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CONFERENCE REPORT

What does a Europe-wide network do, when due to a pandemic its annual conference can’t happen face to face? Go ONLINE of course!

When it became clear, that the conference planned at Neusiedler See National Park in Austria could not take place, EUROPARC had to face a difficult decision: no conference at all in 2020 – or take the plunge and organise our first ever online conference? After having seen the great possibilities of an online conference through our good friends at Interpret Europe, the decision was made: the EUROPARC Conference would move ONLINE!

Responding to change is important, but often challenging. EUROPARC wanted to create a conference, where we could support parks responding to our ever-changing future. This is how the conference theme OUR NEW FUTURE: HOW READY ARE WE?” was born. Climate change, new EU policies on biodiversity and agriculture and of course the response to COVID-19 all warrant new skills and capacities from Protected Areas. Through the conference, EUROPARC wanted to provide nature professionals with tools to respond to these new demands.

Programme

To do so, we created a programme that opened the stage to politicians creating policies, nature professionals implementing these policies and workshops that allowed our delegates to grow their capacities in different areas. Additionally, with “Speakers' Corner”, we gave professionals the chance to network and present their projects and outcomes.

Some numbers

At the EUROPARC Conference 2020 we had a total number of 210 delegates from no less than 24 countries! As the conference was online, this opened up the possibility of delegates from outside of the EU. We could therefore welcome delegates from Brazil and Australia!

DAY ONE

EUROPARC’s president Ignace Schops opened up the first day. He reflected on the COVID19 pandemic and the human impact on the current state of the world: “we are changing the biological rules – where pathogens can no longer be controlled within their own natural ecosystems”. So, how to deal with that?

He reminded us, of why we are doing this work. Humans are dependent on healthy ecosystems. So through this conference, EUROPARC wants to give Protected Area professionals the Skills & Capacities to help realise the 2030 EU Biodiversity Strategy, how to deal with climate change and Covid19.

“We are the guardians of the future – let’s not destroy, what keeps us alive!”

Keynote Speaker Virginijus Sinkevičius

Commissioner of Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius sent a video message explaining the EU Biodiversity Strategy and underlining the importance of Protected Areas: “the leading involvement, expertise and experience of Protected Areas management organisations, will be crucial for delivering on the ground”. By the end of the year, the EU will publish criteria and guidance to reach the targets set by the EU. Additionally, legally binding restorations targets will be proposed to complement the existing legal framework.

“EUROPARC is a key actor for many of the targets on Protected Areas and restoration”
We were pleased to have Director of DG Environment Humberto Delgado Rosa with us in the “room”. He underlined where EUROPARC and its members were essential for the success of the EU Biodiversity strategy, by creating a “Trans-European nature network” and networking opportunities. Additionally, he called on member states to help further help identify new Protected Areas, giving special attention to periurban areas. After his inputs, there was time for a fruitful debate.

Keynote speaker Prof. Dr. Christian Baumgartner

...talked about how we can bring “the camel through the eye of the needle”. He explained that we are living in the VUCA-World: Volatility Uncertainty Complexity & Ambiguity, causing events to develop in an ever more uncertain way. He spoke on the complexity of new trends in society and how they result in more complex and demanding policies & strategies. So what does this mean for Protected Areas? “It’s time to rethink!” He delved into 5 topics: Biodiversity/Protection, Climate Change, Tourism and Leisure, Education/Edutainment and Regionality and the importance of communication.

“We need to move to where we have Vision, Understanding, Clarity and Agility”

Panel Discussion

Before beginning our Panel discussion, like in any conference, we wanted to find out what was happening in the parks, so we headed off, through the power of video, to 3 Virtual Fieldtrips.

Olaf Holm introduced us to his Protected Area Montagne de Reims Regional Natural Park in France and its unique culture and biodiversity. It is part of the 54 French Regional Nature Parks, where the focus is on a rural area whose landscape, natural habitats and cultural heritage are of great quality but precariously balanced. Here intense contact with local stakeholders.

