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Friends of the Baltic Bicycle Campaign “For Sustainable Baltic Sea Coast”: Green Examples in Sweden, Common Challenges and Solutions for the Baltic Sea

Junna Maltseva, Olga Senova

The 14th Friends of the Baltic Moving Environmental Conference – bicycle campaign “For Sustainable Baltic Sea” took place between 12th and 25th of July 2012. Every year since 1999 environmental activists from the countries around the Baltic Sea ride bicycles in various countries along the Baltic Sea coast, enjoy nature, meet friends and colleagues, share experience and look together for the solutions for better marine and coastal environment. In 2012 the conference moved along the route St. Petersburg – Helsinki – Stockholm – Gotland – St. Petersburg.

Green lifestyle in Stockholm archipelago

The Swedish part of the campaign started in Stockholm and moved on to Varmdö region in the Stockholm archipelago. The participants rode along the islands and coastline, met local people, enjoyed coastal nature and discussed the green lifestyle and sustainable solutions implemented in Varmdö municipality and nearby islands of Waxholm and Tynningö. Among the first and best impressions was Swedish bicycle infrastructure – bicycle paths, bicycle traffic lights, bicycle parking places etc. There is almost nothing to say about Swedish bike path – they just are there, convenient, safe, well designed and in excellent condition. Among the typical co-bicyclists that one can meet in Stockholm there are young men and women dressed in business suits, carrying briefcases and speaking via Bluetooth with their colleagues about something important. We have seen many young parents carrying their kids in special bicycle kid-trailers, and of course many other people from teenagers to pensioners, just moving for their everyday purposes.

In Varmdö our friend and colleague Marilyn Barden, international coordinator of Neva River Clearwater NGO, prepared for our group the bicycle route along the islands of the archipelago, that included 4 ferryings and around 50 km trip by bikes. The intense seaside life of the archipelago was very impressive – regular ferry lines between the islands, abundance of sailing boats, motor boats, fishing boats, small ferries, large ferries, cargo ships and many other types of vessels. This synergy of the everyday life of the local population and coastal nature is amazing. The special attitude and care of the local people for the Baltic Sea environment can be seen almost everywhere starting from the tidy and comfortable hand-made ferry stops on the islands and up to private compost hacking machines and permaculture gardens on the communal lands.

There are many people involved in the international “Transition” movement in Sweden. The aim of the movement is to promote and lead a transition of the way of thinking and living from a modern consumer society and globalization processes to the local market, deliberate and responsible attitude towards nature, sustainable consumption and harmonious use of the local climate and landscape.

For example, Marilyn Barden and other members of “Transition” movement in Varmdö have established a small permaculture garden where everybody can grow vegetables and herbs; they were allowed to use communal land for this purpose.

Gotland. The Pearl of the Baltic Sea.

July 17th Friends of the Baltic bicycle campaign reached Gotland. Here ecologists and journalists from St. Petersburg met leaders of the water councils of Eastern and Central Gotland – Peet Tüll and Anders Lekander – and local authorities responsible for implementation of the Water Framework Directive on Gotland – Peter Landergren and Sofia Scholler from County Administration Board Gotland.

The water councils were established on Gotland in 2008 upon a grass-root initiative with the support from local administration. The water councils consist of local people, farmers, members of Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, Federation of Swedish Farmers, employees of local industries, such as lime industry, and other people concerned of the water quality and coastal environment.

The water councils’ work is coordinated and supported by the local administration in order to promote a prolific dialog between local people and authorities, combine local knowledge and experience and scientific expertise. The situation with fresh water on Gotland is rather complicated despite its location almost in the center of the Baltic Sea. Due to the rocky geological structure and very thin layer of soil over the rocks, the water can hardly be kept on the island; it runs off quite fast into the sea, in worst case – together with the pollutants from the fields. Besides, many wetlands were drained several decades ago in order to provide more land for agriculture. Nowadays the two main water concerns on Gotland are fresh water shortages during hot summer season, when the population on the island is 10 times bigger than in winter, and proper wastewater treatment in order to prevent nutrients – phosphorous and nitrogen – from leaking into the sea. According to the experts, the most efficient and ecological way of such treatment is natural water filtering and water storage in the wetlands. However, not all Swedish farmers like this approach due to its occupying too much arable land.

In might be interesting to compare the water management approach on Gotland with the situation in our country. In Russia there are river basin management authorities of the Ministry of Natural Resources, such as Neva-Ladoga River Basin Department, which is in charge of the Russian part of the Baltic Sea water catchment area. The River Basin Department has an institute called public Basin Councils. However, the opportunities for NGOs and local population to participate in their work are very limited and there is no information available about the work of the public Basin Councils. We believe that the example of water councils on Gotland and their experience can certainly be very useful in Russia as well.

Water councils’ activists on Gotland are concerned also about the accumulation of the sea weed on the shores. There are various plans on the processing of the sea weeds into the natural fertilizer or using them for biogas production. However the problem is that a high level of cadmium was found in the sea weeds on the Gotland’s shores. The cadmium can get into the by-product of the biogas – farm fertilizer, and there is no ready solution for its extraction yet.

