At the recent Asia Protected Areas Partnership Steering Committee meeting, IUCN Asia had the opportunity to speak to Ignace Schops, President of the EUROPARC Federation, the largest network on natural heritage in Europe. A biodiversity, landscaping and herpetology expert, Schops was awarded with the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2008, better known as the Green Nobel Prize for his contributions to the establishment of the Hoge Kempen National Park, the first National Park of Belgium. He is also the Director of Belgian NGO Regionaal Landschap Kempen en Maasland (RLKM), an ASHOKA fellow and is part of the Climate Leadership Corps founded by Al Gore.
Can you tell us a little more about the EUROPARC Federation?
EUROPARC is Europe’s largest protected areas network that was established in 1930 in Switzerland. It is a legal body that currently has 400 members from 37 countries across Europe, covering 40 million hectares and representing 40% of Nature 2000 network. EUROPARC aims to improve and champion the policy and practice of Protected Area management in order to deliver the sustainable use of our natural resources.
EUROPARC is an active network that brings people involved in protected areas across Europe together. Approximately 75% of all the national parks in Europe are members, and members can be governmental agencies/bodies and NGOs.
Can you share with us some of EUROPARC’s achievements?
Besides protected area management work, we have done extensive work on the promotion of sustainable tourism. The European Charter for Sustainable Tourism in Protected Areas that we established in 1995 now has 145 certified areas across 17 countries.
The charter takes on a destination approach, where all stakeholders are taken into account, and collaborate on the initiative. In 2016, a study revealed that a total of US$430 million a year has been invested in the certified areas, attracting 72 million visitors per year. There is also an annual turnover of US$1.1 billion, allowing the money to remain in the region.
As everybody knows, nature has no borders. That is why EUROPARC also engages in transboundary cooperation. Our network “TransParkNet” (TPN) seeks to support a process of mutual understanding between countries that may have a history of distrust and administrative barriers amongst one another. With TPN, we develop management tools that enable greater cooperative management.
We also invest a lot in the youth. With the establishment of a Junior Ranger Programme, we now have over 5,000 junior rangers in 80 protected areas across nine countries. We have also organised an international junior camp which was attended by 200 boys and girls.
Are you able to identify a set of factors or principles which you feel have contributed to the success of EUROPARC? Any particular approach or steps which might be relevant to APAP or to our region?
‘People’, ‘Strategy’ and ‘Evaluation’. I believe that our focus on these three things have contributed to the success of EUROPARC.
It is all about the people. Remember the EUROPARC saying: “We are parks”. If you want APAP to be successful, you must make it all about you – the people. It doesn’t become successful on its own. You have to believe it. This costs time as everyone has other professions. But if you believe that an international organization like IUCN can take the lead, then that is promising for APAP. That is where it starts.
Then we have the strategy. It is important to come up with a good strategy that everyone can jointly approve and work towards. This strategy lays the pathway for the future.
Last but not least, evaluation and re-evaluation. We must always ask ourselves if the work we are doing is still relevant in this ever changing world and if the work is integrated into local society.
With the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement, the global community is asking for the integration of protected area management into other sectors. We must translate our values into a language everybody can understand.
Integration means finding solutions and seeking opportunities with farmers, local communities, tourism operators, fisheries, etc. We tend to only play in our own court yard. We must always ask ourselves how we can open up and not forget what it is that we are actually working for.
EUROPARC got lucky. 40 years ago, when we were first established, we also took cultural heritage partners into our network – without knowing exactly what the result would be. Now, cultural knowledge is deeply rooted in our organisation. Cultural and local conditions are of upmost importance for the success of biodiversity conservation.
We have to think and take on the responsibility of convincing the global community to open up to one another and to understand that biodiversity – all life on earth – and protected areas are crucial for our survival, now and in the future. I think APAP could be the network in Asia to discuss and re-connect with different stakeholders and partners.
World Ranger Day is fast approaching. Can you tell us why rangers are so important to Protected Areas? And do you have any special message for our rangers in Asia?
Rangers are often the first point of contact for park visitors. They are the enthusiastic guardians of the forests or parks who assist us in the most remote and spectacular wildlife places on earth. That is why EUROPARC is investing in junior rangers. We want to give these young ones the opportunity to exchange ideas and learn, as they will one day be the world’s top rangers.
Rangers are on the front line in the fight to protect our natural heritage. Sometimes, they have to battle with poachers who do not even care that they are destroying something so important for our survival in the future. Unfortunately, every year, many rangers die doing everything in their power to protect wildlife. World Ranger Day is an opportunity to pay tribute to these heroes who have lost their lives in the line of duty.
On behalf of EUROPARC and Europe, I would like to thank all the rangers in Asia for all their efforts in protecting our parks. A deep bow of respect! Keep up the good work!
And never forget: think globally, act locally and change personally!
Asia Protected Areas Partnership has been designed as a key platform to help governments and other stakeholders collaborate for more effective management of protected areas in the region. The partnership was initiated in 2013 at the first-ever Asia Parks Congress held in Japan, and formally launched the following year at the IUCN World Parks Congress in Australia. It is chaired by IUCN, International Union for Conservation of Nature, and co-chaired by an APAP member organisation on a rotational basis, beginning with the Ministry of the Environment, Japan.