On September 18th 2018, the EUROPARC Conference opened its doors in Cairngorms National Park, Scotland, surrounded by stunning landscapes and the reminiscences of a summer already past. This year the Conference was hosted under the title “European Parks: inspired by the next generation”. It was focused on youth involvement in Protected Areas and commemorated the current Scottish Year of Young people 2018.
And if the expectations of this Conference are normally high among EUROPARC members, this time they were even higher being the host institution located at the homeland of EUROPARC Federation’s director, Carol Ritchie. From the directorate and Cairngorms National Park authorities, we consider this Conference a great success. Furthermore, the participation numbers were higher than ever, with 465 registered delegates from 42 countries and over 600 participants in some of the events, the agenda took place as scheduled and the enjoyment of the delegates was tangible from the beginning till the end.
Any remarks? Without any doubt, the exceptional involvement of young participants in the Conference, which summed up to 90 youngsters during one of the Conference days. Furthermore, the gathering included a Plenary Session with great speeches and a debate on youth related themes, a varied agenda of Workshops that covered up to twenty topics, the possibility to appreciate the stunning landscapes of Scottish highlands during any of the more than 16 Field-Trips, a boiling market place and an epic Gala Dinner that ended up with Scottish Ceilidh dances.
Check the Conference Photo-Album
Tuesday – EUROPARC General Assembly
On Tuesday, the first round of delegates started to arrive to McDonalds Highlands Resort in Aviemore to register for the Conference. This day, the agenda only included an internal event for EUROPARC members, the General Assembly, in which they are presented with the annual reports of the Federation. During the session, special recognition as long-serving members of EUROPARC Federation was given to the Environmental Agency of Iceland and North York Moors National Park Authority. Furthermore, an important moment took place with the signature of a Memorandum of Understanding between EUROPARC Federation and the European Network of Outdoor Sports (ENOS).
Wednesday – Keynote Speakers and Workshops
After registrations, the delegates started the day with a warm welcome from Muriel Grey, Scottish author, broadcaster and journalist, which opened the awaited Conference’s Plenary Session. The first speaker, Cassie Scott, shared with the audience a very personal testimony on how an 8 day trip in the wilderness helped her to overcome critical health and personal issues and lead her to dedicate her life to help youngsters in similar situations. Afterwards Mairi Gougeon, Member of Scottish Parliament and Minister for Rural Affairs & Natural Environment, demonstrated how a young person can fulfil a relevant political position for nature conservation.
In the second part of the plenary session, Richard Louv, author of the Last Child in the Woods best-seller and creator of the term “nature-deficit disorder”, presented his reflections about how nature and human well-being are intrinsically connected and the importance that nature conservation has to ensure our life-quality standards in the coming future. Following, Hendrikus van Hensbergen, young conservationist and founder of Action for Conservation, explained the mission and programme that this Foundations seeks to inspire and give place to the next generation of conservationists.
The Plenary Session came to an end with a round table focused on the topic “Engaging with Millenials” in which the keynote speakers along with Anna Fleming and Rachel Coyle (young representatives from Cairngorms National Park) and Ignace Schops (President of EUROPARC Federation) discussed on the role that youngsters play in the current nature conservation schemes and how they can be better involved. At this session, the public got to ask the panel about their perspectives on how is it possible to engage the new generations into park management and planning, and a great number of youngsters also had the opportunity to participate and share their concerns on this topic.
After an informal lunch, 18 different Workshops took place in different places of the McDonalds Highlands Resort covering a wide arrange of topics related with park management and nature conservation. The workshops that gathered the most of the attendance, showing thus the collective concern that these topics may have in our society, were those related with “youth”, “nature education”, “landscape management”, “visitors management in protected areas”, “natural heritage” and “sustainable tourism”. Read also the outcomes of the workshop sessions specially dedicated to the Youth Delegates.
After the workshops the participants had the opportunity to taste a Scottish inspired dinner from the hand of Highlands & Islands Enterprise and Visit Scotland, both sponsors of the Conference, seasoned by live Scottish traditional music.
Thursday – Fieldtrips
During Thursday September 18th, the Scottish weather honoured the Conference participants with clear skies over the Cairngorms National Park, which allowed them to enrol in one of the sixteen different field-trips scheduled for the journey. Nonetheless, the heavy wind present in all the area forced to modify some of the routes to the highest peaks. The fieldtrips included wildlife watching, visits to points of interest such as the Royal Deeside or Glenlivet Whisky Distillery, walks around iconic mountains like the Cairngorm or Ben MacDui, mountain biking tours and even a descend through the river Spey.
In the evening, after the delegates came back from their respective trips, an informal dinner was served in the main hall. During the dinner, the youth representatives present at the Conference surprised the attendees with a declaration about the role that Youth plays, or should play, in nature conservation and a spontaneous flash-mob that ended up with a dance in the centre of the room.
Friday – Conference Reflections, Youth Manifesto and Awards Ceremony
The Final day of the Conference started in Auditorium venue from the hand of John Swinney, Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills of the Scottish Ministry, who highlighted the importance of Youth involvement in Protected Areas management and the relevance that a Conference of this kind supposes for this region of the country. Following his presentation, different speakers from corporate and public institutions such as Grant Moir, Peter Cairns, Mike Cantlay, Stevie Christie and Hen Green contributed with their reflections on the Conference.
Among the speeches presented, references to the Brexit and reflections about the importance of maintaining the unity among protected area professionals in Europe to ensure the jointly work we carry out across in our territory were constantly made. Furthermore, Peter Argyle, Convener of Cairngorms National Park, remarked the importance of this matter in a speech where also was highlighted the necessity of youth involvement.
The session on the auditorium concluded at noon with the presentation of the Youth Manifesto, a document jointly developed by young representatives of different European Protected Areas that aims to serve as a guidance for Protected Area managers to maximize the involvement of youngsters in Protected Areas. This document also states the needs and main problems that youngsters living in rural areas face and recommendations to managers to facilitate their access to jobs and services in this sector.
And while lunch was served, the renowned EUROPARC Marketplace started in the main hall with the participation of a great number of delegates. At this spot, a total of 41 stalls were displayed where members, institutions and businesses related with Protected Areas had the opportunity to raise awareness and get to show their most relevant projects, initiatives and products to the participants, in an event in which delicacies from all over Europe were more present than ever.
As the day moved forward, the agenda gave place to the latest part of the Conference. Introduced by a Scottish bagpipe band, the EUROPARC Awards Ceremony acknowledged the efforts that different professionals and institutions carried out during 2018 for parks and nature conservation. This way, the Transboundary Award was granted to Pasvi Inarik transboundary Park, Finland, for their outstanding international work. The Alfred Toepfer Natural Heritage Scholarship Awards went to Lászlo Patkó – “Large Carnivore co-existence and local involvement” (Hungary), Agné Jasinavičiūtė – “Landscape protection and management” (Lithuania) and Baiba Ralle – “How to communicate with the local communities, tourists & volunteers” (Latvia).
Finally the handover of the EUROPARC Conference flag was the end point of the awards, and for those of you that were not present at the Conference we are pleased to inform you that, next year from 24 to 26 September 2019, EUROPARC Conference will be hosted at Kemeri National Park in Latvia!
And, as it is tradition, the closure of the Conference took place with the Gala Dinner in which many of the delegates honoured the hosts of Cairngorms National Park by wearing kilts and dancing the traditional Scottish Ceilidh; a perfect end for the event.