In the past, Europe was more rural that today. People had a daily connection to nature for their livelihoods and well-being. Today, many living in cities throughout the region have lost this connection. Perhaps more than anywhere else in the world, European landscapes have been changed by human activity during the past centuries. The relentless march of economic development and urban settlement has put the continent’s natural resources under immense pressure and much of the region’s biodiversity has been lost.
But there is plenty of nature left, and many areas that can still be saved. Across the continent, efforts are under way to get people to feel the love again—to reconnect with the nature that’s on their doorstep. A growing number of local authorities are spreading the biodiversity message and boosting local action to save it. From the administrative centre of the European Union in Brussels to the wilderness of the Caucasus mountains, IUCN is part of the growing movement to get Europeans to become custodians of nature.
With so many people living is such close proximity, cooperation is key to a happy and prosperous continent. Cross-border cooperation is now leading to the protection of great swathes of land that would otherwise be lost to uncontrolled development. And the benefits of this cooperation are not just to the environment. In South-Eastern Europe, IUCN promotes cooperation for nature which helps countries restore confidence and strengthen common approaches to other societal challenges.
The vast European region where IUCN operates has a great opportunity to lead by example in improving nature conservation and reconnecting people with their natural world. Existing legislation, both national and regional, and the leadership shown by the European Union in international negotiations on global environmental agreements are proof of the role that this region can play globally.