|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
|Nectar Dancing by Lensmate|
from A Big Year - birds
|Sad clown by PEB|
|Mtl Gen X 2015 DP by MarioSS|
from - Gen X - (In Full Colours+ Border)
In this article, expert macro photographer Thomas Shahan shares advice for successful closeup photography of bugs, insects and small animals.
DJI's new firmware makes it difficult to fly in restricted airspace, even when you have proper clearance. Is DJI placing themselves between professionals and the FAA?
Go behind the scenes with National Geographic photographer Renan Ozturk and see what it takes to capture a dangerous, harrowing, stunning Nat Geo photo essay.
Erez Marom tells the story behind this ominous photo of the sand 'reaching up' towards the mountains at Skagsanden beach in Norway. He calls this photo 'Torment.'
DPReview staffer Carey Rose has taken the Panasonic Leica DG 15mm F1.7 along for everything from a city-side boat ride to a bachelor party across the mountains. Find out how the little Leica fared.
Canon just unveiled the largest 12-ink printer on the market. The new imagePROGRAF PRO-6000 printer can make prints from 17 all the way up to 60 inches wide.
"Standing in one of the holiest places on earth, I felt uneasy," writes Wired's Jason Parham. "Most of my fellow visitors, I realized with a brief bloom of nausea, were taking selfies."
Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk has been receiving great reviews, but it's a challenge to see it in its full glory. This handy infographic reveals the aspect ratio chaos that is wrought as the industry retreats from film.
Anti-bullying organization Ditch the Label's Annual Bullying Survey 2017 reveals yet again that Instagram, more so than any other social network, has a the worst effect on youth mental health.
It's been a crazy day for innovative patent news. Apparently Sony is thinking of developing a medium format curved sensor camera.
An update to the Silkypix Raw converter fixes some bugs and adds support for several popular new cameras.
This crazy custom-built underwater camera shoots 8x10 large format film. It's supposedly "the first successful underwater 8x10 ever made," and it can be yours for $5,800... plus shipping.
Blackmagic just reveled a new accessory for their Cintel Film Scanner. The Cintel Audio and KeyKode Reader can capture KeyKode data and high-quality audio from film in real-time as it is being scanned.
A new Nikon patent shows a lens designed for a curved full-frame sensor. Could this be the high-end Nikon mirrorless camera people are hoping for?
The ability to shoot images at 1,000 fps first appeared in a Sony smartphone sensor. Now the Japanese manufacturer is using the same feature for industrial applications.
Astronomy expert and photographer Dr. Tyler Nordgren thinks you should "see your first eclipse, photograph your second." But if you do plan on taking photos this August, here are a few tips from someone who's been there.
How confident are you that you can spot a manipulated photo? A recent study at the University of Warwick shows that many people are pretty bad at it.
If you purchased a Leica TL2, do NOT attach Leica's Visoflex electronic viewfinder. Leica is working on a fix, but for now, it's possible the viewfinder will break your camera.
Google just released Motion Stills for Android. Unlike the iOS version, the Android app uses a redesigned video processing pipeline that processes each frame of a video as it is being recorded, creating instant results.
A huge copyright lawsuit between photography firm VHT and Zillow Group is heating up again, as both sides appeal a court ruling that granted VHT $4 million in damages.
European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet spent 6 months on board the International Space Station where he worked with Google capturing spheric panorama images that are now available in Street View.
It's official. PDN has confirmed with parent company Aurelius that 94-year-old lighting company Bowens is indeed going out of business.
The newly launched firmware version 1.06 fixes AF-issues that can occur with some lenses that are not officially compatible with the MC-11 converter.
Voyager is a waterproof smart light stick you can control entirely from your phone. The light has already blown past its $300K funding goal on Indiegogo.
2018 is the last year Photokina will take place during the traditional end-of-September dates. In 2019, Photokina will take place from the 8th to the 11th of May.
The Canon IXUS 50 (known as the SD400 Digital ELPH in North America) was one of a string of high-performing, pocketable PowerShots of the mid-2000s. In this week's throwback Thursday, Barney casts his mind back to 2005.
A close look at the EOS 6D II's Raw files suggest its dynamic range has taken a significant step backwards compared with the company's recent DSLRs. We look at how much difference this might make for your photos.
With a full-production review unit in our hands, we've got over 100 production samples from the new Canon EOS 6D Mark II to share.
Need a break from your day? Kick back and watch the making of a somewhat unconventional mojito filmed on Canon's new EOS 6D Mark II.
The Bonfoton Camera Obscura Room Lens can turn any room into a camera obscura, projecting the view from your window onto the walls of your room.