Interview with Dan Ryan
Interview with Dan Ryan
Who is Dan Ryan?
I am an environmentalist, educator, and consultant at the Eden Project, Cornwall, UK. Most of my work involves teaching university students, consulting for businesses, and trying to create new Eden Projects around the world on degraded lands to catalyse environmental, economic, and social transformation.
What conclusions have you drawn from Eden Project that can be extrapolated to other similar projects?
For readers of this newsletter that aren't aware, Eden Project is a large botanic garden that was created in a china clay (kaolin) mine in Cornwall, UK. It opened to the public in 2001 and is famous for two very large ‘Biomes' (geodesic dome conservatories) that house plants from all over the world, including a huge tropical rainforest. Eden Project is a popular tourist attraction that attracts about one million visitors per year, it employs 400 staff, and contributes approximately £100 million into the local economy each year through secondary benefits from tourism, supply chains, and so on. Eden Project is a charitable trust which has a focus on environmental education and all money generated goes back to funding its environmental and social projects. There is as aim to create more Eden Projects around the world over the next few years mainly on degraded lands; the first of these new projects will probably be in China.
Eden Project is interesting to me on many levels. It is a symbol of hope that shows that damaged places can be healed and in this process of healing this damaged land communities can be strengthened and local economies brought back to life. Importantly, it is also a living experiment of sustainability in action; meaning it's a project that can only succeed when the environment, economy, and people are thought about in relationship with one each other. I think the ultimate conclusion, however, to be drawn from Eden Project is that change is possible. It might take a long time, and a lot of hard work, but it will come.
Last March you took part in the TECMINE Project Expert Panel. What is your overall impression of the project? Which aspects have caught your attention the most?
I really enjoyed my visit to the project, and learned a lot from it, so thank you all for your hospitality. I found the expert panel and in particular the visit to the Fortuna Mine fascinating. I live and work in a landscape dominated by kaolin extraction and its waste materials, so it was interesting to see a different mined kaolin landscape, different associated ecosystems, and the different techniques used to win the clay. But, most interestingly, I was drawn to the many similarities. Fortuna sits near a fairly remote, economically poor, rural community, and in these respects it felt very much like home. Among the beauty of the mountains and pine trees of the Mediterranean Forest it became obvious to me how important the mining is to the community and in particular how much the fortunes of the community depend on the fortunes of the mine.
What does it mean for the local community to have such a project in their area?
The TECMINE project is an ambitious and I believe it could radically transform the relationship the community has with the landscape, in both the mined and non-mined areas. I think there are a number of benefits for the local community to have a project like this in the area. Firstly, it develops a sense that their village, their landscape, and their mine are important – an understanding that this place matters. There is also a certain amount of prestige and attention that can come when a large EU LIFE project is happening in your community. The project, among other things, may help ‘shine a light' on the importance of the local ecosystems, but also some of the issues facing the wider community, and get people (such as government and businesses) interested again.
Which aspects do you consider crucial to integrate the project into the local community?
I think it's vital that the community are integrated in the TECMINE project, but how that happens is of course what really matters. I think to integrate the project with the local community there are few lessons to think about. Crucially for many projects like this to succeed they must ensure the community has a sense of ‘ownership' over the project work. Not necessarily ownership in a legal or financial sense, but ownership in the sense of being involved, of being consulted in decision making, and playing a key role in the future of the landscape. As the community is a major stakeholder in this work the project's success will come far easier if there are good relations with this set of stakeholders.
How could the project contribute to the dynamism of the area?
Eden Project has demonstrated how the reclamation of an abandoned kaolin mine can contribute to the dynamism of an area. It has created jobs, increased the economy, contributed to the arts and culture, developed higher education programmes, and put this part of the world back on the map. But these things aren't unique to Eden, there are also countless case studies from around the world where old mine sites have been restored or transformed into tourist attractions or things of cultural and/or ecological importance. It cannot be underestimated how important it can be for small communities to have regionally important projects happening on their doorstep to invigorate social and economic activity.