Türkiye’ye Hoşgeldiniz! MARGISTAR Working Group 2 Meets in Turkiye

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By Yasar Selman Gultekin (Düzce University), Laura Boffi (Università Ca’​ Foscari Venezia), Andrej Ficko (University of Ljubljana) and Simo Sarkki (University of Oulu)

In September 2023, MARGISTAR Working Group 2 (WG2) members travelled to Düzce city in Türkiye. Read on for a brief summary of this COST Action meeting and the experiences we had, including our field trip to Efteni Lake, Güzeldere Waterfall Nature Park, and the Kardüz Upland.

The focus of WG2 in MARGISTAR is synthetising knowledge to identify visions of post-marginalised mountain areas and define pathways from marginalised to post-marginalised areas by assessing success and failure in existing policies. On September 6 and 7, 2023, over 55 members of WG2 were hosted by the University of Düzce in Türkiye for their first in-person meeting; a further 12 members joined online.

After being welcomed by the Rector of the Düzce University, Prof Nedim Sözbir, the Düzce Deputy Governor, and representatives from local government and the forestry sector, the group heard from Ismail Belen, the Chief Inspector of General Directorate of Forests and Vice Chair/Rapporteur of the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF). Mr. Belen provided WG2 with an overview of mountainous regions in Türkiye and the importance of forestry. In particular, he highlighted significant challenges in fighting soil erosion, the development of water resources and the establishment and development of forest ecosystems. As well as illustrating some challenges and mitigation activities through case studies, he noted the need for a greater emphasis on the protection of mountains and mountainous areas in both Turkish legislation and practice.

İsmail Belen, Vice Chair/Rapporteur of United Nations Forum on Forests-UNFF

Different Countries, Same Challenges

A major part of the first day involved small group work to discuss how various challenges in mountainous areas may result in periphery traps. A key part of this activity was sharing experiences from different countries. Despite country differences, common themes emerged including unemployment and underemployment, maintaining traditional cultures, depopulation and outmigration, political marginalisation, environmental fragility and climate vulnerabilities, physical accessibility and access. A particular concern raised was tension between regional and national economic priorities, environmental policy, and local concerns. This was illustrated in the context of open mining, where local communities were often against the practice although such economic activities also brought much needed employment and were supported by regional and national governments. Similarly, a common theme discussed was a tension between smart agriculture, eco-tourism, and other activities. In some countries, mountainous areas face endemic challenges such as those discussed above, the effects of which are exacerbated by unexpected crises. As such, participants noted that it was important to identify and differentiate different types of crises, e.g. COVID-19, natural disasters, and conflict. In some, renewal is needed and in yet others, recovery. This is made more difficult when a country is hit by more than one cycle of crisis such as the Ukraine (COVID-19 and Russian conflict) or Türkiye (COVID-19 and earthquakes).

Working Group 2 Group Work

After lunch, small group work continued to identify potential solutions to overcome periphery traps. Again, a wide range of solutions was proposed including protective areas with local employment opportunities, improved local services incl. education, health, and transport, accelerating the gig and shared economy in mountainous areas, and green investment incentives, amongst others. The solution would seem to be a combination of both vertical and horizontal governance, but most agreed the latter required more bottom-up stakeholder involvement for long-term sustainable change. Education would also seem to be a significant component of every solution and there was general agreement that more local education was needed and environmental sustainability needed to be baked into all courses rather than just on a piecemeal basis. The group emphasized that while problems were common, solutions needed to be tailored to specific regional and local circumstances.

A number of cross-sectional themes emerged and became the focus of discussion in the plenary sessions. How do we stop rural depopulation and make mountainous areas attractive for people to remain in or migrate to? This requires a very long-term, multi-generational outlook rather than current short-term responses often linked to government cycles. Another poignant question was asked of us, for which we will need to think on – is a mountainous area marginalised if the residents don’t perceive themselves as marginalised?

