanest, healthiest and most healing activities that man can undertake.”
A comparison with Scotland
Before looking at the distinct differences between community and rural skills in Scotland and Romania we should look at what happens here in regards to community-based agriculture. I hope to explain why I think that Romania has a model of agriculture that supports its communities well, while in the UK we are correcting mistakes made in the last 60 years. Most importantly I must explain why I feel that Romanians have chosen the wrong path at a shared crossroads in history.
I work for a community orientated city farm, like many others across the UK. In the UK community agriculture is found in two main places: city farms and community gardens. Often small to medium organizations oversee the running of these spaces and guide those who work the ground or care for livestock.
In Scotland the main type of community growing spaces are community allotments and therapeutic garden projects. These really began to take shape from around 1960 onwards, as local communities wanted to reinstate green spaces and the opportunity to re-learn rural skills. These plans were backed by local authorities and council funding. Studies and time have shown that city farms and community gardens have a profound impact upon the communities that they are situated within, teaching new skills, reducing ill health and creating better social cohesion.
They have become more popular and diversified in the last 10 years, with the resurgence of people wanting to ‘grow their own’ and learn livestock keeping skills. This fashion and change in culture is due to the rise in food prices, reduction in food quality, a desire for awareness of food production and concerns around the ecological impact of current food systems.
This resurgence is mirrored in the other common type of community agriculture; local authority allotments. In Edinburgh there are 24 allotment sites (2 of these are only raised beds) with 6 to 168 plots apiece. However, the average waiting time for a plot is 5.3 years.
While urban Scots have the chance to reconnect with the land through allotments, urban farms and community gardens, the countryside itself can appear off limits to public use. The majority of the countries’ arable soil is tilled by large scale farmers, many of whom are tenants for large businesses, although a lucky few are able to buy or rent crofts in the Northern and Western areas of Scotland. Crofts and privately owned smallholdings are still partly supported by the Scottish Government, through grants for housing repairs and using traditional building methods.
I believe difficulties with land prices and access to land in Scotland are due to the culture created by agribusiness. Several practices that profit driven companies adopt are damaging to the landscape and to local communities. They promote monoculture crops, using cheap labour from outside local communities which reduces diversity of crops and livestock. This causes increases in land prices which push out local buyers and reduce access to fields for local communities.
In Romania, villages have also organised a number of shared and private agricultural systems. They range from communally raising livestock to back garden food cultivation. It seems that everyone raised/living in a village in Romania has access to land and resources that allow them to keep livestock and produce food for themselves and others.
Even if they refuse to learn skills to progress with these activities, they are still brought up with a level of inherited knowledge. The older people, and those with learning disabilities who remain in the villages, appear to me to have a much healthier lifestyle. However, getting supplies and trading resources is much harder, as is gaining access to medical help and state benefits.
They have a structure for community-supported agriculture; the best example I saw of this was the shepherding system in common use. The Shepherd is hired by the community as a whole to care for the flock and distribute the products from the animals back to the owners. The shepherd is paid under £1 for a sheep in his care and the amount each community member pays is dependent on how many they own.
Another area of community-supported agriculture much in evidence was the field system, which may be similar to the old Scottish system of ‘run-rig’. While there are separate fields with boundaries in place, such as hedges and occasionally fencing, each field is divided in to strips no wider than 15 meters. A family/community member will own one or more of these ‘strips’ and will grow what they need upon it. This varies from alfalfa and grass for animal feed to a mixture of crops for trade and own food. This has created a varied and well maintained landscape.
The other main area of arable growing was in villagers’ back gardens. These were used for growing vegetables and fruit, and showed a trait by growers to plant using a certain model. The pictures here show the use of space and design to grow a large amount within a modest space.
I also saw numerous villagers keeping chickens, guinea fowl, rabbits, ducks, goats and pigs in their back gardens. This seems a great way to ensure self-sufficiency for a culture that consumes a lot of meat and where many traditional recipes are meat heavy.
One day our driver introduced us to a friend who was a veterinarian. In Scotland it is difficult to find vets who are comfortable with avian stock. This vet told me the majority of his income comes from artificial insemination, specifically of cows. This makes up around 70% of his work, while in the UK this only accounts for about 6% of a typical vet’s income. In the UK, the majority of a vet’s work will typically come from companion animals such as cats and dogs. He said the reason for the increase in artificial insemination was the reduction of bulls kept within villages. Where there were once 2 or 3 bulls in each village there are now typically only 2 within 10 villages. Therefore the requirement for insemination has increased and so catalogue shopping for semen and less diversity in the gene pool of the nation’s cattle.
