Wetland Conservation and Governance – The case of Mar Menor

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Article issued by Carmen Martínez, one of the winners of the Alfred Toepfer Natural Heritage Scholarship in 2017.  Carmen works for ANSE, a regional ONG aimed at Nature Conservation for more than 10 years working in the region of Murcia, Spain. Carmen is also a Lecturer in Methods Area of Experimental Sciences at Faculty of Education at the University of Murcia. Nowadays, she is engaged in the protection of Mar Menor, a Mediterranean Coastal Lagoon, establishing a management plan and involving inhabitants and workers in its conservation.

Carmen Martinez, one of the winners of the Alfred Toepfer Natural Heritage Scholarship 2017, EUROPARC Conference, Portugal

Wetland Conservation and Governance – The case of Mar Menor

Sustainable development in protected areas. Contribution to a resource-efficient, green and competitive low-carbon economy

Wetlands are among the most productive ecosystems, but also among the most populated and threatened, due to different pressures such as habitat destruction, drainages, land conversion, pollution and over-exploitation of resources. The Mar Menor lagoon, a hypersaline coastal wetland located in the southeast of the Iberian Peninsula, hosts valuable species and ecosystems, what is legally protected by Regional, European and International figures. Despite its values, the area suffers high pressures due to the high levels of land occupation and intensive uses and, mainly, the lack of a management plan and actions. This causes some changes that triggered a strong and quick eutrophication process in 2016 and, despite some measures have led to the improvement of the water quality, the consequences still endure.

The aim of this initiative was comparing and exchanging information about the coastal wetland management and governance, in order to create certain guidelines and recommendations that help to develop the conservation and sustainable uses of these ecosystems and to propose the export of some of these practices to the Mar Menor lagoon.

During 2018, several protected coastal wetlands from Albania, France and United Kingdom have been visited, thanks to the support of Alfred Toepfel Scholarship, ANSE (Asociación de Naturalistas del Sureste) and WWF/Adena (Spain). The areas were selected due to their similarity to the Mar Menor ecosystem (natural or social), and its different management and governance practices.

The visited areas: where and why?

Divjaka-Karavasta National Park

The Park, located in Albania, has been protected since 1994 and includes a high diversity of ecosystems and species and its landscapes are a reminder of what the Mar Menor lagoon and its associated wetlands would have been one hundred years ago, including some traditional uses as small scale fisheries. Currently, this lagoon has a much lower level of pressure than the Spanish lagoon, although some urbanistic developments that have been programmed will completely change the situation of the park.

Although the local population is not involved actively in the conservation of the area, some environmental organisations fight for the conservation of the park collaborating with the Park Administration, and fight against national administrative and economic decisions, such as the building of a macro resort in the protected area.

The main aims of the visit were to appreciate the involvement of NGOs in the conservation and management of national areas and the relationships between Environmental Bodies, NGOs and Economic Sectors.

The Blackwater, Crouch, Roach and Colne Estuaries

The Blackwater, Crouch, Roach and Colne Estuaries is a low lying estuary that was designated due to its rare habitats and is located in Essex, United Kingdom. Some of the main problems they face are the high levels of land occupation along the river Thames, some pulses of water pollution due to the agricultural practices and the receding of the coastline and the estuary because of climate change effects. Currently, they have fishery management and a management plan for the restoration of the native oyster in the area is being developed, as well as a plan for habitat creation in order to restore the eroding salt marsh. Although they had problems with agricultural runoff in the past, this has been improved these days.

The society of the United Kingdom has a great tradition of associationism. Non-governmental associations have hundreds or thousands of members and volunteers that could urge different Administration to take measures to take care of Nature and improve it. Associations are even able to carry out diverse actions, such as the creation of private reserves or the restoration of habitats in an autonomous way without depending on governmental finance.

The main objectives of the visit were to get some information about people involvement, pollution control, and management and to establish some contacts to help to improve the management of eel fisheries and eel populations.

