European Natura 2000 Award
“We are working in a special kind of Natura 2000 area where it is the farmers who are the means of conservation,” points out Nathanial Page of the ADEPT Foundation in Romania. “So our farmer-centred approach to conservation – our conviction that the farmers are the only way to achieve the conservation objectives in this kind of area – made us a leading example in Europe in the socio-economic benefits category of the Natura 2000 Award.”
ADEPT works in the Sighișoara-Târnava Mare Site of Community Importance, where aquatic, wetland, damp and dry grassland and forest habitats exist within and alongside cultivated areas. The Foundation aims to support the small farmers who have managed these landscapes for centuries, and to give them an economic future without sacrificing the rich local biodiversity. Socio-economic activities are vital, because abandoning agriculture would destroy these habitats. Yet traditional practices no longer provide a sustainable livelihood for farming families.
The Foundation adopted a range of measures, including raising milk production, using payments for grassland management, building a network of farmers’ markets, and attracting visitors to walking and cycling trails, These activities have raised an income of more than €2.5 million a year.
“The first problem was to gain the confidence of local farmers,” says Mr Page. “They are very practical people, and if all they hear are beautiful words and promises, you will lose their interest. Only by providing real benefits did we get the farmers’ trust.” ADEPT also had to convince both environmental and agricultural policy-makers, who were sceptical about combining economic activities with nature conservation.
“People in Romania do not know enough about Natura 2000,” explains Mr Page. “It is generally seen as something that prevents local development and local prosperity. This is exactly what we want to change.” Instead, it should help the country to get economic, social, cultural, and natural benefits from its farmland heritage. “The Natura 2000 Award has already had some publicity impact – we want to increase the effect!” he says
ADEPT’s strategy has already attracted interest from other parts of Romania, and is being adopted in five more regions. It will use the prize to develop a manual of good practice to inspire others. It has a busy programme of events this year, including the inauguration of an 80km bike trail and a festival in Bucharest’s Peasant Museum.
“We hope that these events will help to make Natura 2000 exciting, modern and interesting for all sectors of the community.”