While staying in Ciclova Montana we shopped at the Lidl supermarket in Oravita. There was a local fruit and meat market in the town where people came from the surrounding villages to trade and sell their produce. When we visited the market in the afternoon, there seemed to be little local produce there, all the fruit was imported and I was uncertain of the origin of the vegetables.
In Lidl the hosts explained that numerous supermarkets cropping up in towns central to surrounding rural areas such as this. They added that more people were coming to depend on supermarkets and buying out of season produce. I noticed that the majority of the meat sold there was imported, mainly from countries such as Poland.
This was a surprise as I had thought Romanians generally had a better connection to the food production system then the majority of those in the UK. To import meat seems counterproductive for a country with a low GDP, particularly one with a strong agricultural heritage which is seeking to grow economically.
When I spoke with people about my involvement with agriculture in Scotland, many seemed to understand the idea of a farm in the city but were unable to understand the urban upbringing of many British people and their lack of any rural skills. They were bemused and a bit baffled by the idea that the local authority, i.e. the government were required to fund such places.
Romanian programme relevant to my area of knowledge
We arrive in Romania, it is very warm and we drive to Ciclova Montana. On the way I watch through the windows the changing scenery from the busy city of Timisoara to the lush green landscape of countryside. I can get some idea of the common arable and cattle practices.
We walk over the hills between Ciclova Montanta and Oravita, the path we follow is hundreds of years old and still used by villagers driving cattle up to the grazing lands. We stopped to look at clearings made in the forest for grazing and the diversity of life within these fields.
In Oravita we look at the market where local villagers come to trade, it’s very quiet.
At 5pm we head towards Ciclova Romana and meet with the shepherds. They’re waiting to show us how they milk sheep. We have the opportunity to get hands on and to ask many questions about their work and the major issues they face. They let us try the milk and we returned home with some cheese for tea.
Before eating we visit a local woman who keeps 5 cows, she is currently 83 years old and has had to reduce the number which she keeps. She had brought them in for milking and tells us “As long as I am on my feet, I will care for my cows”.
We travel to Anina to see a set of traditional water mills that have been preserved and are still in use by the locals for milling flour from cereals they grow or trade for.
We then travel from Anina to Oravita on an old train line, also preserved for historic purposes. This let me see the landscape again and how it has been shaped and is used still for farming.
Days 4 and 5:
We visit Bigar and have another chance to look at the landscape altered through growing and farming. We drive along the Danube and see the tourism industry that is arriving along its banks, replacing some of the decreasing traditional trades.
Lessons for Romania and Lessons for Scotland
There are lessons to be learnt in comparing the countries’ sense of community and the rural skills that citizens possess.
In Scotland we have a large number of young people who wish to learn more about growing food, working the land and caring for animals. This is mirrored by an increasing number wishing to influence current food production and the cost of living, specifically food. Some also wish to land to be a smallholder or crofter and search for places where they can learn these skills.
I wanted to see what some young people I work with thought of the self-sufficient lifestyle of those I met in Romania. I produced two work sheets (included at the end) and received some interesting answers:
One young person when shown the typical Romanian house and asked ‘What do you like about the house, garden and livestock possibilities?’ wrote:
“I think it give them more operchunity to eat healthy and more quality food and nolige of livestock” (sic)
“I have a garden but not allowed to keep live animals in it. If allowed to keep animals in garden, I would keep rabbits”
The young people I work with want to learn about caring for animals and many hope to find a job or get a place at college working with animals. When I asked the young people if they would like a house like the Romanian’s and to be more self-sufficient the majority said yes.
“Yes. I would like to live in a house like this because you could get all of your basic needs in your garden rather than going to the shops. And that would give you more experience with the animals.”
The young people wished that there were more jobs like the shepherd’s in Scotland or more places at the agricultural colleges. All replied yes and gave some reasons why;
“I do. Just so young people can get the opertunity at doing animal care”
“Yes ‘cause you can learn about the sheeps behavior and environment. The job with animals would give you more experience with animals” (sic)
There is a lack of intergenerational work in Scotland between those with skills and those who wish to learn them. Although Romanians are moving away from their traditional rural lifestyle, their way of life allows this transfer of skills, something that Scotland is now missing.
The increase in the number of city farms, community allotments and gardening projects in Scotland demonstrates how skills have faded from today’s culture and are missed by its people. Given the opportunity to learn rural skills in an urban environment, people do, to the point where all our projects are full and we operate waiting lists. Oatridge College in Broxburn offers 140 places for animal care annually but receives around 4,000 applications for these places. The waiting lists for community allotments in Edinburgh also illustrates the desire to learn rural skills.