We heard from Daniel Åberg at Kullaberg Nature Reserve in Sweden on the challenges tourism poses, on the importance of monitoring and of old growth forests and the impacts of increased visitation due to the COVID pandemic. Kullaberg has been certified as a sustainable tourism destination in the Charter for Sustainable Tourism in Protected Areas since 2017, which provided a platform for them to get closer to stakeholders and people in the area to respond to the challenges COVID presented.

We then jumped to Johannes Ehrenfelder at Neusiedler See National Park in Austria, where this year's Conference was initially supposed to take place. It was Austria’s first transboundary park, carefully planned in cooperation with their Hungarian neighbors: “Borders separate, but natures unites!”. The cross border cooperation is essential for protecting the wetlands in the National Park, which is also strongly effected by climate change. Mitigating negative impacts is one of the main challenges for Protected Areas.

The second part opened the floor to policy makers at an international level - Humberto Delgado Rosa (European Commission), national level - Jan Plesnik (Nature Conservation Agency of the Czech Republic) and regional level - Carles Castell (Barcelona Provincial Council, Spain). The policy makers gave their inputs on the new EU Biodiversity Strategy and what it means for Protected Areas.

Humberto Delgado Rosa highlighted that there is a political impact to this new biodiversity strategy and that the implementation is still up to the member states. Of course, with guidance from the European Commission, which aims for a more solid governance framework. Finally, the director of DG Environment called for a change in the mindset of people:

“We must abandon the idea that protection means restriction”.

Jan Plesnik called for the appreciation that for the first time in such an important document, funds will be opened up for the implementation of the strategy. He called for an holistic approach and although there are strong and ambitious quantitative targets, what is also necessary is to move from quantity to quality.

Carles Castell welcomed the strategy, specified details on how to apply it, and addressed priorities that still remain to be defined. Characteristics and challenges of local European regions will need to be considered, and local and private stakeholders will need to be involved. Carles called for a complete revision of EU policies under the light of the biodiversity strategy and the Green Deal. To ensure transversal coherence, all sectors need to be included.

“The time is now”.

The floor was then opened up for fruitful debate with all panelists, allowing the audience to also ask questions and exchange ideas with our delegates.

Launch of eNatura2000 app

During the first day of the Conference, EUROPARC was proud to announce the launch of the LIFE e-Natura 2000 app – one of the many outcomes of the LIFE Preparatory project, LIFE e-Natura 2000.edu.

In line with this year’s Conference topic, the app has been designed to enable Natura 2000 site managers and private landowners to connect, discuss and learn in an innovative and future-ready way. The app is available on Google Play and App Store!

DOWNLOAD IT NOW!

Workshops

Eight workshops in total – four parallel each day – allowed participants to interact in smaller groups and discuss thematic issues ranging from Natura 2000, Health, Agriculture or Outdoor Sports to Marine environment, Youth, Sustainable Tourism and Climate Change. While delegates could only follow one workshop per day during the Conference, paying participants have now the possibility to watch the full recordings of all other workshops, or re-watch the ones they attended. A summary of the workshops and presentations can be found on the EUROPARC website here!

Social evening

The fact that our community couldn’t meet in person, didn’t stop us from relaxing, having a drink together in the evening and enjoying some convivial atmosphere among colleagues and friends. While listening to the beats of ABBA, our delegates were scrambling to prove their knowledge of European geography, the EU and Protected Areas in an online pub quiz. Indeed, prizes were awaiting the most successful participants.

DAY TWO

The Day 2 of our online Conference was launched by Marta Múgica, the Sections Representative in the EUROPARC Council. To set the scene for another fruitful day of discussions and sharing ideas, she reflected on the new policies that will underpin Protected Areas in Europe and briefly reflected on how we can make sure our nature management is as effective as it can be.

"In these changing times, we must be creative in the role we play in biodiversity conservation, but also in general societal challenges."