The French Mediterranean Coast

In the south French Mediterranean coast, several protected wetlands were selected to acquaint various cases studies, experiences and methodologies. These were included in the Réserve Naturelle Nationale du Bagnas, classified as National Natural Reserve and as Natura 2000, where the protection of the space should be balanced with the development of human activities; in the Parc Naturel Régional de la Narbonnaise en Méditerranée, one of the biggest Mediterranean protected spaces in France, water quality is monitored; or in the Parc Naturel Régional de Camargue, a large wetland named Biosphere Reserve by the UNESCO included in the Ramsar Convention, which hosts 7 Natura 2000 places.

The public organisation Conservatoire du Littoral is the owner of some coastal areas of the protected spaces, which predictably ensures the conservation of the area above private interests, and the management of these public areas is carried out by local communities, NGOs or mixed unions, involving people in the area.

The visit intends to discover the advantages and drawbacks of public ownership with participative management and to detect the conflict among different social groups activities and how they have been solved on a consensus basis.

Some measures that could be applied in the Mar Menor lagoon

After these visits, one of the main conclusions is that there are no magic recipes that could solve the problems and there is not a single model for the management of coastal wetlands worldwide, but it should accommodate to the specific necessities and the reality of the space and its surroundings. However, creating some common guidelines and conservation priorities is also essential. Some of the techniques and practices seen in different wetlands that could be implemented in the Mar Menor lagoon are:

  • The protected spaces should have a management plan to set up the main criteria and conservation priorities of the space and the way to reach the defined objective, including a governance model. The management plan should be flexible and adaptive to the requirements and changes and be updated periodically. The lack of the plan or management criteria or the lack of adaptability would cause inefficiency in the management process. Currently, the Mar Menor lagoon has no management plan.
  • Long-term vision to anticipate changes, such as coastal dynamics, ecosystems succession or climate change effects. Some coastal areas, such as La Manga sandbar, should be prepared for the rising of the sea level.
  • Setting inclusive and participative governance models facilitating society involvement at an individual and a collective level.
  • Land purchasing of priority spaces of those particularly threatened. Even though this requires a significant investment, the land purchase can facilitate the management, prevent future risks and save costs, which means the benefit surpasses the cost.
  • Restoring spaces and decreasing the pressures on threatened areas through innovative actions, aimed to restore the natural functioning of the ecosystem. To have in-depth knowledge of the space, human and economic means is necessary, as well as a courageous attitude to face any opposition.
  • Creating boat exclusion areas in order to facilitate the breeding of birds and to improve the status of the flora and seagrasses.
  • Fishing management based on the breeding season. Currently, some studies are being carried out by ANSE in order to improve the knowledge of some endangered species as the eel, but some measures should be implemented by Sectoral Bodies.
  • Creating spaces for enjoying the Nature with the aim of improving the sense of belonging and the marking with space.

Some general measures and guidelines that could be carried out are:

  • External control of the Administration by non-governmental entities that ensure suitable and impartial management, whose main objective is environmental conservation and its balance with the population equitable socioeconomic development. Therefore, it is essential that society acts as a control body, for which it must be motivated and be able to rely on bodies and systems of effective participation.
  • The integrity of the natural areas and the ecosystem process should be assured as the only way to get long term conservation and management. The only way of preserving the Protected Spaces is taking into account the natural functioning and the unavoidable changes that will occur over the next decades.
  • The deep knowledge of the space, its natural, cultural and socioeconomic reality lets adapt the management to the situation and improves the results. Exchanging good practices set up in other similar areas, intersectoral network building and knowledge are essential for assuring the ecosystem conservation.
  • The nature-based solutions could be more efficient than the hard grey infrastructures, but they need better nature and natural process understanding in order to enhance the resilience of ecosystems and the provision of services. The implementation could increase the investment in, mainly, human resources, and the measures taken should be agreed to with the local population and other users.
  • The effectiveness of the conservation also depends on the existence of strong institutions, which take agreed measures. Successful management of nature includes well organised cooperation of different institutions involved in nature conservation, enough and evidence-based information on biodiversity and natural process, and appropriate socioeconomic indicators and the courage to establish innovative long-term solutions.

Get to know the previous winners of the Alfred Toepfer Natural Heritage Scholarships and keep tuned, we will open a new call at the beginning of 2020. 