Until 30 years ago Romanians had this level of knowledge literally on the doorstep. They could learn and use these skills to make a living. In doing so they avoided relying on the government or becoming very poor. This has ceased in recent years as younger generations have moved into the cities and work within the service industries.
I spoke earlier about a shared crossroads in history. I meant the point in time where a country ceases farming on a small scale with many hands and passes this over to businesses/large scale farming operations. It then loses the diversity of animals and plants; skills and livelihoods for its people; and a multifaceted landscape. I am sure hard work on the land formed a healthier and happier population, certainly no worse (key medical advances aside) than today’s society, with its problems of mental and physical ill-health.
In the Romanian countryside this past is still visible and to a foreign eye looks marvellous. I do not doubt the poverty or hard work at the centre of it but I think it would be shame to move away from this altogether.
This past is almost invisible in Scotland and the rest of the UK. But we are realising the error of moving away from these lifestyles and are creating a modern alternative of it through city farms and community gardens. These are re-teaching the skills and the sense of pride that comes with this. Hopefully in time this will improve quality of life and the food market and also the visual landscape of our cities and countryside.
I left with the concern that if I travelled back to Romania as an old woman, around the same age as the lady with the cows, there would be little trace of the green striped hills that I had previously seen and nearly everyone would live in cities. I wonder whether after 60 years I would be able to visit a city farm in Timisoara and whether they would be on the same path as we are now in Scotland.
Community and rural skills
This is an example of the layout of a rural house in a Romanian village or small town. The country and its people are poorer than we are in the UK. One result of this is that they are much more ‘self sufficient’. This means they provide or make the things they need, such as food, clothes, furniture and even the houses they live in.
An advantage of this way of living is that you don’t rely on others to provide you with the basics you need to live- for example food. So for instance, rather than buying vegetables from Tesco’s you have them in it your back garden. It means that food is cheaper to get but you have to put more work into getting it- actually growing the vegetables.
A common sight in a Romanian garden is the chickens – so they have chicken meat and eggs. They grow vegetables and fruit. Sometimes they have pigs or goats that provide meat and milk. Some Romanians keep sheep with a Shepherd or may have cows. These again produce milk, cheese and meat.
How does the Romanian house and garden compare to your home?
What do you like about the house, garden and livestock possibilities?
Would you like to have a house like this and be more self-sufficient?
Nature Exchange 2012: Romania
Community and rural skills
While in Romania I visited some Shepherds who have this field set up for their flock of sheep. The shepherd is paid by the villagers of Ciclova Romana and Ciclova Montana to look after their sheep. The villagers then get the milk and cheese back from their sheep.
All the villagers pay the shepherd just under £1 for each sheep they care for each month. When I visited they had a flock of 150 sheep and lambs – so he was paid around £140 each month. This sounds like very little to us but it’s not a bad wage for people in Romania, many of whom find it difficult to get a job at all.
The shepherds let the sheep graze on the hillside all day then bring them in to the holding pen at 5pm to be milked. They move the flock into the milking holding pen where the funnel shape of the pen means they queue to get through the milking shed and back into the first pen. In the shed there are two workers who grab hold of and milk each sheep as it passes through the shed. It takes them about 1 hour and a half to milk all the sheep.
They have to do this at 5am and 5pm.
When the summer arrives often the shepherds leave to go and see if they can find a village that has more sheep – so more money each month. They have a small house provided for them each place they stay.
Do you think this is a good job?
Do you think you might like a job as a shepherd if it was like this in UK?
Do you wish there were more hands on jobs or learning experiences to do with livestock such as sheep in the UK?
LAND USE AND WILDLIFE HABITATS
Carol Crawford, Principal, The Natural Resource Consultancy.
I’m been running The Natural Resource Consultancy (NRC) in Ayrshire for 25 years. East Ayrshire is the most post-industrial part of the county; deep mining ceased in the late 1980s. Since then opencast coal mining has been a major form of development and I’ve been involved in a number of schemes. North Ayrshire and South Ayrshire from Ayr north, are more industrial and built-up with better transport networks; South Ayrshire south of Ayr is more rural. I’ve worked on several housing and golf course/leisure developments in Ayrshire in W Scotland.
I have a big interest in native woodlands, ancient remnants of which are confined to less than 1% of Ayrshire and lowland Scotland, often in riparian slivers. Originally forests covered at least two-thirds of Scotland, before they were cleared for agriculture, timber and security. I’ve been in the Native Woodlands Discussion Group (NWDG) for over 20 years and am past newsletter editor, workshop co-ordinator and committee chair. I’ve carried out research into ancient woodland indicator plants and published papers and run courses on this topic. A few days before departure I ran a course on woodland plant ID and ecology at Auchincruive Estate, near Ayr. I’m interested in other habitats too and continually trying to improve my botanical skills; as I walk round sites I try to identify all the plants I see.
