Romania is often overlooked on the European tourism radar and, when it pops up, Dracula overshadows most of its other attractions. Yes, Bram Stocker’s novel has greatly contributed to tourism in the Transylvania region, but Romania has so much more to offer. Rich culture and history, medieval castles, uniquely coloured monasteries, incredible food and breathtaking landscapes are just the summary.
Romania is one of the few countries around the world to be blessed with an incredibly diverse geography, from the majestic Carpathians and grape-vined hills to the Black Sea and Danube Delta and everything in between. Unfortunately, the conservation and protection of these natural riches is gravely overlooked by authorities and politicians, who, more often than not, are involved in illegal deforestation schemes. The fight for conservation is thus led by passionate NGOs and foundations, who have taken over the mantle of protectors of the land.
Foundation Conservation Carpathia (FCC) is one of these conservation heroes. Founded in 2009 by biologists Christoph and Barbara Promberge, with a team of philanthropists and conservationists, it is saving Romania’s forests plot by plot. With almost 65% of the total virgin forests in Europe and some of the oldest forests on the continent, there is a lot to save, and their plan is to stop nothing short of creating a 200,000-hectare (2,000 km2) natural reserve in the Făgăraș Mountains, of the Southern Carpathians.
These forests are not only marvellous landscapes, but carbon reservoirs vital for our existence, providing our clean water and clean air. Their protection is non-negotiable.Foundation Conservation Carpathia
There are almost 7 million hectares of forests in Romania, the Carpathian Mountains housing one third of all the plant species found in Europe as well as Europe’s biggest population of large carnivores, including brown bears, wolves and lynxes. Still, only 3.5% of Romania’s forests have been turned into national parks, and even less are strictly protected, the foundation highlights.
To achieve what the Guardian calls a “Yellowstone for Europe“, FCC is buying plot after plot of forested land, some that can still be protected, some that have already been devastated and the foundation reforests. The goal is to create a wilderness reserve “large enough to allow natural processes to take place, to benefit biodiversity and local communities and to serve as a model for a future National Park movement in Romania”.
With the funds raised since 2009, FCC has already bought 26,900 hectares of forest and grassland and planted over 4 million saplings. To extend its protection beyond the land it owns, FCC hired rangers to patrol a total of 75,000 hectares of forests, which has slowed down illegal logging, and bought the hunting rights to an additional 78,000 hectares, effectively stopping any form of hunting on these territories.
One of FCC’s projects, along with the creation of the reserve, is the “Forest of Immortal Stories“. Close to the commune of Nucșoara, 2,544 centuries-old beech trees, a symbolic number equal to the altitude of the nearby Moldoveanu Peak, the highest in Romania, have been put up for adoption. By adopting a tree, a person can have their story attached to it, on the campaign’s website and through a QR code attached to the tree itself. “We don’t live long enough to tell our story, but these age-old trees are almost immortal, aren’t they? They can do it for us”, the campaign says. The raised money is used to protect the ancient trees, improve infrastructure and attract more visitors to the region.
Moreover, the foundation supports and encourages eco-tourism in the Făgăraș, having set up, so far, a wilderness cabin, a wilderness camp and a 500-hectare biodiversity farm. It also offers guided hiking and wildlife watching.
Most importantly, local communities are at the core of all of FCC’s projects. “So far, protected areas in Romania were established top – down, without transparency and without a functional compensation system for restrictions of resource use. In order to create a model of protected area, we want to involve people in taking decisions through working groups set to design the future national park”, the foundation explains.
Engaging communities and showing that protecting nature can provide alternative revenue streams is crucial to the success of a new national park. Besides providing employment in roles from rangers to tree planters and dedicating certain areas of the future reserve for the supply of fire and construction wood for the locals, FCC has created a “food hub” where small-scale local producers can sell their homemade products.