Standort: / Meldung: "Fighting For The Forest"

Chris Cummins

Letters from a shrinking globe: around the day in 80 worlds.

10. 9. 2016 - 10:05

Fighting For The Forest

Romania is home to Europe's last great primary forests and yet these are being rapaciously destroyed. Activists have set up a camp to make a stand against the deforestation.

FM4 Reality Check

This week's programme takes you into the Romanian forests. Hear the programme in the FM4 Player or subscribe to the podcast and get the whole programme after the show


It’s Romania at its most mystical. The early morning mist is rising off the elongated Lake Vidraru in the Făgăraș Mountains and curling around the branches of the forests that sweep steeply down to the lake side.

It’s a flirting dance around the canopies of one of the last remaining ancient and old growth forests in Europe – an enchanting early morning spectacle.

Forest Camp

Chris Cummins

A flirting dance

A "Forest Rescue Camp"

To ensure this is a sight our children might still be able to enjoy, activists from Greenpeace are blowing the steam of the coffee they have ladled out of a field kitchen cauldron in a forest clearing close to the banks of the lake.

They’re here to map 845 hectares of virgin forests and to document its biodiversity. The aim? To highlight the need for the Romanian government to legally protect these forests from the loggers.

“Our estimate is that we are losing three hectares of forest an hour due to illegal logging and other forms of degradation,” says Marina Barbălată, director of Greenpeace Romania, as she welcomes me to her group’s Forest Rescue Camp.

There’s a huddle of wooden-cabins, their roofs bedecked in moss, and a little encampment of tents clinging to the stubbornly uneven ground.

Forest Camp

Chris Cummins

"The most valuable forests in Europe"

“Romania still has some of the most valuable forests in Europe in terms of their conservation value,” says Barbălată “but we have to act now to protect them.”

These forests offer a glimpse of how Europe must have looked 30,000 years ago, explains Magor Csibi, a conservationist from WWF Romania.


Chris Cummins

"Nothing is lost. Everything is used"

I find poetry in the way Magor describes the strength of the forests, the co-dependency of nature and the breadth of diversity. If we put a fence around a virgin forest and came back in another 30,000 years everything would look the same.

“The forest knows how to protect itself. No trees are too vulnerable to wind, no trees are too vulnerable to insects because if one tree species die, others will come and take their place. Nothing is lost, everything is used. It’s a constant circle.”


Chris Cummins

Magor Csibi

Cultivated forests, managed by humans for timber extraction, can be devastated by insects.We have seen hundreds of thousands of hectares of cultivated evergreen forests destroyed by insect attacks in the Czech Republic, Poland and Switzerland. But because of their diversity primary forests survive such infestations because there will always be species immune to a certain pest.

The Worst Pest is Us

This ingenuity of nature, and metaphor for the strengthening effect of diversity, is sadly no protection against illegal logging or ill-advised land-use. Forests can survive every pest apart from humans.

That’s why the activists have set up their rescue camp.

The forest is full of life

Chris Cummins

You’ll understand the value of the forests instinctively if you spend a few hours there – the ground is moist and soft, even as the rest of Romania suffers from a destructive drought, and the rich smells wafts through the shady woodland are rich and invigorating.

Calm and Perspective

Forests, for me, bring a sense of calm and perspective. But it is not emotionality or esoterica that will save them but rather cold, sober facts.

To protect the forests of Romania we need to understand their value in an organized and scientific way.

species and stuff

Chris Cummins

That’s why, alongside loud howls of protest on the streets of Bucharest, the activists have realized that quiet, pain-staking, scientifically-sound work is necessary to persuade the authorities of the need for strong protective action.

A National Catalogue

The activists are following a sort of crowd-sourcing call from the Romanian government to help them complete their newly founded forest inventory- the Romanian National Catalogue of Ancient and Old-growth Forests.

Gesche Jürgens, a forestry expert from Greenpeace Germany explains the idea:

A forest

Chris Cummins

“The government has asked the public and NGOs to submit areas of forest that still qualify as primary forest according to official criteria so that they can be put off-limits.”

This involves working with a strict and patient methodology, marking out sample plots, each just half a hectare, that should represent a wider area, then measuring the diameter and height of all the trees, dead and alive. They also document if the tree has nests or animal burrows.

Already the measuring equipment needed for the day is being assembled – a tall scythe-like implement to measure diameter and GPS computers mounted on sticks.

