EUROPARC Conference 2023, The Netherlands

(Former) EUROPARC Presidents take the stage during the EUROPARC Conference 2023. Picture: PDF-Grafie

The EUROPARC Conference is the event of the year for those working in Europe’s Protected Areas and Natura 2000 sites. From 3 – 6 October 2023, the EUROPARC network met in Leeuwarden, The Netherlands.

Inspiring, innovative and engaging…

… those are just three of the words that can describe the EUROPARC Conference 2023! The EUROPARC community came together in Leeuwarden, The Netherlands to pay ‘Tribute to our Landscape: Where Nature and People Meet in Harmony‘.

Our landscapes are part of the most valuable natural, social and cultural treasures of European society. Landscapes are where nature and people meet and interact in the past, present, and future. During the conference, we celebrated the beauty and diversity of the versatile European natural and cultural landscapes, but we also recognised the impact of humans on the landscape and discussed the dis-harmony that exists.

This year was extra special, as we celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the EUROPARC Federation. Special sessions throughout the programme honoured this milestone. However, EUROPARC always looks towards the future. That is why, youth played a special role throughout the programme. The ‘Youth Core Team’ opened the conference on Tuesday and overall 70 young people attended the conference!

Have a look at the different photo albums, to get an overview of all different programme elements – and maybe spot yourself 🙂

Album Tuesday 3 October                      Album Wednesday 4 October                   Album Thursday 5 October                 Album Friday 6 October

Official Conference pictures were taken by PDF-Grafie.

The Confernce report, prepared by our Dutch hosts, gives a detailed overview of all activities and sessions during the 4 days of the Conference, discover it now!

To the Conference report!

50 Years of EUROPARC

(Former) EUROPARC Presidents take the stage. Picture: PDF-Grafie

In its 50 years, EUROPARC has had truly extraordinary people take on the role of president. As such, it was a special honour, to invite 6 (former) presidents to the stage. Thanks to the generous support of the Alfred Toepfer Stiftung, we were able to invite Patrizia Rossi, Michael Starrett, Erika Stanciu, Thomas Hansson, Ignace Schops and Michael Hošek. Prompted by questions from young people, the presidents explored the most magical moments from their presidency, their wishes for the future and their biggest ‘lessons learned’.

Apart from this special session, EUROPARC also launched an updated version of our timeline, which you can discover here, and handed out some special 50th Anniversary gifts to Delegates. However, it was during the Award Ceremony that we truly honoured those that have made 50 years of EUROPARC possible: our members. After months of collecting video messages, talking to former Directors, Presidents and long-standing members, EUROPARC was able to launch the Interactive Storybook of the Federation. It details our 50 year history, told by those that have created it.

The Interactive Storybook is a tribute to the EUROPARC members, who are the heartbeat of our organisation.

Discover the Storybook!

Conference Statement

To ensure a lasting impact, as well as to underline the united voice of the EUROPARC Network, a Conference Statement was created. It is a statement of intent, as well as a call to action, to increase harmony between nature and people. Through seven ‘steps’, the statement serves both as an inspiration, as well as a practical guide on how Europe’s Protected Areas can lead the way to a greener, healthier and more harmonised future.

Read the statement here

The statement was created for and by Conference participants. During the interactive session on Friday afternoon, participants were asked to come up with actions that can bring the Conference Statement to life. Some of their planned actions include:

  • Promote volunteering opportunities to connect people to nature;
  • Connect sporting groups with nature;
  • Share personal ‘magical nature moments’ with others;
  • Creating peer-to-peer learning spaces for all ages;
  • Be the change you want to see.

We invite our members and the wider EUROPARC network to take the Conference statement further and turn it into reality!

Keynote speakers

Experts from across Europe gave prompts for thinking and learning. Discover who was there:

Prof. Matthijs Schouten, together with the Youth Core Team

Matthijs is a senior strategist at Staasbosbeheer and a nature philosopher. Together with the Youth Core Team, Matthijs created the kick-off to the EUROPARC Conference. During the session, he explorde three themes with the youngsters:

  • How do they see the human-nature relationship?
  • What ways of partnership between humans and nature do they envisage?
  • How optimistic are they that we will achieve a sustainable future?

Members of the Youth Core Team expressed their fears, hopes and wishes for the future and implored upon audience members to act now. The session started off, with a beautiful video created by Laura Peters, former EUROPARC Youth Representative, and a poem by Lilliana Sneddon. You can watch it here:

Mayor Sybrand van Haersma Buma

The mayor of Leeuwarden officially opened the Conference on the Wednesday morning. With an inspiring speech, about the importance of integrating nature into our lives, he captivated the audience. He also showed just how they did that in Leeuwarden with ‘BOSK’: the moving forest project, where over a thousand trees moved through Leewarden’s city centre for a hundred days. Initially hesitant of how people might react to the reduction of parking space, it soon became clear that the only time people were actually upset, was when the trees left their area!

In a period where people are always in a hurry, they do change when they see trees.

Said Mayor Sybrand van Haersma Buma. Check out how ‘BOSK’ transformed the city centre:

Princess Laurentien van Oranje

Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands is a social entrepreneur, writer, strategist and dialogue facilitator. Her work revolves around social and ecological innovation and intergenerational dialogue on socio-economic issues. She is also a special advisor to Rewilding Europe. Before starting her speech, Princess Laurentien ‘planted’ a future tree in National Park Weerribben-Wieden in the Netherlands, together with the Youth Core Team. During her speech, she called for a change in behaviour and attitudes:

We need a paradigm shift. It is up to decide which side of history we want to be one.