I‘ve had an interest in land-use history since my first research post at Edinburgh University in 1978. Under contract to the then Nature Conservancy Council we used a comparative air photo-interpretation technique to measure post-war habitat changes in lowland agricultural Scotland. We compared air photos from the 1940s with those from the 1970s. I followed this up with my own research to put to habitat changes into historical and ecological perspective for an MPhil. So I continually try to ‘read’ landscapes and understand what shaped them.
I am grateful to Arch, Leonardo da Vinci Agency and Satul Verde for the chance to visit and learn about Romania. Thanks also to our tireless leaders Manuela and Dan and to the four other participants who encouraged me when I lagged behind! We found the people we met kind and courteous and happy to tell us about their lives. Thank-you to all of them.
The first day was my birthday; I was presented with a wonderful photographic book on Romania by leaders and fellow participants – thank-you again. Two pictures from it are included below.
Romania lies at similar latitudes to southern France or northern Italy and is land-locked apart from the south-east region by the Black Sea. The climate is temperate, like ours, but continental with hot summers and very cold winters; our temperatures are less extreme owing to oceanic influences. We almost wilted on arrival in the high 20s° C but the rest of the week was cool and wet, cloud obscuring high views. In winter 2010-2011 there were 2 weeks with temperatures of -20°C; the Danube froze and boats couldn’t move! At the time of our visit spring was 3 weeks ahead of Ayrshire with all trees, including ash, fully in leaf and many in blossom, including elder. Here ash wasn’t in leaf and elder in flower till early June.
Climate and weather photos
Day 1 in Union Square Timisoara, we sought shade at right Rain at the Danube; we lived in waterproofs
Cloud over the forest Dusky crane’s-bill, in cloud zone of beech forest
Autumn at the Danube gorges – from Romania book Winter – from Romania book
Romania is more religious country than Scotland today, 87% the Orthodox church, 5% Roman Catholic. Like Scotland city folk don’t go to church so much as those in rural areas – ‘God is all around’ Dan said. Romanian like Spanish, Italian and French is a Latin-based language. The biologists we met were amused at my pronunciation of Latin plant names; but it still helped us communicate about plants.
Romania is 3 times the size of Scotland (91,725 cf 30,414 sq miles) and has 4 times as many people (21.4 cf 5.25 million).
Below are my impressions from the tour. It left me with more questions than answers so I’ve since done some research, from which I’ve included relevant points.
Manuela and Dan talked about historical forces including the Roman, Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires and more recently communism. Imperial influences could be positive and negative but often caused a drain of revenue and resources from Romania to the centre of the empire. Communism, which began after the 1937-44 war and continued till 1989, seems to be regarded as a form of imperialism with corruption and loss of control, initially to Russia. Memories of Communism are raw. Manuela was brought up on a farm in Transylvania and thinks the effects of communism on mountain villages were less severe; traditional culture continued which favoured nature.
There were hints from people we met that the government was still centralised and dictatorial. Romania’s Standby Agreement with the IMF broke down in 2005; the IMF was critical of the government’s policies. Corruption, red-tape and widespread poverty continue to hamper recovery from communism.
Early parts of programme
We flew to Timisoara, 4th largest city in Romania with 340,000 people, and largest city in Banat.
The plains between Timisoara and our destination had the most intensive agriculture – huge open arable flats, some being fertilised with inorganic chemicals, other machines arriving with spray drums. Cereals such as wheat and maize were seen. We also saw some herds of cattle and oxen in grass flats.
At the first river south of Timisoara we saw vehicles pulled up and people wading in to cool off. We later learned that until comparatively recently all rubbish was tipped into rivers in Romania; there was no rubbish collection service. Some people also dump rubbish into rivers and gorges in Scotland though we’ve had rubbish collection for a long time; other people at home are conscious about recycling – its organisation is just beginning in Romania.
Familiar trees and shrubs such as ash, poplar, elder, dog-rose and hawthorn and less familiar species such as black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) lined the road. The first big wildlife was seen in the village of Moravita – storks inside or standing guard over big nests of twigs on the tops of electricity poles.
When we reached Oravita, the town nearest our mountain base, the landscape had become more rolling with orchards (plum, peach, walnut, apple), pasture and woodlands on high ground. We learned the Romans mined gold here 2000 years ago to pay for their armies across Europe.
