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New nature reserves in Romania: Wilderness ok, but no restrictions please

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Untouched forests, deep gorges and torrential streams – all can be found in the south-western Carpathians in Romania in some of the last wilderness areas in Europe. Here natural processes can take their course largely without human interference. Most of these areas are already in existing nature conservation areas. Currently plans are under consideration to place the whole wilderness under special protection, but this requires the acceptance and support of the local population. What are their attitudes to the wilderness areas? And what do they think about the already existing nature conservation areas in the region? WSL carried out two surveys in five Romanian nature conservation areas as part of a WWF project. The first took place in 2014, and the second in 2016 after WWF Romania ran an information campaign with documentary films, local workshops and leaflets about the topic of wilderness areas and how to protect them.

Originally Nicole Bauer, head of the WSL study in Romania, planned to do a written survey by post, but she says, “We were soon advised against this as postal services in these regions, if they exist at all, are unreliable.” Moreover many older people do not have much practice reading and writing. WWF Romania therefore organized Romanian social scientists to visit the remote areas and carry out the interviews there.

Wild nature is appreciated

The interviewees can be divided into two groups: ‘modern nature-lovers’, who want nature to develop freely, and ‘traditional nature-users’, who often own land and depend on the natural environment for their incomes. Both groups viewed wilderness areas positively even before the WWF campaign. They associate them with feelings of pleasure, freedom or are just fascinated by them. Both groups would, however, allow grazing in wilderness areas. They are also in favor of wind turbines there and would like more infrastructure such as roads. These responses are similar to those from a survey WSL carried out in Switzerland more than 10 years ago. Here too respondents had positive attitudes to wilderness areas, but wanted at the same time more infrastructure in the form of benches and garbage bins.

The two groups identified in the Romanian study differ, however, where existing nature conservation areas are concerned. The ‘modern nature-lovers’ assess them much more positively than the other groups, and see them having more potential for tourism and economic development in the region. The ‘traditional nature-users’, on the other hand, associate the protected areas more with restrictions on everyday life.


It is important to communicate openly

Attitudes before and after the WWF campaign could not be compared because it was not possible to interview the same people twice. Respondents in the second survey tend, however, to view wilderness areas more positively. They also see the protected areas having more advantages than the respondents two years previously. There are, nevertheless, differences between the five regions, with assessments of the effects of particular protected areas on daily life varying. Respondents in the five regions do not feel they have the same level of information about the park in question and the measures taken by the park administration. This indicates that the history of how a conservation area was set up and how information about it has been communicated
locally have great influence on public acceptance.

The recommendations the researchers made in Romania on the basis of the interviews sound familiar to Swiss ears: When new conservation areas are planned, the people affected should be involved from the beginning. It is crucial to provide the public with clear information about any potential restrictions arising from setting up the new conservation area. This still does not mean it will automatically be accepted, as the case of the planned second National Park in Switzerland, Park Adula, showed. For it to go ahead, at least 13 of the 17 municipalities affected should have been in favor, but only nine voted for it in the November 2016 referendum. Despite all the reassurances of those promoting the Park, concerns about restrictions had more weight. In a WSL survey in 2013, just under half of the respondents said they were in favor of the new National Park. (Lisa Bose, Diagonal 1/17)