Rob Geleijnse is one of the international volunteers, a man with two decades of experience on Greenpeace’s action teams.

“The main goal of this operation is that in the end the Romania government should be convinced of the value of these virgin forests. They should give an official stamp that this whole area is protected by law so you cannot log here anymore. You have to stay away from here.”

Greenpeace activist Rob

Chris Cummins

Greenpeace activist Rob and a friend

Fortified by the camp stove coffee and delicious Romanian zacusca, a spread of aubergines and tomatoes, the volunteers head up into forests.

There’s a flurry of excitement as a brown bear is seen skulking off into the undergrowth. We wait a while and then begin the tricky descent by foot to one of the parcels of forest chosen for documentation. These are cricket-pitch sized plots of woodland which have cordoned off by the team with red and white tape the day before.

An Adventurous Hike

There’s no footpath, obviously, and as we slip around on the steep slopes I realize why I’d been told to bring my sturdiest hiking boots: this is adventurous terrain.

“There’s good reason why these forests could survive for such a long time,” laughs Gesche Jürgens, a forestry expert from Greenpeace Germany, “and one of the main reasons is that they are so inaccessible.”

There are several varieties of trees, European beech, the Silver fir, the Norway spruce and the Sycamore and, significantly, the carcasses of old trees are slowly rotting.

Life After Death

This “dead wood” has a misleading name, argues Gesche Jürgens, since it is a haven of life; teaming with insects.

“Actually it creates new life. Sometimes you even see from a half rotten tree, new trees are sprouting from the dead wood. And all the time it is turning into the rich humus that will provide the nutrients for abundant biodiversity to continue to thrive here.

dead wood

Chris Cummins

The team of 30 is made up of volunteers from ten different European countries, but half of them are from Romania, where the protection of the national forests is an emotive subject.

"We'll be left with nothing but pollution"

“I’m here because I am the father of two sons”, says 30-year old Laurentiu Radu, “and I want my sons to live a decent life, breathing clean air. I want them to have what we have. But if we continue to chop down the trees there will be nothing left but pollution.

It is work that needs a varied team of volunteers. Some roles just need enthusiasm and teamwork. But other roles require specialist knowledge and skills.

Sebastian from Austria is a student of forestry and he says the camp has been a great experience: “Every day I learn a lot about forests and forestry. And I learn a lot about the political situation that has led to what I would say is a catastrophic situation. I’m learning a lot from the people here.”

Greenpeace 1

Chris Cummins

It’s painstaking slow work – it will take a full month to document around 850 hectares of forest; but Andrea – a Romanian volunteer says it will be worth it when their work is presented to the Romanian government.

"We Need To Shake Things Up"

“We have to at least hope so. You can change things from the top down by going to the government, but it is also about all the volunteers going back to their own communities and raising awareness. Actually we need to do more than raise awareness. We need to shake things up.”

the forest

Chris Cummins

The mission to protect the forests is also a question on international credibility, argues Gesche Jürgens:

“Worldwide we are asking countries such as Brazil, Indonesia or the nations of the Congo basin to protect their primary forests. But if Europe is not willing to protect the few remaining jewels of its national heritage, how can we expect those other countries to do that?”

Magor Csibi of the WWF charms me with stories of the old days in Romania when we had a more harmonious relationship with nature. In his grandfather's day, he says, villagers only cut down trees in February, and only when the moon cycle was right. They did it when snow lay on the ground so that there was no danger of soil erosion.

“They used to say a prayer, asking the tree for forgiveness and they only cut as much wood as they needed. Now we cut hundreds, or even thousands, of hectares in a few days.

add this

Chris Cummins

Trees Not Trump

I find the struggle for survival of Europe’s last forests of vital importance. And yet this story, an ecological crisis, also faces a struggle to survive in our news agendas. Who cares about a Romanian forest in a year of Brexit, terror, US elections and economic crisis?

You clicked on this story: you care but you are, sadly, in a minority. Environmental stories are notoriously hard to sell. It shouldn’t be this way, says Csibi

“We should care because we have Brexit, because we have Donald Trump, because we have the Greek crisis and because really soon we will realize that everything – the economic model, the way we are thinking and the way we have structured our society - is not working.”

Inspiration in Nature

He says that as we realize that we are short of resources, our only inspiration can be to look back to the co-independence of nature represented in the forest still untouched by human intervention:

“The only way to understand a better model will be from nature, and to study that model we have to go back to where nature still functions.”