|Pre-Dawn in the Southern Carpathian Mountains|
The glory of a spring meadow, kaleidoscopic with colour and floral diversity, has become a thing of distant memory in Britain. In a recent report by Natural England, upland meadow now only constitutes a few square miles, mainly in the North Pennines.
Modern farming has been pitiless in converting these once widespread meadows into ‘improved’ grass-dominant silage and hay lots. As a consequence of pursuing yield we have seen a plunge in both plant diversity and the insect species that rely on them. Bee and butterfly populations have plummeted in recent years, predicting an ominous future in food security. Though it has not been proved beyond doubt by science that loss of wildflowers is the dominant factor in this decline, it is not hard to make a simple link.
By contrast, traditional farming is still common practice in large parts of Eastern Europe. Romania (and the Carpathian mountains in particular) preserves some of the finest meadow land remaining, a reminder of how sustainable farming reaps more than economic benefits. Known in the west as Transylvania and associated with the undead Count, you are more likely to encounter beauty and tradition here than vampires, the hospitality warm rather than garlic festooned.
|Every Meadow is a Wildlife Haven|
Visit in the late spring as I did (May/June) and there is an extra reward - the peaking of the high meadows in vivid colour - a sight now rare in western Europe. The farmers of Magura, a pastoral hamlet about an hour west of Brasov, appear refreshingly welcoming of visitors, with invitations to enter meadows for closer inspection being commonplace.
|Shepherd in the high meadows|
The meadows surrounding the scattered hamlet drape over the ridges and slopes, patch worked onto them by rustic wooden fences that weave like stitch work across the land. The meadows are hemmed in by beech forests on the steep slopes below and spruce at the higher limit. Together these forest types harbour Europe’s largest populations of wolves and brown bears, which will venture into the hamlet in winter and make off with a sheep or two. Any season will reward the photographer with rich opportunity; autumn is richly coloured and prone to cool mists and snow lies deep in winter.
|Architectural detail, Magura|
Spring and summer are easier and more peaceful however. The single species of flower that jumps out when you wander through these cradles of genetic diversity is yellow rattle, which plays a uniquely important role in how the meadows look. It is neither the most obvious nor even the most numerous but it is the species that is ubiquitous. Yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor) is parasitic on the roots of grasses, which otherwise would dominate any of these dry, limestone meadows. By introducing an element of balance, through tempering the natural vigour of grass, other species flourish under yellow rattle’s benevolent reign. And what a flourishing; there is an absence of any order or artifice to the arrangement of colour and form. This is every plant for itself and the result is one of nature’s glories, albeit with the careful input of man.
Species to be seen include dianthus (especially the Carthusian pink, photographed), cornflowers in every shade, vetches in yellow and purple, mallow, the deepest purple of viper’s bugloss (pictured), foxes and cubs, delicate lilac harebells, scabious in yellows and lilacs, and lucern. There are clovers of many species, violas and flaxes, cranesbills and rockrose, self-heal, meadow clary, betony and a host of orchids. Red spikes of sorrel stand proud, and drifts of Michaelmas daisies lend a strikingly showy counterpoint to the riot of pastels. Bellflower, campion and ragged robin (above) fill in any gaps that remain, along with the grasses of course. In all, 50 or more species can be found in any small sample.
On the back of all this bounty the insect life prospers, with a pleasant hum emanating from the hillsides that begins well before dawn, about the time the men of the village set out to harvest, scythes balanced on shoulders. Mechanisation has yet to reach these traditional hill farms, and the seed gets every chance to re-sow the ground as the men work. There is something ordained about the way these meadows are managed, and it is a privilege to have watched them work in the cool dawn light (see photo). A shared "Buna dimineata" (good morning) erased any awkwardness.
|Harvesting, the ancient way.|
There appears little sign of pollinator collapse in these meadows; they are oases of calm and order. It is hard not to draw conclusions, anecdotal as they may be, that this way of land management is better for all concerned. Things are continuing, much as they always have done (and I hope will always do), in the mountains of Carpathia.
Crooked wooden barns populate these Transylvanian hillsides, waiting to receive their provender in the last weeks of May. But first the cutting must be dried, and as you would expect it is done in traditional stacks and ricks, sometimes utilising wooden props where the slopes are steep. And in the meantime, out in the meadows, the summer species are rejuvenating the hillsides with a whole other range of floral delights, a second harvest for late summer.
But Transylvania cannot be secured against the advance of modern methods and the pursuit of profit. As photographers and tourists, we can provide an argument to preserve the meadows, support a way of life and ensure biodiversity remains a draw card of these mountains. Go there, contribute to the communities that look after these arks, and I guarantee you a photographic experience to remember.
|Barn and Fence|
The People of Magura village.
The state of the natural environment is largely down to the people who live in these scattered villages of Bran, the 'county' that contains hamlets like Magura. Transhumance (the movement of livestock to graze high summer pastures) is still practised. I spent a night in a tent at a shepherd camp above the spruce tree line which provided more opportunities for capturing the mood of the place. Huge dogs with spiked bear collars appeared as enigmatic as the horse borne shepherds and cattle herders that kept them in check. On Sunday we visited the local church where I awkwardly photographed the congregation, itself a scene from history.
