Dutch environmentalist Patrick Smithuis found his soul in Shavarite nature reserve

Patrick George Smithuis is a Dutch environmentalist and director of documentaries. In 1994 he arrived on a working visit in Bulgaria for the first time, found his love in this country and stayed there. Initially Mr Smithuis was planing to a holiday park together with friends and partners in the beautiful locality of Shavarite along the Iskar River nearby Bulgaria’s capital Sofia. They bought a plot of land (60 hectares) above the Iskar Dam. One day the Dutch national realized that this place was too valuable to be merely turned into a holiday park. I saw otters when i first visited this place, Patrick told the Bulgarian National Radio. I saw black storks on my second visit. On the third day i saw a bittern. Those who know birds well know how this small bird looks like. The male one looks like a baby parrot, Patrick George Smithuis further said.

A bitternHowever, Patrick Smithuis had difficulties fulfuilling his idea to build a nature reserve. In the beginning, he had a drama with his partners when he expained them that he was not intending to build a holiday park for business purposes. Fortunately, they showed understanding. Later, he had difficulties building the nature reserve, because this land was turned into an “industrial area” and abounded with fish-breeding ponds. It took Patrick a lot of efforts and money to restore the original look of the landscape.

It is interesting to note that now, four years later,  if you visit this place again, you would swear that it always looked the same. You cannot notice any human influence or any imporvements made by a human hand.

With regard to the profit, Patrick Smithuis has already realized that one cannot strike a reasonable balance between revenues and spending in a social entrepreneurship. This is rather a cause, than a profityable business. Patrick makes big expenses on security, cableways, boats and other arractions for children.

We learned one thing- adults can take their kids with them to the nature reserve, but children can watch the birds for five minutes and then they lose interest if they have nothing to play with. Children want to play and learn at the same time. Although some visitors give us some money when they visit the nature reserve, there is no profit in the whole thing.

However, the difficult social cause brings joy and satisfaction to Patrick. The number of adults and children visiting this nature reserve has increased.

Many people visit us on the weekends. Some of them celebrate their birthdays with us. Sometimes twenty to thirty children come for the celebrations and I spend time with them. I am so pleased to hear some of them comment: Wow, I have never been on such a wonderful birthday before. Then I know that our efforts to make this nature reserve were worthy and that it is only a matter of time for the people to realize that.

Patrick is a keen fan of the Bulgarian nature. He fills with satisfaction when he watches the birds and the reed ponds (the name of Shavarite area, restored as authentic nature with unique significance to the ecosystem of the Iskar Dam, means Reeds). Otters are Patrick’s favorite animal species, although they eat fish and reduce the commercial potential of the nature reserve. He even dismissed a consultant who advised him to kill the otters, because they would eat all his fish.

Does Patrick miss Bulgaria and the Bulgarian mountains when he visits his home country – the Netherlands?

I miss Bulgaria as a whole. I would not say I miss the mountains in particular. I found myself in Shavarite area. To me this is a very important spiritual place and my favorite place in Bulgaria, Patrick Smithuis says in his interview for Horizont channel of the Bulgarian National Radio.

Editor: Veneta Pavlova

English version: Kostadin Atanasov

Photos: shavarite.org

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