Alfred Toepfer Scholarship winners at EUROPARC Conference 2017, Sao Pedro do Sul, Portugal (winners: from left to right: Zerrin Karaarslan, Csaba Bereczki and Carmen Martínez) © Eduardo Realinho

“Mercantour and Alpi Marittime, the scenarios of A Sustainable Journey”

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Mercantour and Alpi Maritimme – the scenarios of “A Sustainable Journey”.

It is well known that protected areas host some of the most stunning landscapes and natural values on earth because often these values are the cornerstones for its designation. That’s why it is not surprising that since the beginning of the cinematographic industry, parks have been the perfect scenery for the production of movies all over the world.

Yet, there is more than beautiful sights inside protected areas. Parks are also places where local communities co-exist with nature and we, as curious human beings, like to explore and experience their culture and delicacies, valuing their authenticity.

However, our visits can also create negative impacts on these communities and on the natural values that surround them, so it is important that we all learn how to make wiser decisions when traveling in order to guarantee the subsistence of the places and people we visit.

Promoting Sustainability with real examples from the Charter

At EUROPARC Federation, we chose this element as the leitmotif for the production of the recently awarded film “A Sustainable Journey”. This film was created as a communication tool within the project CEETO Interreg Central Europe with a single objective in mind: to raise awareness about the importance of sustainable tourism among travelers and local communities.

Snapshot of the movie, in Alpi Marittime

For its production, it was paramount to choose destinations adhered to the European Charter for Sustainable Tourism in Protected Areas, in which examples of sustainable development could be found and, at the same time, counted with locations and landscapes that would inspire the viewers and encourage them to reinforce their connection with nature. And those were the foremost reasons why we chose the Mercantour National Park in France and the Alpi Marittime Natural Park in Italy were selected as the scenarios for the production of “A Sustainable Journey”.

Mercantour National Park and Alpi Marittime Natural Park

On one hand, located in the south of France close from the French Riviera at the crossroads of multiple climatic, geological and altitudinal influences, the Mercantour National Park is home to an exceptional diversity of natural resources. This variety of landscapes, environments, and species have created a jewel of preserved nature, a land of resources for the men and women who live and work there. The Mercantour has struck a right balance between wilderness and human activity with the creation of the National Park in 1979. The Park is organised around a central area called the heart of the Park, protected and regulated, and by an area of partnership with the municipalities, in a constant concern for harmony between protection, knowledge and sustainable development.

Parc national du Mercantour

Right at the other side of the border, in Italy, the mountains of the Alpi Marittime Natural Park raise until 3297m, the altitude of its highest peak Mont Argentera. Surrounded by very steep slopes, villages like Valdieri, Entracque, and Vernante host a small community of entrepreneurs that provide different services to the visitors, from outdoor sports to handcrafted cheese and beer. Many of these businesses are also certified sustainable businesses, adhered to the European Charter for Sustainable Tourism in Protected Areas and that develop their activity following procedures that are respectful with nature conservation at the same time they support the socio-economic development of their own community. Likewise, both the Mercantour National Park and Alpi Marittime Natural Park have been adhered to the European Charter for Sustainable Tourism in Protected Areas since 1999.

Parco Naturale Alpi Marittime

A Sustainable Journey

“A Sustainable Journey” portrays the story of a traveler seeking to escape the pressures of everyday life to a different kind of tourism that is good for nature and good for him too, and invites others to make a similar holiday choice. During the film, the traveler explores a different aspect of the area on foot and bicycle, experiences heritage and culture, natural places – wild and less wild – and local villages, shopping and partaking in local food and drink. Realising that he, through his choices can affect the local environment, culture, and economy. As a guest to these protected areas, he sees too that, these special places, are also places where people live, work, respect and look after.

The film was recently awarded the Terres de l´Ebre Award – Best movie promoting sustainability at Terres Travel Festival – Films & Creativity among more than a hundred audiovisual productions from 24 different countries. You can get further information by visiting “A Sustainable Journey – the Film” webpage at CEETO website, or watch the whole movie below:

Apart from English, the movie is available in French, GermanItalian and Spanish language.

For related news, visit Mercantour National Park page!