At the end of these sessions, WG2 left renewed in our common mission within MARGISTAR. Over the next period of the project, we will commence sourcing case studies from across the network and start envisioning post-marginalisation futures and the pathways to get there.

From Italian Newts to Turkish Eco-tourism

As part of the first day’s sessions, WG2 had the opportunity to hear from two researchers – Dr Laura Boffi and Dr Parisa Göker.

Dr Boffi is a design researcher running an interdisciplinary project on biodiversity conservation and local community engagement in the mountainous Italian territory of Abruzzo. Laura introduced the group to Abruzzo and her recent fieldwork with contemporary farmers and shepherds and in particular, young adults returning to the mountains to resume traditional sheep herding and farming in an attempt to re-establish sustainable practices and build a life closer to nature. Her engagement with young shepherds and their stories inspired her to develop a citizen science project and app to explore ecological relationships between humans, non-humans, and the environment. You can learn more about Laura’s project in her MARGISTAR blog, coming soon.

Dr Laura Boffi at the MARGISTAR WG2 Meeting

The second presentation provided a case study on evaluating Bilecik province in Türkiye for eco-tourism. First, D. Göker introduced Bilecik, a province in Türkiye of which over 50% is forest. Bilecik also has a wide variety of ecosystems situated on altitudes ranging from 200 meters to 1,800 meters. This has resulted in an extremely varied and rich range of flora and fauna. Almost 1,500 different plant species are found out and at least 1,000 of these species live in the steppes of Bilecik.  Bilecik’s location at the intersection of three plant geographies – Euro-Siberian, Mediterranean, and Irano-Turanian – make it a unique site for ecotourism. Dr Göker presented the compelling case, through a SWOT and economic metrics, that not only ecotourism could make an important positive contribution to the local community, but that the role of local stakeholders was essential for sustainable development and for any ecotourism project to be successful. Central to this success, however, is the protection and management of what makes Bilecik unique in the first place, namely the mountainous areas and the natural ecosystems that exist there.

Dr Göker at the MARGISTAR WG2 Meeting

The first day ended with a visit to the ancient theatre at Prusias ad Hypium, known locally as the Forty Steps, which was built during the Hellenistic Age (300-30 BC) before a feast of local Turkish cuisine.

From Wetlands to Uplands: A field trip Efteni Lake to the Kardüz Uplands

An important component of MARGISTAR meetings is getting out of the map and into the territory, and the opportunity to experience local mountainous areas and share a common experience and understanding of the challenges that are being faced at the host location. The Turkish team did not let us down. In Düzce, we had the opportunity to visit three sites – Efteni Lake Wildlife Development Area and Wetland, Güzeldere Waterfall National Park, and Kardüz Upland.

Efteni Lake Wildlife Development Area and Wetland is located outside of Düzce, Türkiye. It lies at the intersection point of an ecological network where the river network of Düzce Plain meets at the foot of the Elmacık Mountain range. It flows into the Black Sea through the Büyük Melen channel. With its rich vegetation and water resources, Efteni Lake and its surroundings is an important and unique location on the migration route of migratory birds. It is an important wetland that provides habitat to various bird species, making it significant for biodiversity and local ecosystems. For example, the lake is home to a total of 150 species of birds, 35 of which are permanent. Storks, mallard ducks, crested white herons, peregrine falcons, goldfinches, and swans are among the favourites of the lake and easy to see. In addition, the area is home to a wide range of flora including five different rare plants as well as water lilies, irises, buttercups, reeds, mint, duckweed plants, and aquatic trees such as willow, ash, alder, and plane trees. Over the years, the lake has faced several challenges that threaten its health and the biodiversity it supports. Some of these challenges include unregulated hunting, overfishing, agricultural runoff, land reclamation, water pollution, and infrastructure development. In response, the area was designated as a protective area in 1992, however, climate change and other challenges are posing new issues. For Efteni Lake to maintain its ecological significance and continue to support its diverse range of species, it is crucial to address these challenges through sustainable management practices, environmental awareness, and supportive policies.

