Last week Scottish Natural Heritage was a key sponsor of EUROPARC 2018; the largest gathering of protected area professionals in Europe. This annual event brings together hundreds of park authorities, nature reserve staff and conservation professionals from up 36 European countries to work together and share knowledge on many on the accomplishments and challenges facing our natural areas. This year, Scotland was lucky enough to be the host nation and the beautiful Cairngorms National Park provided an ideal setting for the conference proceedings.
Tying in nicely with Scotland’s Year of Young People, this year’s EUROPARC theme, Inspired by the Next Generation, informed many of the talks, panels and workshops of the conference event but more importantly brought an open invitation to young people to come along and join the conversation with discounted rates to try and reduce the barriers to attend.
The Key Highlights of EUROPARC 2018
With whole host of speakers, activities and networking events EUROPARC 2018 took place over four days in the Highland town of Aviemore but here are just a few of the conference highlights for us at Scottish Natural Heritage.
Opening day activities
A noted first day speaker was Cassie Scott, a young individual who bravely spoke about challenges she faced in her personal life but how important time in nature had been at changing her life around. After being recommended by a mentor, Cassie joined an eight-day wilderness programme with Venture Trust where she not only learned nature based skills, she found her perspective and approach to many aspects of her life had changed and she had been inspired to help young people in similar circumstances.
Hearing personal stories from young people who have made strong connections to nature who otherwise wouldn’t have found their inspiration is a great privilege and was certainly a perfect way to open the conference, highlighting how important outdoor experiences can be and how much they can mean to individuals.
Further speeches from Richard Louv, author of books such as Last Child in the Woods, Hendrikus van Hensbergen; Founder and Director of Action for Conservation, and Karen Keenleyside a Science Advisor for Parks Canada but also Vice Chair for People and Parks with the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN’s) World Commission on Protected Areas, all added a fantastic perspective on our changing attitudes to nature and children’s relationship with natural spaces. Key messages from all these individuals focused on the importance of uniting children and young people with the natural world but not only teaching them about nature but allowing them to explore, connect and engage with their environment in their own way.
Perhaps one of the most interesting quotes of the opening day came from Richard Louv while speaking on the importance of how we engage young people and how we frame environmental discussions.
“What happens when a child cannot enjoy nature simply for nature’s sake? If all they are taught about is the end of the world, environmentally speaking? Ecophobia.”
Richard Louv, Author and Public Speaker
Richard gave a welcome reminder that, while talking about the environment and conservation topics, it is important not to overwhelm young people with negative predictions and allow connections with nature to take place.
The opening day’s afternoon session allowed delegate to split up in to various workshops to discuss a myriad of topics related to work in and with protected areas. Discussion and working groups covered everything from maintenance and restoration of peatlands to natural heritage and cultural identity. We also played a key role in a number of workshops with Scottish Natural Heritage staff discussing topics such as landscape reform and management, nature and health, access to protected areas and the development of youth nature skills.
Exploring the diversity of the Cairngorms National Park
While talks, discussions and workshops about nature and protected areas are vital to the work of our National Parks, Nature Reserves and greenspaces nothing beats experiencing these spaces first hand. As well as the conference proceedings, the EUROPARC delegates also embarked on a day trip to explore the Cairngorms National Park.
After the previous day’s Storm Ali, our delegates certainly lucked out with some beautiful sunshine for most of the trips around the park including those that visited our site at Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve.
With over 600 delegates at the conference we certainly couldn’t take them all at our lovely site but there was plenty of variety. From community woodlands to local industry, wildlife watching to adventure sports, the trips truly showcased how diverse protected lands can be.
Bringing the EUROPARC Message together on the closing day
We were, of course, delighted to have our own Scottish Natural Heritage Chair Mike Cantlay speaking on the closing day of the conference discussing the importance of the next generation in shaping Scotland’s nature and in allowing young people to be decision makers.
“I fear that the only thing standing in the way of our young people might be us. Our young people get it. They see the pace of change our nature is enduring. And they are learning the tools, the technology, the science, to best protect and conserve the nature we hold dear.”
Dr Mike Cantlay OBE, Chair of Scottish Natural Heritage
One of the key elements of EUROPARC 2018, which succinctly answered many of the discussions related to youth engagement and empowering the next generation, was the launch of the EUROPARC Youth Manifesto. This project brought together more than 50 youth people from across Europe who have been involved in community, protected area, youth or nature programmes to discuss the challenegs they face in rural areas and the changes needed to help them tackle them.
We are also proud to have supported the development of the EUROPARC Youth Manifesto Project which parallels much of our own work with young people living, learning, and working in rural communities and protected areas. Watching the official launch of this important document was a proud moment for everyone involved.
Friday also gave us an opportunity to highlight some of the fantastic projects we are involved in including Scotland’s Youth Biodiversity Panel ReRoute in partnership with Young Scot. Other top stalls from the day included our Scotland’s Natural Larder project with some great advice on Scottish produce and ever popular tasters and some great discussion on our National Nature Reserve and protected area site with our Designated Sites Manager as well as many of our conservation projects across Scotland. We were also lucky enough to have had a number of our Student Placements in attendance at the Marketplace section of the day to discuss how they are involved in Scottish Natural Heritage Projects and how their placements will help them develop careers in the environmental sector.
The Importance of EUROPARC 2018
We are very proud to have been a sponsor of EUROPARC 2018 and to have been involved in so many aspects of the event and contributing to such a highly importance knowledge share event. Sharing best practices across the sector, not just here in Scotland but globally, helps all of those working in protected areas, improves techniques and processes and creates a network of professionals who can all work together and collaborate on projects.
Organisations like the EUROPARC Federation who help providing a forum to share ideas and create a space to discuss projects and past experience, are vital to tackling the diverse challenges our natural spaces face and promoting greater connection with our protected areas.
This year’s youth focus and launch of the Youth Manifesto and it’s focus has also been an essential element and is particularly relevant to Scotland with so many rural communities and young people facing issues.
We are excited to continue honouring the new commitments we have made as an organisation on working with young people and involving young people in the governance of our organisation.
Where to next for the EUROPARC Federation?
After a highly successful EUROPARC Conference in the Cairngorms National Park next year the baton has been passed to Lativa and will be hosted in the Kemeri National Park from 24th-27th September 2019.
We look forward to working with our European partners and conservation professionals and to sharing our updates, successes and challenges through this and many more events like it to help achieve all our conservation targets and connect more people with nature right across the globe.