EU Elections & Climate change: a call for Action in Brussels

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article issued by Enzo Lavarra, EUROPARC Council Member and former Member of the European Parliament

Scientists from all over the world have been warning global political global decision-makers for decades about the risks of a general collapse of the “Earth system” due to climatic changes. That must constitute a fundamental compass towards a new paradigm of sustainable development.

The climate is now widely present in public perception and our common consciousness. The driving force behind this awareness is now revealing itself to be great and unprecedented: the global movement of “Greta Thunberg’s” generation, starting with the extraordinary initiative of theFridays for Future.

The system of European parks and their most representative association, EUROPARC Federation, brings to this new perspective the baggage of its own experience and actions.

Around the key principle of nature and ecosystem protection, parks are implementing initiatives based on rigorous principles of ecological sustainability, on quality agriculture connected with the local culture and traditions, on intelligent tourism and not environmentally aggressive, on the enhancement and attention to the landscape, on the relationship, typically European, between environment, cultures and territories.

How are Parks contributing?

In mountain areas, parks promote policies dealing with melting glaciers and shrinking permafrost. In marine areas, they act on the protection of species, sustainable fishing and fight against invasion of plastic. Periurban and urban parks work to reinforce green belts and to create green and ecological cities. And for the rivers, parks are committed to improve water quality and make watercourses as real “life chains”.

Most of these initiatives are supported through European funds linked to EU programs and nature directives. And recently, the European Parliament has approved a report on cohesion policies which recognizes the role of protected natural areas in the fight against climate change.

For these reasons, the system of European parks associated with the EUROPARC Federation, calls to action all elected MEPs and their political representatives, in order to

consider climate change and sustainable development as a priority of the legislative action of the new Parliament, of the Commission, of the European Council.

EUROPARC Federation is committed to dialogue and to offer its contribution in order to:

1) Consolidate the “parks system” as promoters of a new way of thinking and on acting against climate change

2) Propose transnational, national and regional parks as stakeholders representing widespread interests, and as interlocutors for political decisions on sustainable development, quality of territories and landscape, social cohesion

3) Enhance protected areas’ contribution to ecosystem conservation. Ecosystems, as expressed also by the European Commission, produce positive values e.g. in supplying water and timber, in the regulation of water cycle, in cultural services (nature and landscape);

4) Recognize networks on Climate change that EUROPARC and its members intend to build with Universities, Foundations, Environmental associations, public and private bodies.

In this context, the Parks system, through its representation expressed in EUROPARC, intends to play a significant role as an educational, informative and communicational vehicle to obtain positive effects on the awareness of the problem and of the very tight timescale for acting. Parks can act both as amplifiers of the global alarm, as sources of correct information, and as forerunners of climate change adaption and mitigation.

EUROPARC’s Call to Action

WHAT WE ASK: Put Climate Policies high on the priority list, ensuring the integration of Nature Conservation in general, and valuing the role of Protected Areas in particular, in the EU Climate strategies and targets.

WHY? Europe needs action for climate. Protected Areas are key element to tackling climate change by protecting ecosystems, which provide natural solutions for mitigation and adaption. Ecosystems perform important services for society, such as climate regulation, carbon sequestration and storage, flood protection, water purification, water provision and soil erosion prevention.

To safeguard these fundamental services, resilient ecosystems are needed to cope with the impacts of climate change. To address climate challenges faced by European landscapes and biodiversity, EUROPARC is promoting habitats conservation and restoration, ensuring better resilience of ecosystems, and is raising capacity among managers to improve adaptation measures and planning in protected areas.

These and other measures at EUROPARC-EU-Natural-Heritage-Policy-Paper (also available in Italian and French)

The state of Protected Areas in Spain – Yearbook 2018 by EUROPARC Spain

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To celebrate the World Environment Day, EUROPARC Spain launched the 2018 Yearbook of the state of Protected Areas in Spain. Following EUROPARC’s Spain commitment of “having a living observatory of protected areas in the Spanish State”, in 1999 they implemented a systematic methodology to collect annually information on the:

  • Protected terrestrial and marine area coverage
  • Current status of planning of protected natural areas and the Network Natura 2000
  • Evolution of the economic and human resources dedicated to the management of protected areas, 
  • Management effectiveness
  • Examples of new governance models
  • Evolution of visits to national and natural parks
  • Contribution to the welfare of the society of these territories.
  • Perspectives on connectivity and adaptation to climate change

The Yearbook comes out just one year before the balance of the 20 Aichi Targets assumed a decade ago by the Convention on Biological Diversity, that aimed to halt biodiversity loss on the planet, ensure the sustainable use of natural resources and equitably distribute the benefits of conservation. The review shows that Spain will partially fulfill some of the commitments in terms of quantitative targets, specifically those set out in Target 11.

