Young people launch powerful plan to involve them in parks

Reconnecting people with nature was a hot topic during Europarc 2018, the yearly conference of Protected Areas in Europe. Involving youth in our organisations is a crucial step for this, according to Europarc’s director, Carol Richie: “It is not what you say, but what you do!” The conference took place in her homeland, in wonderful Cairngorms National Park, situated in the mysterious highlands of Scotland.

Europark Conference 2018

Staring at screens, locked in cities

There are many beautiful nature parks in Europe. Colourful birds whistle in the green bushes, silver fish jump in the river. If you are lucky, you can see wolves and lynxes in the misty forest. We fought for strong legislation. Passionate park managers work hard on conservation. And visitors enjoy our parks.

But our youth is often absent. Young people stare at their phones a major part of the day, locked in their cities. Average screen time of youngsters is going through the roof. Some kids even get ‘house arrest’ from their protective parents, who see the outdoors as an hostile environment.

For a healthy future of nature conservation however, we need youth who feel connected to nature. “We cannot accomplish this, if young people don’t want to work in our parks.” That’s why bridging the generation gap is of vital importance for European parcs!

Youth Manifesto

How can we create attractive job opportunities for young people in our Protected Areas? Who else know best but youth themselves. They explain their views and ideas in their Youth Manifesto: a guidance for Protected Area managers to maximize the involvement of youngsters in Protected Areas. The Manifesto addresses problems that youngsters face who want to live and work in rural areas and in parks. The young writers give hands on advicefor better access to jobs in this sector.

Nature for All

Karen Keenleyside from Parks Canada delivered a well-received keynote speech about #NatureForAll. Many Protected Areas are partner of this global movement to inspire love for nature. It builds on one of David Attenborough’s mantras: People protect only what they care about; and no one cares about what they have never experienced.We move to mega cities. Disconnect with nature. And the motivation to protect nature drops as a result.

The ambition of Nature For All is to help reverse this trend. Experiences in naturemake us happier and healthier. Our connections with nature also influence the way we behave.A recent synthesis of evidence proves that connectedness with nature indeed results in pro-conservation behaviours.

We are a lonely species

Richard Louv, the author of the best-seller Last Child in the Woods who coined the term Nature-deficit disorder, elaborated on the vital value of nature for human well-being. We are a lonely species. And the younger, the lonelier. Nature is a tested solution for this ‘disease’. Therefore, we need young people to join the conservation movement. We currently lack diversity, focus to much on numbers instead of emotions and keep playing the drum of fear without raising hope. A dead end street. Louv: “We need new allies, we need career guides to attract young professionals who value not only science but who know how to touch people’s hearts.”

Nature as remedy for personal crisis

Young women Cassie Scott told bravely how she overcame a personal crisis and serious health problems by an therapeutic trip in the wilderness. She now dedicates her life to help youngsters in similar situations. A touching story, moving the audience deeply.

Amazing programme with festive climax

Europarc put together a remarkable range of workshops and speakers. During an arrange of field trips, participants not only got closer to nature, but also learned from their guides and built new relationships. An epic Gala Dinner that ended up with Scottish Ceilidh dances waved the participants good bye with new inspiration to reach out to young people.


There is a great potential for collaboration of IUCN CEC and Europarcs looking at our shared goals. We will work closer together when opportunities arise!

For more information contact : Peter Paul van Kempen

Peter Paul van Kempen Photo: IUCN Photo Library Peter Paul van Kempen is an independent psychologist and co-founder of Peter Paul has a passion for marketing and communication for sustainable development. Until ten years ago, he worked on environmental projects which always had good intentions but often failed to have the promised impact. He became discontented and decided to take up the chal-lenge to find the formula of successful change for conservation. This was an adventurous jour-ney. Luckily he got help from a great mentor, Frits Hesselink, Emeritus Chair of CEC, with whom he co-founded Frogleaps, an expertise platform on human behavior change for conservation. His specialties are understanding motives, decision processes and designing behavior change strategies. He is a member of the steering committee of the IUCN Commission for Education and Communication and vice-chair of Europe.


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