Catholic Church (opposite Orthodox one) Timisoara. Manuela explains about shrines at crossroads, near Oravita
The restored church (Orthodox) in Anina Restored paintings above the altar in Anina church
Icon of the unknown saint found by shepherds attracted by singing to a cave. Monastery built on the site of cave
Recently carved monument to Decebal by the Danube; the last king before invasion of Romans in AD 107
Buildings from the Austro-Hungarian era in Timisoara (Little Vienna). Inside Oravita opera house, built in same era
Typical traditional village houses in Gornea. Sheep’s cheese house door in Ciclova Romana
Next day were heard about the mining in the Austro-Hungarian era and visited the opera house built to entertain royalty and workers from Austria, Germany etc. Oravita, like Timisoara has houses in the Austro-Hungarian style with colourful painted walls (purple, blue, pink, green, gold) and white plasterwork. In Oravita some facades have been restored, others crumble.
Houses in nearby villages are simpler in style, with wooden or metal doors often the only parts decorated. Roman and Turkish influences can be imagined. On day 1 we stopped in Ciclova Romana and Manuela went to collect sheep’s cheese from behind such a door. 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, e.g. 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 may have emptied into the river which rushed past).
Almost 50% of the population lives in Romania’s 12,000 villages and two thirds of them are engaged in agriculture. Most village houses have gardens growing vegetables, fruit, vines, salad leaves etc and holding livestock such as pigs for which grass is brought in by carts pulled by hand or horse. Many gardens are hidden behind the houses but in Coronini, by the Danube, we could see the gardens stretching up the banks behind with bits of hedge between. Each household might have 1 – 5 dairy cows which are put out to pasture on low slopes between scrub and woodland after morning milking and brought home 1 – 2 more times per day for milking, their bells making them easily found, someone with a stick moving them along. We also saw pigs and horses grazing low pasture and goats in orchards. Some farmers have sheep which are looked after by one shepherd on behalf of the village, helped by the owners in turn at milking times. We were able to help with this milking or watch.
There are few cars and bicycles in the villages. Walking is still an important way of getting about and gathering. We took an old path through the forest and over the hill to Oravita. It was still partly cobbled and well used. In the Nera gorges we walked a route which had been carved out of the limestone a long time ago. It had several tunnels. (This is now a tourist route in the National Park).
Flat ground at the base of slopes away from villages supports strips of crops, cereals, vines, hay etc; each owner having several strips which may be scattered. It’s strange to see haystacks which I’ve only read about or seen pictures of. I saw them on the 1940s air photos studied in my first job, grouped beside farm steadings. The landscapes we saw in Romania are more akin to mediaeval pre-enclosure agriculture in Scotland. They brought home the realities of those times. The scenes we saw may be charming and lovely but half the farmers are living at subsistence or semi-subsistence levels (holdings of 1.17 and 3.3ha respectively). Of 4.4 million agricultural units 97% are these sizes. There’s also an ageing farmer population; younger people moving to cities or working abroad rather than taking on the family land. I’ve heard of people from Scotland buying farmland in Romania because it is cheap, an easier way to get on the farming ladder than at home where land prices are inflated. Village houses are becoming second homes for city- dwellers in Timisoara (like the one we are staying in). There does not seem to be the same
Village agriculture photos
Garden at the edge of Oravita and the forest
Vines viewed from a garden toaleta Grass been transported by horse and cart
A lady drags green fodder to her garden Through garden gate in Ciclova Romana
Wider agriculture photos
Goats in an orchard in Gornea Scrub pasture between Ciclova Montana and Oravita
Pigs grazing wood pasture, erosion lower Manuela milking The shepherd and the milk
Hay stacks and terraced orchards. Strips of beans, hay and other fodder, distant pasture and forest
as Spain where city folk return at weekends to look after their plots.
In Scotland there were 52,500 agricultural holdings in 2011 covering 6.2 million ha (about 80% of country) giving an average holding size of 120ha. Only 1 million ha in Scotland is arable (15%). The rest is grazing; because of poor soils and the wet climate Scotland is best suited to growing grass/stock rearing. Another 15% is regularly reseeded grassland in the lowlands, e.g. for dairy cattle in Ayrshire. Most arable land is in east Scotland, but there is a band along the Ayrshire coast which is drier, and with better soils than inland, where the famous early Ayrshire tatties (potatoes) are grown. Agricultural land covers 62% of Romania and of this 64% is arable; this emphasises the better soils and climate there.
One day in the gorges of the River Rudaria we are shown water-powered grain mills (mostly constructed of wood) some of which are still in use by the villagers of Eftimie Murgu. Some mills are very old – the tunnel bringing in water to one lade dug out in the 15th century. They would be archaeological sites in Scotland! Village associations/co-operatives seem to be traditional, e.g. for shepherding and cheese distribution, and management of these mills. Each house’s front door used to have a different tool badge, the owners would bring that tool in times of emergency. Some badges remain; a pitchfork, an axe, a scythe. In a village by the Danube we learn about a fishermans co-operative. These are examples of communism from the bottom-up rather than what was centrally dictated and regulated for 45 post-war years.
