Protected Areas and Outdoor Sports. Best Friends Forever?

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At the 6th Outdoor Sports Euro’Meet 2022, EUROPARC organised the workshop “Protected Areas and Outdoor Sports. Best Friends Forever?”. The event took place in #Silkeborg, the Outdoor Capital of Denmark, between the 14-16 of September 2022.

Background of the event

Outdoor Sports are an excellent way to connect people to nature. However, conflicts arise when sports are practised unsustainably, or when different users have conflicting interests. EUROPARC has signed a memorandum of understanding with ENOS, the European Network of Outdoor Sports, to tackle these challenges together. As such, we were invited to take part in the 6th Euro-Meet earlier this year.

The event followed the theme “Green Sports for a Greener and Healthier Europe“. EUROPARC’s Teresa Pastor presented at a poster session and also led a workshop at the event.

The workshop – Sharing expectations and triggering ideas

To set the scene, Teresa presented the results of a survey, which was conducted in the framework of the SEE project. The topic was the perceptions that Protected Areas managers have about Outdoor Sports practitioners.

The feedback revealed that 45% of the respondents were positive about Outdoor Sports for the benefits they bring. Nonetheless, 17% had a less-positive perception, due to the negative socio-environmental impacts Outdoor Sports can exert, while 48% positioned themselves as neutral.

With outdoor sports practitioners’ numbers steadily increasing, a risk of a shift from neutral to a negative perception is arising.

The workshop was a perfect venue to discuss different ideas in favour of a constructive dialogue to better accommodate Outdoor Sports in Protected Areas.

The first question we asked ourselves was: who should we hold responsible for the dialogue between Protected Areas and Outdoor Sports?

The general opinion was that the responsibility should be equally shared between Protected Area managers and Outdoor Sports organisations. Still, the process should be triggered by the Protected Area manager, as they are responsible for managing the natural space. Third parties that play a role are individual practitioners, however, they are more difficult to approach. Still, it is important to underline that each Outdoor Sports practitioner holds the responsibility for their own actions.

The workshop also gave the opportunity for those engaged in Outdoor Sports, to express what they expect from Protected Areas:

  1. To receive more and better information about:
    The impacts Outdoor Sports create on the Protected Area;
    Management decisions;
    Where they are allowed to go, i.e. better MapTrails;
  2. To offer better designed, more suitable facilities. Especially for Outdoor Sports practitioners to be able to co-participate in their design to ensure they are fit for the purpose. Recreational infrastructure and facilities are key management tools;
  3. A better understanding of each Outdoor Sports specific features;
  4. To be open for dialogue, including different user groups;
  5. To be open to partnerships.

In turn, Protected Areas expressed what they expect from Outdoor Sports:

  1. Respect for rules;
  2. Respect for the environment and the site;
  3. Willingness to participate in open dialogue;
  4. More pro-activeness in proposing actions and participating in co-design.

Our steps for dialogue

Finally, three basic steps to starting dialogue were agreed:

  1. Awake the interest;
  2. Raise awareness about the main impacts and issues associated with Outdoor Sports;
  3. Improve knowledge about impacts through consultation with different Outdoor Sports groups in order to make knowledge-based decisions.

The group concluded that there is a genuine interest from both sectors to mutually understand each other and to start dialogue and cooperation in order to stay best friends forever!

Want to know more?

If you are interested in further outcomes of the events, as well as other presentations, you can find them all on the ENOS’ website here.

We also launched a second call for feedback on the topic: Sustainability and Environmental Education in Outdoor Sports: Survey on Outdoor Sports in Protected Areas, and are keen to get your views! The questionnaire takes approximately 15 minutes to fill in and is available in four languages (English, French, German, Spanish).

Take me to the questionnaire!