„Art is a very powerful tool in communicating environmental messages“


On March 17th 2016 the concluding event of „Green Murals“ project took place in Sofia. A guest of honour of the International eco-forum „Green Murals“ was Mirjam van Dalum, ecology expert of The Norwegian Institute for Nature Research. So we had the chance to talk to her about arts and ecology. 

Miriam, you are expert in ecology of NINA – The Norwegian Institute for Nature Research. The organization which you represent is one of the leading institutions in Norway, focused on ecological researches. NINA’s expertise is in the sphere of genetics, geography, population, species, even social sciences and statistics. Could this broad spectrum of topics be summarized to several priority issues, or let’s call them “causes”, which are of main importance to NINA in last few months?

The only „cause“ that NINA has as an institute is to promote the inclusion of scientific expertise into issues relevant for environmental management and societal development. NINA has over 200 employees, therefore we work on very many different topics. However some of the major areas that we work on include; sea bird monitoring and ecology, large carnivore ecology and conflicts, large herbivore monitoring, and wild salmon and freshwater fish management.

Does NINA consult public discussions on ecological matters? And what have been some of the major, long-lasted ecological debates in Norway and what are their outcomes?

NINA has the stated intention of being an active participant in the ecological debates that are of societal interest. As a result, NINA’s researchers are often in the media, either when being interviewed for print, radio or TV media, or by writing popular science articles themselves. The goal of this participation is to inject scientific perspectives into the public debates, rather than argue for specific outcomes. This is because many environmental debates are highly controversial, and often represent complex trade-offs between different impacts. As such, NINA scientists have to be very aware of their role as scientists in these debates and separate between the technical components and the political components. In many ways, our role is to identify the parts of the debates which are about technical issues and those which are inescapably political.

Outcomes are diverse and very hard to measure!

NINA invented Norwegian Nature Index. Tell us more about it – what does it measure? And why the society needs such statistics?

The Nature index is an aggregate index that combines many different ecological monitoring indices into one. The idea is to summarise these many different data sources into a simple overall measure of the trends that are ongoing in nature. These can be calculated for specific ecosystems to provide a more localized version of the index. Essentially this is a communication tool to communicate many complex trends to the public and decision makers – and which society can measure its progress towards sustainability against.

You are in Bulgaria for the “Green Murals” Forum – a concluding event of a partnership project with NINA. What is in the philosophy of the project that attracted you to take part?

The idea of using art to communicate an environment message is one of the main reasons why I was very attracted by this project. The Green Murals project may not only have a positive effect on raising environmental awareness, it may also have benefits for the local community. The positive aesthetic experience the murals can give to people viewing may increase overall wellbeing. What I appreciate mostly in this project is the creative and interdisciplinary way of thinking. It brings art, education and science together and this is a very powerful combination for further projects to raise environmental awareness and to stimulate positive attitude change towards wildlife.

Is that the first time that you are visiting Bulgaria? It seems that quite often we praise our nature but actually without knowing it really well. From your point of view as an expert, what are the most valuable things of our nature and more importantly – can you tell us something that we actually do not know?

This was indeed my first time in Bulgaria, but other people from NINA have been in Bulgaria before. The biodiversity of large mammals is higher and population status of various wild mammal species – the carnivores in particular- seems better than in Norway. The Bulgarian nature is still rich of wildlife and it seems less regulated and managed than the Norwegian nature. Monitoring of wildlife species seems to happen at a smaller scale and large carnivores have still a relatively large distribution in Bulgaria compared to Norway. This is what I see as one of the very valuable elements of the Bulgarian nature. Although poaching is a serious threat to Bulgarian wildlife, I appreciate that livestock keepers are more willing to protect their livestock rather than attempting to exterminate or strictly control large carnivore populations.

Fear for large predators is still present among many people that wish to travel or hike in the mountains. Ecological knowledge about role of predators but also concretely, knowledge about how to behave when entering wolf or bear territories would reduce fear.

You also draw. In your opinion how arts and ecology can be of help to one another?

I think that art is a very powerful tool in communicating environmental messages. The combination of art and science is –in my opinion- the way to go in the future. The beauty of nature fascinates many biologists and art can be a fantastic way to communicate this. Art can stimulate imagination and can give people a positive aesthetic and emotional experience linked to a particular ecological topic (for example large carnivores or certain habitats). Art can also bring science closer to the general public by using artistic illustrations. Art in education can make pupils more enthusiastic. I have for example shown school pupils in Bulgaria some of my lynx-artwork and this made them positively excited and interested.

You arrive in Bulgaria right at the moment when our government is trying to forbid placing tents at the sea coast, while there is an obvious violation of our law with overbuilding Black sea’s seaside and the mountains. Knowing the Norwegian law, how would you comment on such a debate?

One of the key elements in Norwegian recreation is a law that gives the public right of access to nature and the freedom to camp anywhere (for a limited period) in natural areas (not on fields or gardens). This works well in Norway where the population density is low and there are abundant natural areas. However, it is easy to see how this might be difficult in countries with a higher population density and more pressure on natural areas.

The problem of building in coastal and mountain areas is a common problem across Europe – and even in Norway we have many debates about the building of second homes and amenity villages in natural areas. Our regulations are strict, but many dispensations are given by local municipalities. In general, most countries need an improved process for spatial planning and environmental impact assessment that especially deal with cumulative effects.

So such debates as you have in Bulgaria are familiar to us, although the scale of the development and the pressure on natural areas may well be on a different scale.


“Зелени калкани” е инициатива на фондация “За Оборище” и се изпълнява в партньорство с графити група 140ideas, Българско дружество за защита на птиците, Сдружение за дива природа “Балкани” и Норвежки институт за изследване на природата. Медийни партньори на проекта са: Радио Jazz FM, списание за графити и градска култура Graffiti.bg, както и мрежата за корпоративна социална отговорност CSR България.

Актуална информация за развитието на проекта може да намерите във фейсбук на https://www.facebook.com/GreenMurals

С подкрепата на Benjamin Moore Bulgaria: www.benjaminmoore.bg

Проектът „Зелени калкани” се финансира в рамките на Програмата за подкрепа на НПО в България по Финансовия механизъм на ЕИК 2009 – 2014.