50th Anniversary: Quo Vadis, the EUROPARC?

Published on:

EUROPARC is turning 50. On this occasion, our president turns directly to our membership with a message on the past, present and future.

Article issued by our President, Michael Hošek, for the EUROPARC members. 

A message from our President Michael Hošek to EUROPARC members for our 50th Anniversary

The 50th EUROPARC Federation General Assembly will be held on 3rd October 2023. Not every organisation can overcome such a long period of time, and not every organisation can maintain a high and stable membership. It is a cause for celebration, but also for reflection on where we have come since 1973, and what path we want to take next.

From our perspective, those who founded the Federation in 1973 lived in a simpler environment. However, this is only true on the surface. They also lived in a Europe divided in two by the Iron Curtain. This was also the case in Germany itself, at that time two different countries. Perhaps that is why EUROPARC was founded in the West Germany. And the communication and cooperation between the states in those two different “Europes” was not very intense either.

In the field of nature conservation, the administrators of Protected Areas (hereinafter PAs) were by far the most aware of this, which is why they founded the Federation. Not only today, but even at that time, PAs were one of the most successful tools in our field, but we often reinvented practices that had long been proven elsewhere, or were unable to effectively protect wildlife occurring on the borders of several countries. So from the beginning, EUROPARC’s goal was a combination of simple communication to share experiences and active cooperation on this basis.

The ‘boom’ in terms of development came in the 1990s, after the Velvet Revolution and the lifting of the Iron Curtain. Suddenly, the number of partners and potential members in Europe “doubled”, and EUROPARC, with its existence and objectives, hit the need of the time: to have a common platform for a cooperation. And further development has come in this millennium, with new technological and project opportunities, where the Federation has grown and continues to grow in terms of developing and applying tools not only for its members, but also as a team with growing professional expertise. Just have a look at our website, because today it is no longer within the power of an individual to actively participate as a member in all Federation activities.

Today, with approximately 400 members in 40 countries, we are by far the largest international membership organisation in Europe, and probably globally in terms of our focus on protected areas. But more importantly, we have a clear vision, set by our 2030 Strategy – the one we adopted as members in 2021 – with the vision of “Sustainable nature; valued by People”. As well as, the mission “To improve and champion the policy and practice of Protected Areas to ensure that our natural and cultural heritage is protected and enhanced for current and future generations”. But the world is changing rapidly, and we need to be able to interpret our objectives in the light of this. Fast enough, but most importantly, appropriately enough, so that we do not lose sight of our mission. To this end, allow me the following reflection.

Protected Areas strengthen at strategic level

When we were negotiating the Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) for 2030, achieving 30% coverage of Protected Areas was one of the main goals that the document managed to push through. And we have the same in the EU Biodiversity Strategy 2030. The EU countries are now developing plans to expand their networks. But the important thing is that the importance of Protected Areas is now recognised by perhaps everyone – not only as a tool for biodiversity conservation, but also for climate change adaptation and mitigation, and not least as a model for sustainable use of the landscape. And we should not lose that momentum.

Protected Areas and beyond their borders

However, it is also clear that, particularly in Europe, the current model cannot be used without further changes. In addition to the need to work with local communities to manage Protected Areas, other tools must be found to bridge the gap between Protected Areas and the “unprotected landscape”. The new concept of “Other effective area-based conservation measures” (OECMs), or “areas separate from Protected Areas”, where conservation is achieved mainly as a by-product of other management, should serve this purpose. In other words, not as a primary conservation activity, but as activity of other sectors (mainly agriculture, forestry, fishery,…) as economic activity. OECMs, if applied, can be a suitable intermediate step that contributes to a mix of land uses, but in a sustainable way, without being a protected area. And it is up to us as the EUROPARC to actively participate in the further development of this concept. Most of the EU countries want to use it as a tool to achieve the 30×30 target, i.e. to “designate” OECMs as an enlarged part of Protected Areas networks. That is an opportunity, but also a threat to weaken Protected Areas, and we should be well aware of it.

Innovative financing is not just about money

EUROPARC is already very active in the search for new funding models for Protected Areas. This varies widely from country to country. In some of them the sources for ensuring care are suitably diversified, in others it is still mainly the state budget. But with Innovative financing comes not only “new money” but also new partnerships – with business, with the research community, with the general public, who are also increasingly ready to support us directly. But above all, it is a process in which new tools of care are developed with partners. These are now often focused on adaptation or mitigation of climate change (e.g. through carbon offsetting schemes), further opening up space for a broader perception of the role of Protected Areas.

Let’s focus on what is important and leave out the unimportant

There is a plethora of opportunities for projects and activities. It is now easy to communicate and create not only valuable outputs, but also the appearance of them. And EUROPARC must therefore consider which activities are meaningful and beneficial to its members, and which (although also important) are not a priority at the time compared to our resources. This is always a difficult decision, made all the more difficult at a time of many new concepts and ideas. But I believe that it can be done, and our involvement in selected activities, including active promotion of new topics, is proof of that.

But in any case, permanent feedback from you, our members, is necessary. And on the Council, again, not only to respond to change, but also to ensure a stable strategic direction that is not subject to quick fads for no good reason.