Farmers have limited contacts with markets outside their villages. Romanian Agricultural Policy is to: encourage transfer of land from old (over 62 years) farmers to young ones using incentives to sell or rent; promote the concentration of land into commercial holdings; and to support marketing. So things are likely to change and village traditions and skills may continue to die out.
When we reached the mountains and Ciclova Montana we were immediately impressed by the extent of the forest and that it reached over the top of the hills. In Scotland extensive forests which reach hilltops are nearly all planted conifers, a less attractive sight. Though we visited forests nearly every day in Romania and often saw lorries carrying beech trunks to market, we didn’t get much information about forest policy, the next section has been researched since.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Rural Development makes the policies. Approximately 50% is production forestry and 50% protected – for soils, water and biodiversity including areas in National Parks. Although the first National Parks were established in the 1930s, more were set up from the 1980s and now total 0.4 million ha. 80% of National Parks are forested. There is a high percentage of protected forest in Banat Region which may be why we didn’t learn much about production forestry.
Forest covers 29% of Romania, less than the European average of 36% and much less than the original extent of 70%. Of this 5% is primary forest, another 73% naturally regenerated and 22% planted. In Scotland forestry covers 18% of the land but is nearly all non-native conifers. The main types of Romanian forest are conifers (30%), beech – pure and mixed (30%), oak (20%) and mixed broadleaves (20%). The main types of forest we saw were ash-maple and other broadleaves lower down, and almost pure beech higher up.
In the 1930s the state owned 30% of forests and 70% was private or community-owned. During communism the state owned 100%. Forests are gradually being returned to former owners’ families; by 2010 state ownership was 80% and private 20%. Eventually there will be 66%
Old path from Ciclova Montana to Oravita, lime-maple forest Old route cut from limestone in the Nera gorges
Boats used by fishermen in co-op by Danube. Old mill dam in Rudaria gorges. Inside a grain mill still in use
Grain mill, dam and lade from above showing wood use. Old train which runs slowly from Oravita to Anina
private ownership. However individual holdings are small which makes it difficult to apply policies. In 1996 the average size of a forest holding was 0.5ha, 22% of holdings were less than 1ha, 36% 1-5 ha and 35% 5 – 50 ha.
Overall 64% of forests are on mountains, 24% on hills and 10% on plains, i.e. lower ground has been exploited first. Production forestry employed 60,000 people in 2005, protection forestry less than 1000.
The main timber use we saw was firewood; we learned each person uses 7m3 of firewood a year. For most people it is the only heating source. Average annual timber production was estimated at 14 million m3 in 1996 so in a country of over 20 million people this level of firewood use may not be sustainable. Villagers also collect fallen branches and stems; a permit is required from the ministry for cutting.
We met a forester at his house in the National Park. He is able to collect snow-broken and windblown trees from 1000 ha of the ‘Integrated Protection’ land but not to fell. He collects 300-500m3 firewood a year. Extraction is partly horse-drawn and partly mechanised. He was delighted to show us his horses.
In the agricultural area the main wildlife habitat is pasture: meadows, grassland in orchards and mosaics of grassland and scrub woodland. Much is semi-natural. Some areas were closely grazed, others on steep banks or meadows more remote from villages were starting to bloom. We were told they would be most colourful in June. We saw some species-rich ones. I could identify about 50% of the plants, at least to genus, and about half of that to species. I’ve identified some more since returning home using my plant books and ‘Flora of Romania online’. I couldn’t find a plant book covering Romania or that part of Europe to take with me and thought my British plant books would be too northern. However I’ve since found that my books do contain a lot of the plants we saw as they are native to south England. I regret not taking one of my plant books; it was frustrating not being able to ID everything! Road verges were also often species-rich.
Meadow plants seen include cock’s-foot and sweet vernal grasses, yellow sedge, field woodrush, vetches, bird’s-foot trefoil, clovers, daisies, sow-thistle, buttercups, bellflowers, yellow rattle, bedstraws, crosswort, dropwort, mullein, thyme, catchflies and campions, spurges, pinks, tassel hyacinth, milkwort, meadow clary, wild fennel, poppies, yarrow and knapweed.
How sustainable is the grazing? In wood pasture on the lower slopes it may be preventing tree and shrub regeneration and heavy grazing was preventing flowering or even causing erosion. On the whole these grasslands provide habitat for additional flora and invertebrates to those found in forests.