By the way, we did not find blue-green algae on Gotland – the sea is very clean and the bladder-wrack, the main algae of our sea, can be found on the beach.

Eco-living on Gotland. Suderbyn.

Suderbyn eco-village situated 10 km south of Visby runs its household in a manner that eliminates negative human impacts on the environment. The household in Suderbyn eco-village is based on permaculture principles, in the similar way as in Varmdö municipality. Garden beds are framed with local limestone in order to keep warm longer. No artificial fertilizers are used in the garden. A duck family with 13 youngsters, three white geese and a dozen of bushy rabbits live here and walk around the yard.

All toilet facilities in the eco-village are dry, the sawdust or other organic material is used for toilet waste composting. Besides, several toilets have separated tanks for urine and faeces. The liquid toilet waste can be used at once as organic fertilizer (dissolved in water), the faeces are being processed further and then used on the fields or garden beds as well.

The water in the shower and kitchen is being heated by the sun; it is not connected with municipal sewage system – the water runs off via sand and stone floor straight to the garden soil. Naturally, only organic non-chemical detergents are used.

The outdoor kitchen is also equipped with «green» and smart technology – solar cooker. The complicated system of mirrors and turning supports can heat the dish very quickly and rotate depending on the angle of the sunlight. We tested it – the large pan of potato was fried in only 20 minutes.

In total there are around 20 people living in Suderbyn. Half of them are volunteers from Sweden, USA, Australia, Germany, Macedonia, Nicaragua and other countries, who work in building the various facilities and keeping the household. The head and founder of Suderbyn eco-village is Robert Hall, an eco-activist, head of the pubic environmental council at Region Gotland, who is wide known far beyond the Swedish border. Robert is involved in quite many different initiatives in order to promote green lifestyle and protect the fragile environment of Gotland and the Baltic Sea.

Northern Gotland. Fårö.

From Suderbyn eco-village Friends of the Baltic bicycle campaign moved to Northern Gotland and Fårö island. The nature of the Northern Gotland, its national parks, stony landscape and the variety of scents of herbs and flowers on our way is hard to depict in common words. Our group has visited Langhammars national park on Fårö and watched the monumental raukars – fantastic statues of limestone, created by the sea. We paid tribute to the great Swedish drama maître Ingmar Bergman on his grave near the Fårö church.

Fårö island, separated from Gotland by a small strait, is a wonderful example of how the unique natural area can be preserved and protected from aggressive human impact and in the same time sustainably used for recreational purpose and for organic farming. There are no industrial sites on Fårö, instead there are quite a few grazing areas for lambs and goats. During summer season the fantastic nature and sophisticated stillness of the island attract many tourists, who come again and again to enjoy this idyllic place.

During our visit to Kappelshamn, Northern Gotland, we have also met eco-activists from Northern Gotland water council. Kristina Bohman, member of the Swedish Society of Nature Conservation, has told us not only about the main issues and work at the Northern Gotland water council, but also about 6-year struggle between the local ecologists and lime industry enterprise Nordkalk AB which plans to develop a new limestone open cast mine nearby national park of Bäste träsk and Natura 2000 protected areas.
The new open cast mine is planned right in the center of the unique eco-system of Northern Gotland that was suggested to be included in the national park area. Another concern of ecologists and local people is that sewage and wastewater from the mine will affect the water system of nearby lakes and wetlands and thus worsen the quality and amount of fresh water in the Fårösund region. There were several court sessions already, two of them won by Nordkalk and one won by eco-activists. Next session will take place already in August and ecologists prepare their appellation now. We were rather surprised by the fact that issues of changing the nature protection laws for the sake of economic benefits occur even in ecologically advanced and democratic Sweden. However in comparison with our country Swedish green activists have good chances to win the court battle against the industrial enterprise.

During the two-week bicycle campaign ecologists from St. Petersburg have met many colleagues and friends who promote solutions for the better environment in different countries and spheres of activity. We have seen many advanced green solutions that can be successfully implemented in Russia as well, such as sustainable consumption and promotion of ecological transport, permaculture approach and public dialog with authorities, solar cookers and natural fertilizers.

Our Swedish colleagues were also interested in the international project ”Baltic Sea Ambassadors” – a volunteer movement for education for sustainable solutions for the Baltic Sea, led by “Friends of the Baltic” in Russia. Among the results of our Moving Environmental Conference was an idea of establishing this movement on Gotland in order to spread the international network of the Baltic Sea Ambassadors together with Swedish partners.

An intense international co-operation in the Baltic Sea region has been going on for a long time already. Green initiatives such as Friends of the Baltic bicycle campaign make a good contribution to networking, sharing successes and concerns and promotion of the joint efforts for sustainable future of our common Baltic Sea.


For more information please contact

Olga Senova +7 (921) 911-79-86 and Junna Maltseva +7 (921) 649-11-46

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