The visit undertaken by representatives of the Coigach – Assynt Living Landscape (CALL) project was designed to facilitate an exchange of good practice between Romania and Scotland with the intention of building a critical mass of interested parties who can work with the wider community to make change happen locally, while spreading the word more widely across North and West Scotland. It came about after a previous visit by Amanda Bryan to Romania through the ARCH Network trainer programme. Monica Oprean is the main contact in Romania: a Director of Satul Verde www.satulverde.ro/en/ (‘Green Village’), Monica is very experienced in organising and leading these visits. Amanda made the initial links and helped CALL secure funds from the Arkleton Trust and Forestry Commission Scotland's Community
Seedcorn Fund to enable the 6 Scottish participants (4 from CALL – Julie Edwards, Chris Goodman, Lesley Muir, Roz Summers, plus Grant Holroyd from Knoydart and Amanda Calvert from Community Woodlands Association) to visit Romania. This case studydescribes the visit and outcomes. The group is now working on how to develop good practice, based on their experiences, and how to disseminate their experiences more widely. It is the start of a process which should have long-lasting benefits for the communities involved.
Grant, Amanda, Lesley, Roz, Chris (minus Julie!)
Remote rural communities in the West are faced with an ever increasing cost of living due to their dependence on goods and services that are produced elsewhere and have to be transported long distances. This is a trend that is likely to continue and there is a desire in some areas to consider how communities can if possible become more resilient and self sustaining.
Within this context in Scotland, particularly in the remote North and West Highlands, an emphasis on communitising assets has evolved as an important strategy in developing resilient communities. While some community owned estates are crofted (traditional tenant-based agriculture system), much of the land now owned and managed by communities does not have tenants who are working the land. Experiences of the groups are mixed and while the majority have been able to achieve benefits through employment creation, the provision of new house sites, opportunities for business creation and enabling greater access and recreation opportunities there is little evidence of individuals or groups of individuals within the communities (other than Directors) either engaging with the management of the land or accruing benefits from it. Some groups aspire to have greater engagement but have so far been unable to achieve this.
So Why Romania?
Counter to this is the experience in parts of Romania, specifically in the Apuseni Mountains, where resources are much more equitably shared and managed by individuals, the community and the state resulting in a relatively small carbon footprint with extensive use of both locally grown (agriculture and forestry based) and value added products. Wood is the main source of fuel and every village has a sawmill which serves local needs. Young people are encouraged and supported to remain in the area and newly married couples are gifted enough green timber to build a new house. There is evidence of a lifestyle which incorporates low food miles, local value adding, low carbon energy use, low waste production and high local reuse and recycling, strong and active cultural links to the land, and bio diverse landscapes actively managed in a low key way.
The Romania of today is in some ways similar to the Scotland of 40-50 years ago but more importantly has retained skills, culture and systems which mean it is better placed to respond to future challenges around sustainability and climate change. Communities in Scotland aspire to regain a more self-sustaining lifestyle, less dependent on, and less subject to, the vagaries of external influences. Communities in Romania are however on the cusp of significant changes with recent membership of the EU providing opportunities for support and also greater mobility and income earning opportunities than previously. There is also exposure to a wider range of cultural influences through new technologies and more visitors to the region which has seen an exodus of young people from the countryside. There is a danger that Romanian communities may suffer the fate of many Scottish communities without realising what they have lost.
The proposed outcome of the exchange was...
To increase wider community participation in active land management and product utilisation through the Coigach - Assynt Living Landscape partnership, and to extend this to Knoydart, Sleat & Raasay.
To raise awareness of alternative approaches and models of community engagement and participation in land management and to encourage implementation of these.