What It's Like to Grow Up in a Nature Reserve

Just outside of Bucharest, a failed communist project turned into sprawling wetlands. It's now home to all sorts of flora and fauna – and a few Roma families with young children.

by Mircea Topoleanu
29 March 2017, 6:00am

This article originally appeared on VICE Romania

Nature reserves and big cities usually don't mix very well, because the latter tends to spoil the former with things like pollution and luxury property development. Romania's capital Bucharest is a bit of an exception to this rule, since it boasts Vacarești Natural Park – almost 200 hectares of green wetlands – right at the edge of the city.

The Bucharest Delta, as it's also called, was originally formed by mistake and developed through neglect, thanks to a failed waterworks project of former communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu. Ceaușescu wanted to connect the city to the Danube river through an artificial lake called Văcărești, but the project was halted when he was shot during the Romanian revolution of 1989. The water subsequently flowed randomly into the area, and the fact that nobody dealt with it meant the area eventually turned into a luscious wetland. The Delta now hosts all sorts of wildlife – including otters, turtles and snakes.

Over the years, the land also became home to several Roma families who raise their children here and partly live off the land. It sounds a bit like a hippie dream, but there's more to it than that. Locals from the residential neighbourhoods and industrial areas surrounding the Delta used to dump their garbage here, for example, and while the land was officially declared a nature reserve a few years ago, property developers have tried to buy it from the government and are therefore believed to be responsible for the devastating forest fires that plague the reserve. 

Together with two other documentary filmmakers, I've been following the life of a family living in the Delta for the last few months. As part of the project, we gave some cameras to a group Roma children there, to have them show us through their own eyes what it's like to grow up in a nature reserve. Some of these photos are for sale – the proceeds will go towards putting the Delta's children through school. 

If you'd like to contribute, please contact the documentary makers on the Facebook page of the film.