Forestry and forest views
Timber awaits collection, near Bigar forest village. Bigar houses built by Czech forest workers, some now 2nd homes
Forester’s house in National Park, forester in centre The forester’s horses where they graze and an old well
Views of forest at Oravita opera house windows View of forest from Anini-Oravita train
Panel in village door with forest view
Meadows: by Danube – flowering on slope, close-grazed by water; above Baile Herculane with wild fennel (tall yellow)
Boar scrapes in top right meadow, tufted vetch (purple). Tassel hyacinth in same meadow. Stork nest in Moravita
Wild pinks (Dianthus) on road verge in Rudaria gorge Poppies, knapweed and smoke tree on verge by Danube
In low forests near the village, lime and maple were the commonest trees: silver lime, large-leaved lime, Norway maple with ash, wild pear, elms, wild cherry (which we call gean), hornbeam, black locust and oaks. The understorey contained field maple, hazel, rowan, wild service tree, spindle, smoke tree, dogwood, hawthorn and blackthorn. Half of these are native to Scotland. Most grow in England, though some are garden or introduced species.
In rocky gorges and other riparian sites we saw alder, mulberry, lilac and willows as well. This forest type is the lime-maple ravine woodland, a priority habitat in the EC habitats Directive. We learned that the woodland in the gorges where the grain mills were sited had been burned 60 years ago. Our guide said this was because it held too many vipers (adders we call them). When I discussed this with the National Park biologist later on he said it was more likely that fire had been used to clear the forest. In Scotland adders are mostly seen on bare ground or rocks in open ground where they can bask; forests might be too cool. The ravine forest in the Rudaria gorges had regenerated well and it probably wouldn’t be burned nowadays as it is in the National Park.
I thought of when I helped look after Dalmellington Moss for the Scottish Wildlife Trust in the 1990s. Every spring it was burned by people in the town. It seemed to be an organised practice as is often found in mining areas. When you asked local people why the Moss got burnt each gave a different reason including: to get rid of midges, to get rid of coarse growth, because it has always been done.
The forest higher up the mountain contains beech in association with many of the species above. Beech may already have been cut from lower slopes nearer the villages as it seemed to be the most used tree. There were also some conifers higher up: Scots pine, Austrian pine, the endemic Banat pine (Pinus nigra ssp Banatica), Norway spruce, Silver fir and yew.
Many of the ground flora species are considered to be ancient woodland indicator at home including: wood melick, wood sedge, hard shield fern, sweet woodruff, wood anemone, wild garlic, wood spurge, dog’s mercury, toothwort (saprophytic), wild strawberry, cuckoo pint, sanicle, figwort and Solomon’s seal. Many grow in the ancient woods of Ayrshire and I was teaching them to foresters and ecologists days before going to Romania. Again things were a bit further on in Romania than at home, e.g. wild garlic was just starting to flower at home but was already past in the lower forest.
The day we spent with the National Park biologist Calin Urici and his wife Cristiela (also a biologist but currently looking after their son) was the day I learned most. They kindly brought along a Tree book which solved many ID puzzles of previous days. They were able to ID many plants for us and introduce us to some endemics and specialities like large butcher’s broom (on the park logo), wild lily, orchids, a fritillary (Fritillaria orientalis) and a hepatica (H. transsilvanica).
They also talked about uses of the plants – wild garlic leaves are commonly used as a vegetable and flavouring (but only before it flowers), large celandine is used to treat wounds, wild rhubarb goes into puddings, and spruce and pine buds are used to make a drink to soothe sore throats. We collected spruce buds and they made some throat soother for us to try next day.
Black locust (Robinia) in lower forest Wild lilac growing outside cave high in the forest
Wild garlic still flowering high in beech forest. Wild lily in the mid slope forest. Calin Urici shows us National Park logo
National park logo Ruscus hypoglossum (large butcher’s broom). Where Danube enters Romania, reedbeds, willows
Higher up we moved into a zone of pure beech – very atmospheric in the cloud and with stems clacking together in the wind. It had some trees and shrubs from lower down such as hornbeam, also some small-leaved lime and whitebeam. It was clear we had moved into a different climate zone as here the wild garlic was still in flower. This plant also tells us that the soils up there were fertile – at home the garlic is often confined to alluvial soils at the foot of slopes by rivers while mountain soils are acidic and infertile. Other plants seen in the cloud zone included dusky cranesbill, a saxifrage and a lungwort. Beech forest is also an EU priority habitat.