Keynote Speaker Mike Appleton

How can competences help Protected Areas and their staff? The presentation of our third keynote speaker explored the competence-based approach in Protected Areas management. Mike Appleton, Director of Protected Area management at Global Wildlife Conservation and Vice Chair for Capacity Development at IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) drew on his global experience to show what competence-based capacity building is needed for Protected Area managers to be successful in the current changing times.

“Competence-based approach in Protected Area management is all about raising the standards of our profession - which manages about 30% of our planet!"

Keynote speaker Erika Stanciu

from ProPark Foundation, Romania, Erika highlighted what skills and capacities Protected Areas need in order to implement the 2030 Biodiversity strategy and to respond to the post COVID-19 challenges.

“To achieve the EU Biodiversity strategy goals, we need to develop capacities of Protected Area professionals, we need capacity building plans based on Training Needs Assessment and we need to share our experiences.”

Speakers’ Corner

Exactly like in any other EUROPARC Conference, we didn’t want to leave out the possibility for delegates to network, present their projects and discuss various initiatives with their peers. While a conventional Marketplace with all its material aspects – degustation of local specialties, small souvenirs or just simple handshakes – was unfortunately not possible in a digital setting, we opened the floor for short presentations followed by Q&As. In 3 different Speakers’ Corner rooms, 12 speakers in total took the stage and presented their projects, shared experiences and exchanged ideas.

Flying Elephants

  • Cristian R. Altaba (Director of Llevant Natural Park) - Growing an island wilderness in the Mediterranean
  • Alberto Arroyo Schnell (Senior Manager: Policy and Programmen at IUCN) - Inclusive Conservation of Protected Areas: balancing stakeholders' visions
  • Kai Elmauer (President of Elmauer Institute) - LIFE EuroLargeCarnivores - A showcase of moving from Conservation Intent to Collaborative Action
  • Nikoleta Jones (University of Cambridge) - Increasing Public Acceptance for Protected Areas in the context of the new EU Biodiversity Strategy

Diving Squirrels

  • Michael Jungmeier (Carinthia University of applied sciences) - UNESCO chair of sustainable management of conservation areas
  • Cristian Papp (Carinthia University of applied sciences) - Management of conservation areas - virtual information tour through Europe
  • Victoria Gonzalez (Coordinator of INTEMARES) - LIFE IP INTEMARES: Integrated, Innovative and Participatory Management for the Natura 2000 Network in Spain.
  • Athina Tsekoura (Interpret Europe) - Heritage Interpretation in Natural Heritage sites. In a rapidly changing reality do we need to think a different way?

Running Turtles

  • Milene Matos (Chief Conservation Officer, municipality of Lousada) - A (new) protected area for local sustainability and green governance.
  • Tadhg MacIntyre (Coordinator GOGREEN ROUTES H2020 Project) - GOGREEN ROUTES: Connecting Hearts and Minds to Urban Greenspaces
  • Anne Schierenberg (Head of Civic Engagement, Nationale Naturlandschaften e.V.) - Voluntourism in Protected areas
  • Elke Hermans (Hasselt University) - The sustainable tourism training platform

Final session

To wrap up the Conference and look back at the two intense days of lively, inspiring and fruitful discussions, EUROPARC’s Executive Director Carol Ritchie reflected on the key question: OUR NEW FUTURE - HOW READY ARE WE?

“While thinking about current challenges, we should remember that similar ones have arisen in the past. And that the pillars EUROPARC stands on since its foundation in 1973, are still relevant now and into the future...”

"That hope for a better future lies in our international cooperation, where EUROPARC will support our parks and promote sustainability by bringing people together - face to face and online - to protect our Nature."

The EUROPARC Conference 2020 ended with a handover of the EUROPARC flag to the next year’s hosts, the Dutch National Parks. The Conference will take place in the northern part of the Netherlands, in the city of Leeuwarden, from 4 to 8 October 2021. We look forward to seeing you there – this time hopefully in person!

SAVE THE DATE

and keep an eye on www.europarc2021.nl!