2022 Austria

The EUROPARC Conference is the event of the year for those working in Europe’s Protected Areas and Natura 2000 sites.

Communicating in the 21st Century? Question your mindset!

From the 2nd to the 6th of May, nature experts from all over Europe came together in Neusiedler See – Seewinkel National Park to dive into the world of communication…

Communication is everywhere: from technical reports and social media posts to stakeholder engagement. Those working in Protected Areas need to be equipped with exceptional skills if they want to communicate effectively. How are we speaking to our audiences? What is our perspective on the numerous challenges Protected Areas face? Can technology help us understand and respect nature more? These are just some of the questions we asked ourselves.

Our after movie expertly captures the atmosphere of the Conference:

In addition to the movie, we have prepared an album with all the best pictures from this conference! You can check it out here:

Photo Album – EUROPARC Conference 2022 – Austria

This was the first EUROPARC gathering since the pandemic and it truly was an amazing reunion of friends and colleagues old and new. As always, the EUROPARC Conference was a great opportunity to share, learn and work together.

World Café – “Meeting of the Minds”

Reconnecting and exchanging ideas during the World Café © Sebastian Freiler EUROPARC Conference 2022

Reconnecting and exchanging ideas during the World Café © Sebastian Freiler

When delegates entered the room, they could already sense that something was going to be different… Instead of regular “cinema seating” in rows, the Conference Hall was set up in café style! This kickstarted the networking aspect of the event immediately. To support that even more, the Conference started off with our “World Café”. Facilitated with the help of Mary Alice Arthur, Delegates had the chance to move across tables and topics to speak from the heart on their experiences, wishes and hopes for the future. A great and interactive start to the Conference, especially following the many remote sessions during the pandemic.

During the World Café, Mary Alice as a “Keynote Listener”, helped participants reflect on the past two years. Participants had to sit at tables with people they had never met before and answer the following question: “Imagine the past two years were a movie that you had the starring role in….  what would the title of your movie be?“. From this, we looked at common elements, themes and experiences. After that, participants were asked to switch tables again. Each table now had a specific theme: from capacity building, to outdoor spots in Parks – all aspects of Protected Area management were covered. Together, participants had to answer the following questions:

  • From your unique perspective, what are the opportunities and challenges around “your table theme”?
  • What are the top 3 things that need to take place to accelerate success in this area? This could be something your park chooses to do/change; that EUROPARC can choose to do/change; or choices that society needs to make to bring about wider systemic change.

In the final round, after participants had again switched tables, they had to reflect on what the most powerful thing everyone individually and all together could choose or decide right now would be. All the feedback was then gathered and put upon the wall for everyone to observe during the Conference.

World Café Wall

World Café Wall

Keynote Speakers

The World Café set the Conference off to a great start. It helped our participants connect in a deep and meaningful way. Of course, the Conference also allowed for more “traditional elements”. Inspiring presentations were given by the following Keynote Speakers:

Noelle Aarts – Professor of Socio-Ecological Interactions and director of the Institute for Science in Society (ISiS) at the Radboud University in Nijmegen

Noelle’s research focuses on interactional processes to create space for change towards socio-ecological transformations. Her aim is to develop insights into the interplay between everyday conversations and wider structures and developments in society. During her keynote address, she reflected on conversations that take place in multi-stakeholder collaboration processes. Often, these conservations result in an even bigger distance between opponents instead of being constructive. Noelle explained why these conversations are so difficult and how we can improve them.

You can find her presentation here.

Milja Vuković – Blue and Green regional ecological platform, Serbia

Milja Vuković © Sebastian Freiler

Milja Vuković is an art historian and environmental activist. She found the regional ecological platform “Blue and Green”, which consists of Wild Belgrade & For less garbage and more happiness – Zero and Low Waste Serbia. She’s driven by the understanding how we as individuals and as a community can deepen our relation with the natural world and develop meaningful regenerative practices. Milja spoke about the challenges and opportunities of ecological communication in the current time of ecological crisis. How can we question our habits and create new ways of conveying inciting messages? Or as she puts it: ‘Words create worlds’ – so with the help of oaks, rain and blackbirds let’s weave threads of new, transformational green stories”.

You can find her presentation here.

