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Posted on: 18th December 2009
Here in the Yorkshire Dales (see picture 1) autumn slips into winter; not with the arrival of crisp snow and crystal frosts, but a bluster of storm winds and vicious rain slashing the last of the orange leaves from nearly bare branches. Suddenly the mood changes: nights are dark, Christmas tunes play in the shops - reminding us that the year is speeding towards its end. All of this creates a mood of reflection after the constant whirl of activity that swept us through a busy 2009.
Organising seminars for EUROPARC Atlantic Isles on our own doorstep underpinned the year. The rolling green lowlands of Oxfordshire hosted a session on the role of protected landscapes in delivering health and well-being outcomes. Recently the dramatic venue of the Dynamic Earth Centre, nestling below the craggy outcrops of Edinburgh alongside the new Scottish Parliament building, analysed the development of landscape management programmes from targets and physically measurable outputs towards holistic, longer-term policy outcomes.
From events stimulating discussion of Europe-wide current thinking amongst landscape professionals to practical training events enabling protected-area practitioners to see management policies being implemented on the ground. Wilf Fenten, Director of EUROPARC Consulting, and his team hosted a group from Ukraine around the Bavarian Forest and Šumava National Park. Experts from the teams of three leading protected-area organisations shared their experience on many aspects of communication, interpretation and community engagement amongst these fantastically varied flora, fauna, life and landscapes. But it was not all earnest learning. Our Ukrainian colleagues even staged a Hutsul wedding with a glorious Hutsul bride and Wilf Fenten as groom. Hope it wasn't for real ... (picture 2).
The Training Champions programme also gathers pace, confidence and strength from within the group of dedicated practitioners; working together with two committed EUROPARC Consulting trainers to gather experiences of management planning and sustainable tourism for their own protected areas. A new intake of protected-area practitioners also joined a lively, interactive session in Slovakia, providing an enriching professional experience to take away and share with colleagues in their home protected areas.
Now is a time to review, re-energise and focus on the year to come. It's all too easy to forget during the constant pressures of organising the years work the individuals who both contribute to and participate in them. There are ongoing flurries of activity, logistical hiccups concerning travel, accommodation, facilities and programming. Ludicrous hold-ups with bureaucracy, frantic phone calls and faxes - and that's just for getting visas!
Nearly upon us the deadline for the next set of applications from the European Charter for Sustainable Tourism, which in 2009 welcomed another 17 successful applicants. All the troubles and the logistical issues quickly fade. What we here at EUROPARC Consulting remember from all these events are the very special people who work within our protected areas. We are all aware that the mood has changed with the altered financial circumstances of countries resulting from the banking crisis. Many staff, particularly from the Carpathian eco-region find budgets cut, jobs lost or insecure, wages delayed and the future uncertain both politically and financially. But are they downhearted? Yes, probably - but will that stop their enthusiasm and commitment in continuing to work for the benefit or the special places they represent? Of course not.
Everyone who works in landscape conservation knows that much of such work can be poorly rewarded, with a heavy workload. Yet the quietly dedicated work continues even under these troubled circumstances. There are always plenty of eager, bright and intelligent participants willing to travel hundreds - sometimes thousands - of kilometres to take up training opportunities, gain new professional skills, exchange insights and network with colleagues. This has been one of the noticeable factors in the established groups such as the participants in EUROPARC Consulting's Training Champions programme - a brilliant example of transboundary and inter-country networking. An effective way to spread knowledge and experience at low cost, and most of all a excellent way to maintain morale and support. (See picture 3 - training seminar in action.)
From the comfortable viewpoint of our offices in the U.K. these resourceful and uncomplaining individuals challenge us to look to new ways to support their tireless work on behalf of treasured landscapes. Many of these countries have over the last century endured far bleaker times than these, which doubtless helps them continue, knowing that things will improve.
We have no doubt that the resourcefulness and ingenuity of the designated-landscape family will find ways to continue moving forward into another challenging year protecting our vulnerable and precious places.