In Spain, over 27% of the protected terrestrial area and about 13% of marine protected waters are included in the Natura 2000 network,

making Spain with one of the European countries with the largest Natura 2000 coverage. In quantitative terms and on a global scale, there is a positive evolution. Currently, 238,563 protected areas are covered covering 20 million km2, equivalent to 14.9% of the land area. With regard to marine protection, it would have reached 7%, mainly in the exclusive economic zone (up to 200 nautical miles, with 16.8% and only 1.2% beyond 200 nautical miles from the coast).

However, Target 11 also poses complex challenges. In addition to designating places with the implications of previous studies, social-political commitment, they must be managed effectively and equitably. And needs to be connected and integrated into the territory. Evaluating these aspects requires necessarily deepen the analysis of the means (legal, material, economic and human resources) and procedures governing the management of such sites.

From numbers… to management effectiveness

Significant progress has also been made in the management of protected areas, but, nevertheless, despite the overcoming of the most difficult years of the economic crisis, the average investment in the parks continues to fall, which does not comply with the increase in the number of visitors.

Investment in protected areas and its efficient management are strategic in an ecological transition horizon, the fight against climate change and education and enjoyment of the values ​​of nature. With an average investment in parks continuing to decrease € 54 / ha in national parks (the lowest registered) and € 26 / ha in natural parks (values ​​similar to 2010), EUROPARC Spain, claims that budgetary allocations of protected areas need to be improved, so that they can adequately meet their very important functions.
For the promotion and strengthening of protected areas as preferential territories for the conservation of nature and sustainable development, in harmony with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (ODS).

The state of Spanish protected areas in a nutshell:

1) The 27% of the protected land area has been exceeded, included in the Natura 2000 Network, and almost 13% of the marine surface has been protected. Spain has complied with the international commitment to declare at least 17% of land and 10% of the marine surface.

2) There are 15 national parks and 152 natural parks declared in Spain. There are also 291 nature reserves, 342 natural monuments, 57 protected landscapes, and more than 800 spaces, usually of small size, designated with other figures developed by the autonomous communities.

3) Between 2017 and 2018, 16 new protected natural areas have been declared in five autonomous communities. Furthermore, the large marine protected area of ​​the Mediterranean Cetacean Migration Corridor has been also declared.

4) Among the new areas protected by international schemes, the Ponga Biosphere Reserve has been declared: Spain is the country that hosts the highest number Biosphere Reserves, with a total number of 49. Additionally, a new RAMSAR site, a new Geopark and a new UNESCO natural site have been declared.

5) Significant progress has been made in planning: 80% of national parks and 61% of natural parks have PRUGs (Use and Management Master Plans). 70% of the Natura 2000 spaces have an approved management tool.

6) Average investments in parks continue a decreasing trend: € 54 / ha in national parks (the lowest registered) and € 26 / ha in natural parks (values ​​similar to 2010).

7) The human resources dedicated to the management of the parks follow a similar pattern since 2012: an average of 87 people in national parks and 12 in natural parks.

8) The estimated number of visitors in national and natural parks exceeds 30 million, with an increasing trend in national parks.

9) 43% of the agreements of land stewardship, a tool for involving society in conservation, have been implemented totally or partially in spaces adhered to the Network Natura 2000, covering a surface of more than 265,000 hectares.

10) The State Strategy for green infrastructure, connectivity and ecological restoration has been released to the public and it is still in the process of formal approval. Additionally, several autonomous communities have approved strategic documents.

Download the Yearbook 2018 Protected Areas in Spain_(only in Spanish)