New Voices, new Visions, New Values – for People and Nature in Europe” was the theme of the EUROPARC Federation Conference 2017, held from 6th to 10th September 2017 in Arouca, Magic Mountains/ Portugal.

Next to Frank Grütz, European Representative of the IRF and President of the ERF about 270 participants from 36 countries attended the conference and found their accommodation in Sao Pedro do Sul.

In the afternoon of the first day EUROPARC conducted its General Assembly and Frank held a presentation about the IRF and the new established European Ranger Federation. The welcome ceremony in the evening with welcome speeches, buffet-dinner and music event was the first opportunity to closely get in contact on eye-level with park managers and representatives of non-governmental and governmental authorities from the nature conservation field across Europe. And it was only one of several highlights of the conference.

Early in the morning of the second day all participants were transferred by bus shuttle from Sao Pedro do Sul to the Plenary Session which was the official opening of the conference and took place in the Conference Hall of Secondary School of Arouca.

Welcome speeches were held by Artur Neves, Mayor of Arouca, Margarida Belém, President of the Board of ADRIMAG and Vice-president of Arouca Municipality, António Guterres, UN Secretary General, via Video Message, Ignace Schops, former and new elected President of EUROPARC Federation and Célia Ramos, Secretary of State of Spatial Planing and Nature Conservation.

In his video message UN Secretary General António Guterres praised the work of ADRIMAG and EUROPARC organizing this conference and he stressed that the Conference is “an excellent opportunity to debate and highlight the role of Protected Areas in the context of touristic, environmental, social, cultural and economic sustainability”.

The first keynote speaker Monsignor Francisco Froján Madero, Member of the State Secretary of Vatican, shared the vision of the encyclical LAUDATO Si`: On Care For Our Common Home, from Pope Francis, and introduced the concept of “ecological spirituality”.

After a video-message of Karmenu Vella, Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Humberto Delgado Rosa, Director for Natural Capital on the Directorate-General Environment, European Commission, presented the Action Plan for people, nature and economy, recently launched by the EU.

By presenting examples of good practice from his Municipality, Dominique Leveque, acting Mayor of AŸ-Champagne (France), a city in a protected area, Councilor of the Department of Marne and President of the Nature Regional Park Montagne de Reims, showed clearly how a Mayor who is tuned to sustainability and protection of natural ressources can make a difference in his municipality.

On my opinion the most impressive presentation was held by Erica Stanciu, former Executive Director of EUROPARC Federation: “Grassroots or top of the decision making tree?”

After decades of lobbying work as NGO for nature protection Erica Stanciu, currently Executive Director of ProPark, was invited to be State Secretary for Biodiversity Conservation and Protected Areas in the Ministry of Environment, Water and Forests in Romania when the Romanian Government decided to have a “one-year Technocrat Government” in 2016. During her presentation about this experiment Mrs. Stanciu pointed out how different and effective it is to have a political position compared to her former work in the NGO. “Nature is the basis of everything that happens in our society but most decision makers are passive towards nature conservation”, she stated and shared a model of passive and active environmental awareness. In the following she set up a couple of interesting questions and presented answers that are based on her experiences and that are sometimes uncomfortable (but true).

Marina Silva, currently Brazilian Senator and former Minister for Environment in 2003-2008, showed the previous interventions and focused on how to integrate economy and ecology in the same equation. “Politics is wrongly made of short-term measures… how can a model that disrespects culture, promotes social inequality and environmental disgrace, be the right one?”, she concluded as the final keynote speaker.

After a quick lunch the participants had the opportunity to take part in one of 16 workshops about various items during the entire afternoon. Frank and Ruth Grant from SCRA lead a workshop with the title: “Modern Park Rangers – improving skills for effective ranger teams” and presented case studies about ranger training from their home countries as openers. It was a very interesting workshop where 10 participants from 8 countries shared their experiences and opinions. After some discussion all participants fully agreed to the importance and necessity of Ranger Training and to the formulation and implementation of a European Ranger Training Standard. They took part in vivid discussions about the questions how Ranger Training should be conceived across Europe AND how a European Ranger Training Standard could be put into reality.

In the evening there was a cultural event in the Monastery of Arouca with Pipe Organ concert and a Dinner.

On the third day the participants took part in various field trips to different items, e.g. management of protected areas, cultural heritage, sustainable economy in the mountain villages,…

The fourth day was occupied with presentations at the Speakers Corner and Market Place. In the evening the EUROPARC Federation Conference 2017 ended up with a final ceremony wherein deserved institutions and persons were honored with special Awards (Goldman Prize, Transboundary Parks Programme Awards, Alfred Toepfer Scholarship Award, Alfred Toepfer Medal) and Cairngorms NP in Scotland presented themselves as host for the EUROPARC Federation Conference from 18 – 21 September 2018.

The EUROPARC Federation Conference is an important opportunity to strengthen the contact to EUROPARC, to represent the rangers of Europe, to inform about their work and duties, to raise the ranger image and to build up important contacts to EU, politics, governmental authorities, park managers and other institutions working in nature conservation across Europe on eye-level.

Frank Grütz
European Representative of the IRF
President of the ERF

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