I am in the process of getting an overview of which benefits people in Transylvania receive from nature. Over the last few weeks I learned a bit more about this, partly because I was in Transylvania talking to people, and partly because I had time to look over an extensive household survey commissioned by the WWF. This survey covered 1200 people within a Natura 2000 area that account for quite a bit of our study area and all the numbers reported below come from that survey (for all the non-European readers: Nature 2000 is a network of protected areas within the European Union to protect certain species and habitat types).
Since people are very poor in Transylvania, the average income is 474 Lei (approximately 112 Euro), people need to make large parts of their living from what they can trade or what they get from nature. Vegetables are grown in the gardens and maize in the fields. Water comes from a well in the backyard and firewood from the forest. Herbs are collected for tea and fruits grow in gardens and orchards.
All these things are nowadays considered ecosystem services, but in Transylvania, many people are not aware that they receive a valuable service. They take nature’s gifts for granted. (And they’d probably be happier if they had money and could shop for their food in the supermarkets.) Asked what was the most important factor influencing the quality of their lives, most (33%) named economic factors, second was social factors (23%), third political factors (20%), and only 17% thought that environmental factors were most important. People especially thought that the environment influences their quality of life when it affects their health (25%), or when the environment is polluted (13%). The major issues identified by people in the communities were the poor quality of roads and bridges, and the absence or failure of sewage systems and water networks.
One of the most surprising (and very saddening) findings of the survey, was that 88% of the interviewees (all living within the Natura 2000 site) responded to the question “How much do you know about Natura 2000?” with “I have never heard of such a thing”. There is definitely a long way to go to make nature conservation popular in the region!
But there is a lot of hope and I don’t want to be too pessimistic here. In the report I stumbled across something my scientist’s mind instantly categorized as a cultural ecosystem service. When asked for which species should be protected, people most frequently (36%) mentioned roe deer. And why is that? According to the report it is
because people like to have such beautiful and gentle creatures around.