These people are the custodians of this land, not as elsewhere the exploiters of it. They are not wealthy people and the pressure to change, sell up and move on may be too strong. I'm hopeful; long may gentle tradition preserve a balance in these Carpathian hills.
|Sunday at Church||Widow's seats|
|Driving the Flock - transhumance in action.||The Green House|
I was hosted by Katerina and Herman at Vila Hermani ( http://cntours.ro/en) in the hamlet of Magura, west of Brasov in Transylvania. They have been instrumental in establishing the National Park that surrounds the meadows and in the Large Carnivore Project that operates across Romania.
More information on the meadows of the Carpathian Mountains can be found at http://www.fundatia-adept.org/
Large Carnivore Project: http://www.clcp.ro/
More on visiting Romania: http://www.romaniatourism.com/
My images of Magura and Transylvania; http://brettmeiklephoto.smugmug.com/Travel/Transylvania/18916741_RfTgQ6#1467371572_B5hggCf
May 24, 2015
May 17, 2015
The Long Journey of 'The Long Night': Tim Matsui's work to document underage sex trafficking in the US
May 14, 2015
May 12, 2015
|Fangorn Forest by cand1d|
|Yosemite Falls with Moonbow by Jonathan Shapiro|
from Best Landscape of the Week 4
Sony addresses a variety of bugs and stability issues with firmware updates for a range of E-mount lenses and an adapter.
Fujifilm has released firmware updates for its camera models X-T2, X-Pro2, GFX 50s, X-T20, X100F and X-T1 and updates to three of its software products.
A 22 year-old Romanian photographer uses his DJI Phantom 4 drone to capture unique perspectives of the city where he now lives.
What's it like to ride the waves with champion surfer Kelly Slater? This VR video from Teton Gravity Research gives you a taste.
DPReview editors Rishi Sanyal and Carey Rose hosted a Facebook Live discussion to share their impressions about the Sony a9 so far. Watch the video
When Nikon released the full-frame D3 in 2007, it changed the professional photography industry. In this week's Throwback Thursday, Barney remembers a legend. Read more
The new stuff should have better red hues, improved sensitivity and finer grain - but don't worry - will still shift blues to green, greens to purple and yellows to pink.
Ricoh has introduced a new rugged compact camera with a 16MP CMOS sensor, 28-140mm lens, 2.7" LCD and built-in LED macro lights. Read more
This compact drone can shoot HD video using a 2-axis stabilized 12MP camera. Read more
The new Prynt Pocket can print a photo directly from their iPhone simply by inserting the phone into the printer, then snapping a photo. Each print will cost about 50 cents. Read more
Updates for Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom CC bring support for the Sony A9 and Panasonic ZS70/TZ90, along with bug fixes.
The Triggertrap remote camera control system is no longer sold due to the company folding, but now users will be able to build their own. Read more
The Magic Format Converter comes with internal optics that expand the image circle of full-frame DSLR lenses for use on the Fuji medium format camera. Read more
The usually Apple-exclusive MacPhun software developer has announced that it will introduce PC versions of two of its most popular applications. Both Aurora HDR and Luminar should be available for the Windows operating system by the autumn of this year. Read more
Sony's newest G Master telephoto zoom, announced alongside the a9, is the first of the company's FE lenses to reach 400mm natively. We had one in California and photographed horses, portraits, and landscapes - check out how it did. Read more
Garmin has entered the 360-camera market with the VIRB, which captures 5.7K video at 30p as well as 15MP stills. Read more
German media reports that the founders of the company behind the Panono 360-degree ball camera have filed for bankruptcy at a court in Berlin. Read more
With a claimed 800 new custom parts, Microsoft's updated Surface Pro comes with the latest Kaby Lake processors, better battery life, a new hinge, plus the Surface Pen is updated as well. Read more
DW Photo is attempting to resurrect the Hy6 medium format camera, though the legal tangles of its development may stop it being branded Rolleiflex.
The Kodak EKTRA, the company's 'camera first' smartphone, is now available to purchase in the United States. Read more
Apple and Nokia have settled their years-old patent dispute. Apple will make an undisclosed payment to Nokia and sign a licensing agreement related to digital health products with the Finnish company.
David Gibson, one of Britain's best known street shooters, shares all.
Photographers from the SKYGLOW project travelled 150k miles and took 3 million photos in increasingly rare locations: those without light pollution.
The world's fastest 200mm was produced for 16 years. In that time, only 8000 were made.
Photokina, the biennial photo industry trade show in Cologne, Germany, has announced that it will become an annual event beginning in 2018, and expand its focus to additional areas of imaging technology. Read more
No mic socket? No problem. In this video, Daniel Peters at Photo Gear News shows you how to make a lapel microphone using just a smartphone and a pair of earbuds.
How does the iPhone 7 Plus stack up against the Arri Alexa cinema camera? Watch this short video to find out.
Canon Australia's video series "The Lab" is designed to make photographers experiment and think outside the box. In the latest video a group of photographers create images based on their sense of taste.
The GH5 is expected to get a firmware update this summer to support 400Mbps internal recording. NewsShooter explores what memory cards you'll need to make it work.
Microsoft's new Surface Pro offers Intel's latest processor generation and improved battery life.