Setting up protected areas at the age of 15 – Esperanza Sancho

19 February 2014 | Fact sheet

At fifteen, Esperanza Sancho was already deeply concerned with society’s disconnection with nature and the impact of fast-growing cities around the world on the disappearance of natural habitats and, consequently, of several animal and plant species.

With these issues in mind, she launched MiniReservas, a project led by citizens that creates and manages small nature reserves within cities with the aim of preserving biodiversity in urban settings while engaging local communities in the protection of the environment. Recently, MiniReservas was the winner of the 10th World Wilderness Congress’ (WILD 10) video challenge on how to make the world a wilder place, in addition to winning the “Ideas for the Planet” competition from the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment’s Fundación Biodiversidad.

Growing up in Zaragoza, Spain, Esperanza has always felt a true passion for anything related to nature, enjoying excursions and camping, as well as participating in nature conservation activities from a very early age (her father is the president of environmental NGO Fondo Natural). Inspired by the achievements of young environmental activists such as Severn Suzuki, Simon Jackson and Felix Finkbeiner, she decided that there would never be a better time than the present to start her own conservation project.

With MiniReservas she hopes to create a network of small nature reserves, primarily within cities, by recovering degraded or abandoned spaces such as gardens, patios, terraces, and fields that can range from a few metres up to a hectare. Each area is managed by a group of citizens, such as schools, environmental, youth or other organisations, care centres for seniors or people with disabilities, families, or groups of friends or neighbours.

Each group develops their own ideas on how to manage and protect their MiniReserva. Some collect garbage or plant native trees and bushes that produce fruits to attract birds, as well as aromatic herbs and flowers to attract butterflies and other insects. They can also build and install nest boxes and feeders for birds, refuges for small mammals like bats, hedgehogs and weasels, small ponds for amphibians, aquatic plants and invertebrates, and areas with rocks and logs for reptiles and insects. The group can then track the natural evolution of the flora and fauna in their MiniReserva using fact sheets, photos and videos. In order to maintain a connection between the areas, participating groups have a specific section on the project’s blog where they can share experiences, actions developed, and subsequent results.

So far, project volunteers have created a template MiniReserva in River Ebro’s Environmental Centre in Zaragoza to display what kind of activities groups can incorporate into their own reserves. Citizen groups which showed interest in joining the project include a youth organisation, a school, a community of neighbours and several lone individuals.

Esperanza hopes that by empowering people to put into practice their own conservation ideas, she is not only giving them the opportunity to contribute directly to the conservation of their immediate natural surroundings, but also giving them a deeper appreciation for nature and making them feel more engaged to participate in its protection. In so doing, her dream to change the way we think about nature, acknowledging it as part of us and making the transition from spectators to engaged citizens in its conservation, is finally starting to take root.

For more information on MiniReservas, please see the project’s official blog (in Spanish) at http://minireservas.blogspot.com.es/. Esperanza’s speech at TEDxYouth@Madrid 2013 (in Spanish) can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vEzFpv0Xg3M.