Staring down a snow covered mountain

In November, IUCN coordinated a workshop for teachers and trainers of protected areas law, together with the Research Institute of Environmental Law (RIEL). Over the course of a week, participants from across Asia shared knowledge and practiced using capacity building resources developed by IUCN.

Sliding down Mulan Mountain

On a mountainside in China, thirty men and women cling to an icy chain, making their way down a treacherously steep and frozen staircase. The intrepid group includes professors, environmentalists, government workers and students. They come from 10 countries across Asia -- from Mongolia to Myanmar to Vietnam to Sri Lanka, and from all over China -- to share experiences and learn about teaching protected areas law. The organisers and instructors -- from China, the United States, Australia and South Africa -- are in the same position as the participants: staring down a snow-covered mountain.

The mountain we are sliding down is Mulan Mountain (yes, that Mulan), part of a privately managed protected area a few kilometres north of Wuhan, China. We came here for a field trip, to get a closer look at the operation of governance arrangements for protected areas. We are also learning about each other. One of the participants, a ranger from Nepal, has offered his gloves to a struggling colleague. He has to maintain his image. A student from Pakistan teases a Chinese doctoral candidate, to get her mind off the stairs. He asks what her students would think, if they knew she was afraid. She tells him they will never find out. One of the Chinese students is navigating the stairs apparently effortlessly, sporting boots with three inch heels.

The field trip is part of a workshop organised by IUCN, in cooperation with the Research Institute of Environmental Law (RIEL) at Wuhan University. It features a set of capacity building materials developed by IUCN in collaboration with experts in protected areas law and education. The materials constitute a complete course in protected areas law, freely available at The course is designed to be usable by teachers and trainers in many different settings; educators are expected to adapt the materials to suit their needs. The workshop is designed to help educators do that.

Over the course of the one-week workshop, participants gain a sense of the content and methodology of the materials, as well as how they can use them in their own teaching and training. As part of the workshop, participants practice modifying the materials to suit a given setting, and using them to teach the rest of the group. Some of them must present a seminar presentation. They use the materials provided -- on connectivity and marine protected areas, respectively -- and add in case studies and examples from their own jurisdictions. It is not an easy task -- particularly given the limited time and the necessity of working in groups -- but the results are promising. Participants comment on the richness and depth of the information provided in the seminar presentations -- information that it would not be easy to develop from nothing.

Other groups are charged with modifying an exercise. They use case studies and maps provided with the IUCN materials, and change the names and reduce the activities, for the sake of time. There are many ways to use these exercises -- as role plays, mock negotiations, drafting exercises or assessments. The participants in this workshop run the exercises as small group work -- in line with their original design -- which works. The small groups are tasked in one exercise with identifying legal tools for connectivity conservation and in another with analysing a marine protected areas law. Both tasks are engaging and drive the groups to think and learn.

At the end of the workshop, the participants have a clear idea of how they will use the course in their own work. Many will use the materials in teaching undergraduate or graduate students in protected areas law. One will help design a new curriculum for use in her country. Several others will run training courses for local community or municipal authorities. They promise to remember what they learned in the workshop, and pass it on to others in their countries. They will also remember the people they got to know on the mountain.

Work area: 
Environmental Law
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