Over 300 delegates from across Europe attended the recent EUROPARC Federation Conference in the Vallée de Joux located in the Parc Jura Vaudois, Switzerland. Regarded as the birthplace of Swiss horology, the Vallée de Joux is still the home to a number of famous Swiss mechanical watch manufacturers while remaining very much a rural area. The EUROPARC Federation serves as a network for Europe’s natural and cultural heritage and aims to improve the management of Protected Areas across Europe through international cooperation, the exchange of ideas and experience and by influencing policy.
The annual conference, comprising a series of talks, workshops and fieldtrips, is the largest gathering of park professionals in Europe. This year’s conference theme ‘We are the Parks’ focused on the role that people play in the creation and management of protected areas and aimed to highlight how local communities can participate in the governance of parks. Governance of protected areas was the key theme of the conference with keynote speakers discussing the Swiss democratic model of parks and their ‘bottom-up’ model of park management, an approach that Wicklow Uplands Council takes in all their work.
A small delegation from Wicklow Uplands Council attended the conference and had the very exciting opportunity of hosting a workshop titled ‘We are Sustainable Farmers’. The four hour workshop was attended by a number of important delegates including the Project Manager for Biodiversity and Ecosystems in the European Environment Agency, members of the EUROPARC Council and representatives from protected areas across Europe. The workshop presented by Wicklow Uplands Council Acting Co-ordinator, Brian Dunne, discussed the needs of farmers, local communities and recreational users in relation to their protected areas. The importance of cooperation and communication between all stakeholder groups was discussed at length and the partnership model undertaken by Wicklow Uplands Council was seen as a model template by those present. It was agreed by all that farmers have an important role to play in the best management of protected areas and that farmers need to have more involvement in the decision- making processes related to them.
The decline in traditional hill farming coupled with the ongoing restrictions to effective habitat management of upland areas has resulted in an overall decline in upland biodiversity. The need for a Locally Led Agri-Environment Scheme to support our upland farmers was presented as a case study and was welcomed as ‘a very exciting development’ by the participants. It was also agreed that more awareness was needed in relation to the wide range of ecosystem services provided by upland farming. A second case study was presented at the workshop by Sirje Kuusik from Estonia representing the sustainable tourism network, ‘Genuine Experiences in Lahemaa’. This group of seventeen family based tourism farms has successfully added value to their products by branding them to their national park and are now running very successful farm-based tourism businesses.
Wicklow Upland Council’s membership of the Federation represents something of a hybrid within the organisation which has almost 400 members, most of whom own or manage Protected Areas across Europe and therefore it was very significant that we were invited to host a workshop this year. It is very important that we network with our European counterparts, share experiences and continue to learn from each other. Full details on the conference can be found at www.europarc.org.
ENDS Brian Dunne Acting Co-ordinator Wicklow Uplands Council