Established in 2012, the Mediterranean Consortium for Nature and Culture (MCNC) aims to provide support and recognition for important cultural practices that contribute directly or indirectly to the protection of nature and the sustainable use of natural resources throughout the Mediterranean basin. The consortium’s first action was to conduct a rapid assessment of cultural conservation practices across the entire region, eventually deciding to focus on mobile pastoralism as a priority cultural practice that has shaped Mediterranean landscapes, heritage and identity.
Between 2013 and 2015, with support from the MAVA Foundation, MCNC members carried out research on nomadic and transhumant pastoralists in Greece, Lebanon, Morocco, Spain, Tunisia and Turkey. It is well documented that transhumance is important in nature conservation as well as the protection of cultural heritage through the transfer of traditional knowledge and skills. However, at a time of financial crisis and socio-political turbulence, transhumance can also concretely contribute to the sustainable development of communities living in remote areas while improving the lives of people across the Mediterranean through the high-quality products produced by this historic practice.
In the heart of the Northern Pindos National Park in northwestern Greece, MedINA worked closely with the community of transhumant Vlach shepherds from the villages of Perivoli and Avdella in the regional unit of Grevena. The project team carried out interviews, recorded the daily activities of the shepherds during their summer stay in their upland dwellings and mapped two transhumant routes used by a pair of local shepherds. In addition, a short video was produced and, in collaboration with Pindos Perivallontiki, a report was drafted on transhumance in the area.
To raise awareness about this practice, a photographic exhibition was created titled ‘On the Move’, which explored the lives and challenges faced by transhumant shepherds in the Mediterranean. The exhibition made nine stops: Geneva, Paris, Tunis, Byblos in Lebanon, Madrid and Extremadura in Spain, Athens and Metsovo in Greece, Ankara, Hawai’i in the IUCN World Conservation Congress, and Marrakesh for the UNFCCC COP22. The Greek ‘On the Move’ exhibitions were held in the Averoff Museum in Metsovo and in the Michael Cacoyannis Foundation in Athens.
Continuing their collaboration, MCNC members focused between 2015 and 2017 on further documenting and promoting the Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) of transhumant shepherds, demonstrating the ways in which transhumance and mobile pastoralism can contribute to wider efforts to respond to climate change. They also produced an advocacy strategy to be used at national and EU level in order to promote favourable policies towards transhumant shepherds. At the same time, three partners – MedINA, WWF North Africa and SPNL – expanded their focus to include traditional fishermen in Mediterranean lagoons, with the aim of supporting and raising awareness about traditional fishing practices and practitioners.
For this component, MedINA worked in the Ramsar-designated lagoons of Messolonghi – Etoliko in Western Greece, one of the largest lagoon systems found on the northern Mediterranean coast. At the heart of the lagoon landscape are its fishermen, whose way of life help create and maintain a unique and dynamic place which embodies both local traditions and the story of adaptation through time. Organised into fishing co-operatives, the fishermen still use traditional harvesting techniques called ivari or divari, creating natural fish farms within the lagoon through the use of traps. The Messolonghi bottarga (avgotaracho), which is produced on a small scale by these traditional fisheries, is one of Greece’s most emblematic delicacies.
A study was undertaken to examine the environmental impact of this fishing technique as well as a feasibility study regarding the creation of a Multi-functional Fishing Hub through wide collaboration with local actors and stakeholders. In conjunction with the Management Body of the Messolonghi Lagoon, environmental education activities took place in local schools as a means of raising awareness amongst younger generations about the values of wetlands. Finally, an ethnographic film called Alima was produced through MedINA’s collaboration with the Athens Ethnographic Film Festival. The film premiered during the 8th Athens Ethnographic film festival where MedINA also organised a roundtable discussion about ‘Rural communities responses to 21st century challenges’. The project was presented in a poster at the European Congress of the International Association for Landscape Ecology in Ghent titled “Fishing heritage of the Messolonghi-Aitoliko lagoons“.
Concerning transhumance, MedINA also expanded its focus to the Southern Pindos mountains, where the project team interviewed and recorded the daily activities of the transhumant community of Theodoriana in Central Tzoumerka. In 2018, MedINA relaunched the photographic exhibition ‘On the Move – Faces’ at the festival of Vovousa in Northern Pindos, this time focusing on portraits of shepherds from North and South Pindos in Greece as well as from Turkey, Lebanon, Spain, Tunisia and Morocco.
The outputs of these projects were all made possible through MedINA’s collaboration with the transhumant shepherd community of Perivoli and Avdella and the Management Body of the Vikos – Aoos and Pindos National Parks, the transhumant community of Theodoriana, the Trikala Development Agency (KENAKAP S.A.) and the Management Body of the National Park of Tzoumerka, Peristeri and Arachthos Gorge, along with the ivari fishing co-operatives of the Messolonghi – Aitoliko lagoons, especially the ivari of Koma and Schoinia and the Management Body of the Messolonghi lagoon and the Akarnanika Mountains.