Văcărești Park is one of the many projects started by Ceaușescu in Romania and abandoned after the fall of communism, and it’s becoming a prime example of nature taking back the city.
Văcărești was originally meant to be a grand project for a new neighborhood in Bucharest. Built on land reclaimed from swamps, it would feature new buildings for the Ministry of Justice and Supreme Court and an artificial basin – Lake Văcărești. Left unusable because of a major engineering flaw, the artificial lake and surrounding area is now one of the biggest urban nature parks in Europe.
In 2013, the Romanian Academy (the highest scientific authority in Romania) undertook a study of its fauna and flora, which confirmed the extent of this ecosystem: hundreds of species of plants and flowers, 96 species of birds, several mammals including weasels and otters – a European protected species – but also reptiles including turtles and snakes.
Following a four-year campaign led by a small but determined group of environmental activists, the government finally granted it the protected area status, officially making the 183-hectare Văcărești one of the biggest urban nature parks in Europe. Nature photographer Helmut Ignat was a crucial player in building a case for the preservation of the park. He spent a year photographing the flora and fauna that had developed here. Together with Dan Bărbulescu and Cristian Lascu, leaders of the campaign, the fight for the preservation of Văcărești continues.
Protecting the area from abuse – littering, thieves and poachers – is one of the main challenges for the campaigners. Additionally, the search for funding for the preservation effort is tough. Another problem that the preservation effort faces is the presence of informal housing built by Roma people in the area. Ideally, these people could be included in the urban preservation effort by being hired as rangers, carers or other similar capacities. In any case, preserving Lake Văcărești is an uphill battle.
Source: The Guardian
Photos: Asociația Parcul Natural Văcărești