Matthias Schickhofer – Conservationist, author, photographer and journalist

Matthias Schickhofer is a conservationist, strategy consultant, campaigner, author, photographer and journalist. He cooperates with NGOs such as EuroNatur, WWF or Vier Pfoten on a range of different projects & campaigns. He also develops nature tourism projects (Bear Trail, Iseltrail, Waldviertel nature experience). In his keynote address Matthias looked at the challenging times we are currently living in, where wealth seems to be put over nature. How can we stop from being discouraged? How do we regain optimism and energy for positive change? In this though-provoking keynote, Matthias looked at both negative, as well as positive examples from across Europe.

You can find his presentation here.

Mary Alice Arthur – Story Activist at SOAR

Mary Alice Arthur © Sebastian Freiler

Apart from guiding participants through the World Café, Mary Alice also provided a Keynote Speech. She is a Story Activist, using story practice for positive systemic shift, and an internationally recognised process host. As an Art of Hosting steward, Mary Alice teaches participatory process and works with organisations and groups all over the world. She is the author of “365 ALIVE! Find your voice. Claim your story. Live your brilliant life” and hosts THE STORY DOJO, an online community focused on the power and practice of story. She is a co-creator of Collective Story Harvest. During her keynote address, she spoke about the stories we tell ourselves and each other. We tell them, not only to make sense and meaning of the world, but also determine our agency. Through her keynote, participants discovered how stories from the past can meet a vastly different future and how they can continue to hold up and strengthen our work. Participants also were “put to work” in this interactive experience, giving them the change to discover the theory behind Story Sharing.

You can find her presentation here.

Mary Alice also shared additional resources:

The Power of Questions.

Trio Storysharing Excercise

Additionally, politicians Astrid Eisenkopf and Valerie Zacherl-Draxler welcomed delegates to the beautiful Burgenland, Austria and underlined the importance of nature conservation and Protected Areas.

Mind Factories

Upon registering, delegates could choose from 17 different “Mind Factories”, all looking at Communications in one form or another. Every Mind Factory belonged to a overall theme: Youth, Transboundary, People and Culture, Biodiversity, Parks of the Future. From funding to digital communications, in groups participants worked on what Protected Areas need to communicate in the 21st Century. Every Mind Factory was then joined by a “Conference Ambassador”, young students who helped create the conclusions per theme. These conclusions were then presented through drawings, flipcharts and digital whiteboards on the afternoon of the second day of the Conference by our. We’d like to thank E.C.O. for their help in making this a success. You can find the combined conclusions here:

All Mind Factory conclusions

You can find outcomes and presentations per Mind Factory here.

What else?!

Watching birds during the Fieldtrips EUROPARC Conference 2022 Austria

Watching birds during the Fieldtrips © Sebastian Freiler

Conference delegates were also given opportunities to present their work during the Conference. At the EUROPARC Marketplace participants were given the possibility to set up at stall and present their Park, work or project. Additionally, the Speakers’ Corner gave participants 7 minutes on the main stage to present their work, project or idea. You can find all the presentations here.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a EUROPARC Conference without our field trips. Participants went on e-bike tours to Hungary, enjoyed some delicious wine-tasting, or impressive canoeing on the Danube river. No matter what trip participants choose, spectacular birdwatching was always included! A special thanks to Fertő-Hanság National Park for co-organising this with our host.

Award Ceremony

There was also time to celebrate success!

Réka Szilágyi and Rosie corner with Michael Hošek and Andreas Holz of the Alfred Toepfer Stiftung © Sebastian Freiler

In EUROPARC we like to recognise the great work being done, managing our Protected Areas around Europe. After two years, we were finally able to award the Transboundary Parks that joined the network, or renewed their commitment. The Parks (re)-awarded were:

  • Háldi Transboundary Area
  • Transboundary Area Julian Alps
  • Bavarian Forest & Šumava National Parks
  • Krkonoše & Karkonosze National Parks
  • Podyjí & Thayatal National Parks
  • International Naturpark Bourtanger Moor – Bargerveen

Additionally, we could finally award our Alfred Toefper Scholarship winners of 2020. We’ve officially awarded Anna Jennings, Rosie Corner and Réka Szilágyi. Of course, we finished it off with a great Gala Dinner and dancing.

Green event

The EUROPARC Conference in Austria was a certified green event! It received Austrian’s environmental label for Green Meetings and Green Events. This label is for organisers, participants and locations that are involved and committed in the greening process to create a really sustainable event. There are a lot of requirements to receive this label, like providing shuttle buses, using local products, have a waste management concept in place and use bio-certified products in the kitchen.  You can read more about the label here.

Please note that a second EUROPARC Conference will take place in Argelès-sur-Mer, France from 3 – 7 October. The conference will focus on Climate Change Adaptation for Protected Areas.