This is the sixth and last in a series of interviews with Natura 2000 experts as part of the LIFE Green List for Natura 2000 project. Josep-Maria Mallarach has been working towards enhanced protected area management for over 40 years. He has been involved in protected area management on national, regional and international levels, dedicating his career to restoring life to forgotten forests and preserving the iconic landscapes that attract admirers from across the globe.
Josep-Maria started his career as the management director of La Garrotxa National Park in northeastern Spain, a 12,093.02-hectare area that ranges across 11 municipalities and that is home to nearly 40,000 people in 3 urban areas. Consequently, managing this park meant balancing nature conservation with economic development; a dynamic that can be difficult to negotiate and that often ends in conflict. Josep-Maria managed this site for seven years before becoming involved in the integration of protected areas and territorial planning for both small- and large-scale networks of protected areas. In 2002, he began working on the evaluation of effective protected area management and to teach this topic in universities. One year later, he became a member of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) and has since contributed to three specialist groups, becoming the steering committee member of the WCPA Specialist Group on Cultural and Spiritual Values of Protected Areas.
When asked about the main challenges in managing protected areas in Europe, Josep-Maria highlights that there is not a clear cut answer due to the ‘ huge diversity of challenges that protected areas are facing in different countries across Europe’. This being said, he outlined three broad outlooks that could be adopted as a starting point to overcome these challenges; ‘First and foremost, we must look to improve the effectiveness of the existing management process and secure the place of nature at the centre of sectorial policy, restoring and conserving appropriate ecological connectivity. Secondly, in order to increase political support for nature protection policy, a more holistic approach that integrates natural, cultural and spiritual heritage should be adopted. Finally, we must look to enlarge and diversify protected area governance systems, developing (in countries like Spain) more joint-management and community-based protected areas.’ Over the years, Josep-Maria has worked with many different establishments on both local and regional levels, planning and evaluating the effectiveness of Natura 2000 site management. He first became involved in the IUCN Green List Standard through EUROPARC Spain, and believes it to be ‘a positive stimulus for site managers to revisit and identify which practices have proved to be successful for their site.’ Furthermore, it allows site managers to share and disseminate their experience, acting as a valuable guide for new sites to design successful management plans.
Having seen so many beautiful Natura 2000 sites Josep-Maria has several favourites; however, the Banyoles Lake and wetland in his home region of north eastern Catalonia, Spain remains most special to him. With its rich crystal blue waters and unique tectonic geography, this lake is a Ramsar site and jewel of biodiversity, managed by a public consortium of local and regional agencies, where an outstanding ecological restoration work has been done during the last 15 years. .