Furthermore, she underlined the importance of partnerships to create systematic change. Who better to introduce the new partnership between the EUROPARC Federation and Rewilding Europe? At the end of her session, the two organisations officially signed the partnership agreement that will work on creating ‘Wilder Parks’ in Europe.

Geertje van Hooijdonk

As Director-General for Nature and Fisheries in the Netherlands, Geertje knows the importance of working together across sectors for the benefit of nature. She underlined that we have an opportunity to redefine our relationship with nature. Restoring nature and improving biodiversity also means that areas become more interesting to visitors. There are great wins to be achieved here!

Prof. dr. Louise E.M. Vet

Prof. dr. Louise E.M. Vet by PDF-Grafie.

Prof. dr. Louise E.M. Vet, former director Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW) and Emeritus Professor in Evolutionary Ecology (Wageningen University), was awarded several international prizes for her research on multitrophic interactions, delivering basic knowledge for the sustainable development of agro-ecosystems (e.g. British Rank Prize in Nutrition). Vet is an elected member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. In addition to her research, Louise Vet actively disseminates the great importance of ecological knowledge for a sustainable economy to politicians, business, and the public.

In her keynote address, Louise discovered how we can act together for biodiversity recovery. The current strategy to stop the loss of biodiversity has produced inadequate results, despite many years of effort by numerous land users. Ecologists realize this more than anybody else. But how can we reverse the trend? We desperately need a system approach and symbiosis between ecology and economy. Working WITH nature instead of AGAINST it.

We need to work with nature, instead of against it!

Louise described the strategy and progress of the Dutch Deltaplan, a Biodiversity Recovery plan that works on a societal wide change of mindset. The creation of the plan brought together farmer’s organizations, food supply chain partners, researchers, nature and environmental organizations as well as businesses and governmental institutions. It’s ambition? Making the Netherlands an example of a densely populated delta where biodiversity and economic development are interconnected, thus guaranteeing our quality of life – and that of future generations.

Louise’s presentation is available upon request. Please contact the EUROPARC Communciation’s team.

Prof M. (Theo) Spek, Professor of Landscape History; Head of the Landscape Knowledge Centre at the University of Groningen

Theo Spek has over thirty years of experience in scientific research on the history of Dutch and European cultural landscapes at the University of Groningen. Characteristic of his work is the interdisciplinary approach to cultural landscape history: historical, geographical, soil, archaeological, ecological and naming research methods are combined into a coherent story about the landscape and its history. This knowledge is widely applied in landscape policy, spatial planning, nature management and heritage care. Historical landscape ecology provides a basis for integrating heritage conservation and landscape management.

During the EUROPARC Conference, Prof Spek, together with two of his students Lydia van der Krogt & Aaron Migchels, addressed: ‘Landscape’: the relationship between earth, nature and humans

They focussed on:

  1. What is landscape, what does it consist of?
  2. How can we use knowledge about landscape to find long-term harmony and achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals?
  3. What lessons have we learned from previous policies and measures regarding the impact on the European landscape?

Get the outcomes

Kristian Bjørnstad

Kristian is the CEO of Norske Parker and chair of EUROPARC’s Nature Regional Landscape Parks Taskforce. He is a social scientist from the universities of Bergen and Lund with a specialization in the relationship between nature and people. In addition, he is an educator and certified course instructor in nature and cultural guidance. Kristian has been central to the development of regional parks in Norway and the establishment of Norwegian Parks. 

During his interactive session, Kristian dove into the varieties of nature values and Parks in our landscapes, to look at the elements we need to find long-time harmony. To find long-time harmony in our landscapes, we need to better recognize and integrate the diverse values of nature that underpin our work in Parks and Protected Areas. For example, are you aware of the varieties of values that underpin the management of strict nature reserves, rewilding areas, landscape parks or Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs)?  If we are unaware of this diversity, we are running the risk of working in strict sectors using silo type solutions. We need to broaden our views and scope of work.  

This session was based on the Report on the Diverse Value and Valuation by Nature published by IPBES.

Get Kristian’s presentation


As always, workshops were an important element of the Conference. These three-hour, interactive sessions allowed participants to take a deep-dive into a topic of their choice. From storytelling to conflict management, you can find all outcomes, presentations and workshop notes here:

Get all workshop outcomes

Inspiration Sessions

The Inspiration Sessions were the place to exchange and discuss with experts on a topic of choice. In thee rounds of 30 minutes, Delegates could attend different presentations. The aim of these sessions was for participants to exchange on these topics and get inspired from the work happening across Europe. Members of the Youth Core Team created posters with the outcomes.

Get the Inspiration Sessions outcomes

Field trips

Marker Wadden, National Park Nieuw Land, The Netherlands. Picture by Esther Bossink

From mudflad walking in the Wadden Sea to tracking the traces of animals in National Park Dwingelderveld: the Dutch National Parks went all out to surprise their guests! With an incredible diversity of landscapes, Delegates were emerged in the natural and cultural heritage of The Netherlands. Field trips were organised to:

To the Conference report!

As always, the EUROPARC Conference would not be possible without the dedication of many. We want to express our sincerest thanks to our Dutch hosts and the Dutch National Parks for putting together such a well-organised and dynamic conference.