It often turns out that in order to motivate local communities to protect natural environment, one needs to seek arguments that are first of all pragmatic, and second of all, have a reference to the local identity: symbols and elements constituting the character of a given region and its residents. Elements of cultural heritage in particular are the distinctive factors or symbols of the region’s image that are most identifiable for residents. It is easier to persuade people to protect a work of art, a monument or a historical memorabilia, etc., than to protect the surrounding landscape, forest, meadow, and a fauna or flora species. Cultural products are something concrete, a tangible proof of the past which no one wants to forget. The surrounding nature, in all its vastness and elusiveness is in a sense abstract, immeasurable and it is harder to translate its resources into calculable sums. Hence, the idea for a new way of engaging local communities in preserving their natural home environment is to refer to the elements of cultural heritage. It invites a more global perspective on the surroundings, and enables the residents to realize that nature and culture coexist in harmony and balance. Then it appears that it was nature that had a decisive impact on the creation of the form and image of a given element of material or non-material culture.

text and photos ©Dominika Zaręba

Natural environment which created the cultural values that decide about the unique identity of the regions can be effectively preserved through cultivation and protection of the local cultural heritage, be it in the form of material goods, or traditions, customs, and folklore. Development combined with heritage preservation can provide local communities with a number of profits, both financial and those associated with the quality of life. Therefore, the process of “ecological” activization of local communities, outlined here, that refers to the elements of local cultural heritage has a pragmatic dimension since it encompasses the quest for motivation to preserve local heritage other than aesthetic or “sentimental” one. An element of utilitarianism is necessary for nature to be efficient for a longer period of time. It turns out that there are plenty of economic, social and other arguments that enable the initiation of practical “ecological” thinking of local communities.

The main impulse to engage local community is concentrating the action around the local culture considerations that distinguish the identity of a given region. References to common history and tradition, and the approach emphasizing that the local community is a true full-fledged host to the area offer a chance to find solutions for numerous local problems, including above all the ecological issues. Often, knowledge and engagement of individual leaders and decision makers does not suffice fot the efficient nature preservation and local development. The local community’s participation in the planning and realization of tasks concerning a given region is crucial for the residents’ identification with the results.

Nowadays, nature preservation is no longer understood as a task reserved for nature specialists, but is a widespread cultural and social phenomenon that is characteristic of the contemporary highly developed civilization. Jan Gwalbert Pawlikowski, one of the first Polish pioneers in nature preservation, made this observation at the beginning of the last century in the famous essay Culture and Nature, but his concepts had to mature for a rather long time before realization stage today.

“Collaborative, community-based approached to development planning help local people advance strategies that make sense for their communities and that incorporate environmental and cultural considerations. Approaches to planning that engage local people from all sectors do, however require creativity, dedication and patience, and, usually, good facilitation and appropriate leadership. Proceeding step by step, from the bottom up and on a cooperative basis with neighbouring  communities, does not often produce the kind of early, visible results that a large commercial development project might. However, such a step by step, local and cooperative approaches avoid most serious mistakes; and the results are that local people have a better chance to define and realize their own development vision for their community and region”.

William Moody, Rockefeller Brothers Fund