All the way up we heard birdsong. We heard cuckoos every day – cuckoos are not so common at home now as when I was young. Calin told us the National Parks (NPs) have 76 species of protected bird and 35 species of protected invertebrates. Priority mammals in this NP are bats (8 species in the NP), otter, lynx and lizard orchid. We had also learned that wolves and bears can be seen in other NPs and European bison is being reintroduced to one NP in association with Poland. The most exciting mammal we saw in our week was wild boar in a forest near the Danube, crossing the road to Bigar. We were told last year’s group saw a wolf on a meadow higher up the same route, but all we saw there that day was mist.
Calin is the only biologist in this 37,000 ha National Park and though trained as a zoologist he is expected to record all flora and fauna. His wife helps voluntarily. He works in an office with 12 other officers who tend to have first claim on the only vehicle so if he needs to survey an area further away in the NP he and his wife have to hitch-hike there! The Nikon DSLR camera with telephoto lens, which he was recording with, he had to buy himself – saved up for a year.
We also learned from Calin about different zones in the National Park: Core Protection (no intervention), Integrated protection (collection of firewood by the forester, no felling), Conservation zone (some felling and management) and farming zone. At the moment the lack of roads into mountain areas was also helping to protect forests and Cristiela felt ‘after we build roads there we won’t have any forest’.
Calin and Cristiela were excellent guides, with good English. They’d been away to university but were now happy living on the edge of Oravita and the forest, with a garden. Cristiela has a suspicion of imported vegetables such as broccoli and Calin hates visiting Timisoara – too busy and fast! Having heard about so many young people leaving it was good to meet a young couple who want to stay.
We saw many rivers in full flow after all the rain, a stream emerging from a hole in the ground in the forest where it hadn’t been seen for years and a lovely lake. We drove along the Danube which had a range of adjoining habitats from meadows to rocky wooded slopes. At Bazia where the Danube arrives in Romania there was a beach, reedbeds and swallows swooping over the surface for insects. Several cormorants were seen on posts ,with wings out to dry, and a heron watched.
· Many habitats we saw during the week were familiar to us but with a different make-up of tree and plant species, some of our northern ones and additional southern ones.
· Natural forest is much more extensive than at home, reaching over hilltops,supporting iconic large mammals lost from Scotland centuries ago. Looking after it is so important.
· Forest policy may be hard to implement due to increasing numbers of tiny forest holdings
· Forest protection policies are impressive – do they have resources to implement them?
· The agriculture was very different to what we have at home, similar scenes might have been seen 100s of year ago. Much is at subsistence level. People with agricultural smallholdings (or crofts) in Scotland have additional sources of income.
· This form of agriculture allows wildlife habitats to survive, particularly meadows and wood pasture but may not be sustainable long-term if agriculture policy is fully implemented
· The must be potential for vineyards, which are ideal for small parcels of land; all the vines we saw were for the owners’ use
· Romania is still recovering from the communism era and possibly previous imperial eras which led to a drain of resources out of the country
· With minerals such as gold, uranium and coal still in the ground and fertile soils from the plains to the mountain sides there must be potential for a higher standard of living
· There also seems to be good potential for tourism, particularly the ‘green tourism’ approach Satul Verde uses which benefits local communities too.
· With more tourists there may be more scope for selling local produce. In Ayrshire you can buy the early tatties direct from several farms on the coast and two have farm shops. In Guernsey many sell ‘hedge veg’ – surplus from their gardens with an honesty box.
· The Danube has huge potential but we saw very little tourism development till we got to the spa town of Baile Herculane and even there many older buildings were crumbling
v I learned a lot as you can see from above and I would like to go back and learn more, perhaps in a different way but it would be good to meet up with Satul Verde again
v I’d like to help in some way but all I’ve been able to come up with so far is the production of simple tree and plant guides for green tourists and I’m not sure how to take that forward
v I blogged briefly about the tour on my website (www.tnrc.co.uk) and will put a link to my report there.
v The report is also a good way of telling friends, family and colleagues about the trip.
v I will be writing articles in Scottish Forestry (the Royal Scottish Forestry Society Journal, RSFS) and the Native Woodlands Discussion Group (NWDG) newsletter this autumn and giving a talk to the Scottish Wildlife Trust next spring.
v It would be interesting to organise a study tour there for RSFS or NWDG
v Despite my frustration at not having a plant book I did learn quite a few new species of trees, shrubs and plants – in fact I’m still learning as I’ve still to identify some of my photos. This will help me in my future training and consultancy work
What I learned about land use has changed the way I think about certain things; this will have more subtle impacts.
CLC, NRC 13/06/12
1 leu banknote (worth 20p) with wild gentian on one side and eagle on reverse
10 lei banknote with wild rose on one side and rural scene on reverse
Logo for the National Park showing special Ruscus shrub and scorpion