MARGISTAR at the Efteni Lake Wildlife Development Area and Wetland

After a discussion about the wetland management from the local forest management team, we moved to the Toptepe panorama to get a view of the Efteni Lake and Wildlife Area from a height. After a brief break, we continued to the Güzeldere Waterfall National Park, an eco-tourism project located within the borders of Düzce Gölyaka District. Güzeldere Waterfall National Park is situated at an altitude of 630 metres and covers an area of 22.76 hectares. It was registered as a recreation area in 1993 and was designated a Natural Park in 2011. Güzeldere means ‘beautiful stream’ and while the waterfall at a height of 130 metres and the walk to it are the primary focus of the park, it is situated within a lush forest featuring a wide range of tree varieties and other flora and fauna for visitors to experience and explore. It has been specifically landscaped to support tourism and includes panorama views, picnic areas, and recreation areas in the forest and hiking routes. The area is very suitable for trekking, camping, cycling, and photo-safaris etc., and activities and a range of accommodation and hospitality options are provided in the area. Evidence of the economic impact of Güzeldere Waterfall National Park could be seen all around us. It provides much-needed employment both in maintaining the park but also through accommodation, hospitality, and craft businesses. It was clear that the park diversifies and boosts the local economy through tourism, stimulating business growth, job creation, and promoting sustainable practices in the region.

The MARGISTAR Team at Güzeldere Waterfall

The final section of our field trip was a visit to the Kardüz Upland, 48 kilometres away from Düzce, an area of about 180 hectares on the top of the mountain at an altitude of 1,830 metres. As we drove through the forest, we could see evidence of significant investment in hydro-electric generators yet not operational. Unfortunately, due to climate change, this project cannot generate sufficient water to operate continuously and efficiently. We continued to visit a small community comprising mostly of small subsistence farmers and unregulated housing, some of which was used as summer homes by residents of local towns and cities. These settlements are connected by relatively poor transport infrastructure and limited local services. Climate conditions mean that residents can only really live in the uplands during the summer months. Speaking to a local shepherd, while traditional economic activity is in decline, we could clearly see that there is cultural transmission between generations both in farming practices and other aspects of rural life. Notwithstanding this, there was scant evidence of economic activity and employment opportunities. As we drove to and from the Kardüz Upland, it was clear that the mountain and its forests were an area of massive tourism potential, particularly for outdoors enthusiasts and experienced hikers. The Kardüz Upland has been determined and declared as “Culture and Tourism Protection and Development Zone” by the decision of the Council of Ministers and it is being evaluated as a winter tourism destination. In many respects, this is a road well travelled in Türkiye and success has been found in various parts of Türkiye, for example, at the Bolu Kartalkaya Ski Centre. A similar initiative would have a transformative impact on the area and local community providing employment all year round.

MARGISTAR at the Kardüz Upland

Next Steps

The work of WG2 is only starting. Over the coming months, the members of WG2, together and separately, will be exploring periphery traps (problems), visions of post-marginalized mountainous areas (visions of desirable futures), and transition pathways (solutions). As discussed earlier, a major focus of the next 12 months will be building a repository of case studies across European mountainous areas, preparing literature reviews on above WG2 focus areas, and scenario building and futures thinking. This work will be supported by workshops, STSMs, and online meetings. If this is something you are interested in getting involved in, please reach out to the WG2 leadership team – Dr Yaşar Selman Gültekin ([email protected]) and Dr Simo Sarkki ([email protected]).

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The MARGISTAR forum reflects collaboratively on natural, environmental, social, and economic inter-relationships and interactions in mountainous areas, and identifies a range of environmental, social, economic, and political challenges. It enables innovation by co-designing pathways for the transformation of marginalised mountainous areas towards their green, digital and healthy futures.

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