Why and How to Make Nature More Accessible?
National Parks, nature heritage sites and symbolic landscapes are our national values and contribute to the quality of life. They are also an important source for environmental education, recreation, and tourism. But are they accessible for all?
Getting to nature can sometimes be challenging, due to a rocky path surface, a boardwalk being too narrow, too steep, too slippery or due to there being no nature trail at all. This affects not just those with a disability, but also people with temporary injuries, parents with small children, seniors, in fact, the largest part of the population. Adapting the environment and services to all is part of a sustainable development concept and is important, both from the social, as well as the economic perspective.
In this webinar, we had the opportunity to learn both from the perspective of nature accessibility experts and users about the challenges that getting access to nature poses to people with disabilities, as well as the pressures the Covid-19 pandemic is putting on nature trails. Additionally, we were introduced to some of the existing educational and accessibility solutions and programmes from different parts of Europe.
Hosted on May 7th 2021 through EUROPARC Federation´s channels, this webinar was organised in the framework of the project Interreg Central Baltic “Nature Access to All” (NatAc) together with the EUROPARC Nordic-Baltic section and attended by 365 participants from all over Europe.
Webinar programme and presentations
The session was moderated by Andris Klepers, Associate Professor and Researcher at the Vidzeme University of Applied Sciences, Latvia.
The first case study was presented by Sanna Kalmari, Accessible Travel Specialist & Travel Blogger from Finland. She spoke about how nature is a part of the Finnish national identity. Finland is the most forested country in Europe and big part of everyday life also for Sanna, who is a power wheelchair user. Sanna explained what accessible nature means for her, but also shared general tips on how accessible nature should be promoted. She highlighted that people with accessibility needs have unique needs and they want to make choices just like everybody else. That’s why it’s important to have different types of accessible trails.
Afterwards, Dafne Farré, Public Use and Environmental Education Technician from the Barcelona Provincial Council, Spain, presented in detail the accessibility resources present at the Natural Parks Network of this region. This includes the environmental programmes and services, teaching materials and practicable itineraries. Dafne also presented the Natural Parks Network Accessibility Plan and its key steps needed to deploy accessible trails and ensure their maintenance.
The webinar was concluded by Alise Lūse, Accessible Nature Tourism & Trails Practitioner from Latvia. She presented the work that the project Interreg Central Baltic “Nature Access to All (NatAc)” is carrying out for implementing accessibility solutions and how it is raising awareness in Latvia, Estonia and Finland. Alise shared a number of examples on how to deploy easy and efficient accessibility solutions at trails, including a path, a toilet, a resting area, info stands and tactile objects. Likewise, she mentioned the recently developed mapeirons.eu platform, which contains a map and detailed information on more than 1000 accessible places.
Here, you can find some of the resources that were shared, both by the participants and the speakers, during the webinar that may be of your interest in the field of nature accessibility.
- Accessibility website mapeirons.eu: https://mapeirons.eu/en/
- Video on Chest of Senses – Estonian Environmental Board (EN): https://youtu.be/lRQX7pYdCZg
- Video on Accessibility, Barcelona Provincial Council (Multilanguage): http://media.diba.cat/parcs/ParcsAccessible/ca.html
- Initiatives carried out by Lazio Regional Park Agency (IT): https://www.parchilazio.it/schede-11897-accessibile_naturalmente
- Methods for monitoring, best practices and more resources (IT): https://www.parchilazio.it/ricerca_pubblicazioni#form_ricerca
- Pubblicazione sul progetto “Accessibile? …Naturalmente!”: https://www.parchilazio.it/ricerca_pubblicazioni#form_ricerca
- Toolbox “Natura Accessibile” (IT): http://www.sibillini.net/attivita/attivita/educazioneAmbientale/index.php
- Finnish National Parks / Accessible destinations: https://www.nationalparks.fi/accessibledestinations
- Press release of German hiking association: https://www.wanderverband.de/_Resources/Persistent/4545c651757e5dc3ced31567a64957bfba9cf3f6/DWVResolution_Sicherung_Wegeinfrastruktur_und_naturnahe_Wege.pdf
- “The Blue Box” platform (SV): https://www.blaladan.se/
- Project Tatras without barriers (SK): https://www.lesytanap.sk/sk/tatry-bez-barier/
- Project working with the National Council for the Blind of Ireland: https://www.heritagecouncil.ie/projects/coming-to-your-natural-senses
- NatureScot, National Nature Reserves path grading system: https://www.pathsforall.org.uk/resource/the-path-managers-guide-to-grading
- News article from Bavaria, Germany (DE): https://www.nordbayern.de/region/forchheim/ungleich-vor-dem-naturschutzgesetz-rollstuhlfahrer-aus-der-frankischen-schweiz-wehrt-sich-1.10879151