I took the Eurostar which connected with the brilliant TGV from Paris to Reims, in the heart of Champagne. From Chesterfield to Reims took just over 5 hours on the train with a short stop in Paris and all for £86.00 return (compared to a normal day return from Chesterfield to London of £155.00).
Our host, in the magnificent Maison du Parc, was the Parc Naturel Regional de la Montagne de Reims (www.parc-montagnedereims.fr ) , 30 000 ha of woodland and farmland famous for its vineyards on south-facing limestone hills and the traditional making of Champagne. The Park is part of the extensive network of French regional parcs, and we were welcomed by Dominique Levêque, President of the Parc and Mayor of a local town. Jean-Marie Petit, Director of the Parcs Naturaux de France (www.parcnationaux-fr.com ) shared the welcome.
The purpose of the seminar was to develop Europarc’s policy and advocacy work, mainly directed at the European Union. The protected areas in Europe have many connections with EU programmes. In the Peak District, for example, we have just agreed a contract for £5M of EU funding for our Moors for the Future programme from the EU LIFE+ budget; the £8M agri-environment budget (that I wrote about on my Blog on 8 January this year) is part-financed by the EU Common Agricultural Policy; and over the years we have had projects funded by the European Social Fund, the European Regional Development Fund and Interreg, a fund designed to promote cooperation across countries.
Whilst Europarc has a large and potentially influential membership, it has never had the influence amongst the EU decision-makes that similar bodies such as BirdLife International (which is supported by the UK RSPB), WWF and the European Environmental Bureau have. Until relatively recently, Europarc suffered from rather weak administration and, with its office in Southern Germany, it was never close to the policy-makers in Brussels and Strasbourg.
Europarc is now changing, with a much better-run organisation led by Carol Ritchie, a small Brussels office and a stronger vision coming from its Romanian President Erika Stanciu. Indeed, Erika made a strong impact when she presented Europarc’s work to all of the European Environment Ministers in Sweden in September 2009 and has been invited to do so at an important meeting in Madrid this year, as part of the Spanish Presidency of the EU.
The first speaker was Joseph van der Stegen who is a policy officer responsible for nature and biodiversity in the European Commission’s Directorate General for Environment. ‘DG Environment’ sets the policy framework for all EU biodiversity work, with the overarching EU Biodiversity Action Plan; the responsibility for managing EU legislation such as the Birds and Habitat Directives (over 1/3 of the Peak District is covered by sites designated under these laws); and it also is responsible for decisions on the LIFE+ programme which will spend €2.1Bn (2100 million) over 7 years. Our Peak District MoorLIFE project is the largest LIFE+ project in the EU this year and the largest ever in the UK, so Joseph’s work is important to us. Details on the EU policy on nature are at:
Joseph spoke of the achievements of EU nature policy, with 17% of the EU designated and the €6 Bn that has been made available through a range of funds for biodiversity and landscape management. He also spoke of the failure to stop the decline of biodiversity by 2010. We have made really good progress on this in the Peak District, but this has not been universally successful, particularly in marine and coastal areas and in the countries of Southern and Eastern Europe whose economies have grown fast in recent years. The EU is now in the middle of reviewing biodiversity policy and has just published a Vision for 2050 which is a consultation document that will be used to set targets and policies up to 2020. Details here:
2010 is a vital year for biodiversity, in the UK, at an EU level and internationally. World Leaders agreed at the Rio ‘Earth Summit’ to a series of commitments to halt the decline of biodiversity by 2010. This translated into both the EU’s commitments to 2010 and at a more practical level for the Peak District the Government’s targets to ensure our most important wildlife sites were brought into favourable or, at least, recovering condition. In the EU Council meetings later in Madrid in June and then in Nagoya, Japan in October, Leaders will focus again on biodiversity with, hopefully a clear vision and commitments to 2020. In practice, this will involve: new targets to be agreed globally, across the EU and in England; a new financial framework providing much needed resources for nature conservation for the next 10 years; and commitments to integrate biodiversity into policies such as agriculture, fisheries, forestry, economic and land use planning.
Kelly Shannon, with nods to Gershwin, an American living and working in Paris, spoke to the seminar on opportunities for financing nature conservation, looking at research, LIFE+ and the European ‘Structural’ and ‘Cohesion Funds’. Kelly works for a foundation offering advice to NGOs and protected area managers in France on funding (www.enviropea.com ).
Emma Salizzoni, a researcher at the European Centre for Documentation and Planning for Natural Parks at the Polytechnic of Turin spoke on the huge data gathering exercise they have done on National and Nature Park plans. This has generated Europe-wide maps and general conclusions, confirming the EU Commission’s view that many mountainous and forest areas are protected, but also that coastal and marine areas are not. Different countries have different types of protected area, but based on their research, it is thought that 50% of protected areas overlap with Natura 2000 sites designated under the EU Habitats Directive. In the Peak District, this figure is about 35%, with much of our moorland and limestone dale woodlands and grasslands covered in this designation. A summary of the Centre’s work is available hereEPSON002
Jean-Luc Beghin spoke about a really intriguing programme of work centred on the 3 regional parks in the Region Nord De France, around Calais. The agency responsible for these set up a special European office in 2005 designed to develop projects, present these at regional, national and EU-level. By 2007, they had secured funding for 11 projects, including an EU Interreg project (for collaboration across countries) focusing on chalk downland management in Northern France and Southern England.
I then spoke on how to influence at an EU level. Colleagues from the Peak District and other National Parks may wonder what my credentials are for this, indeed I’ve not done much of this in the 7 years I’ve been in the job. But, in my early career I spent many years doing policy work linked to nature, environmental protection, rural development and agriculture in Europe. I travelled to Brussels over 200 times in 9 years and in the last year in my job I sat as an adviser on the EU Commissioner’s Agricultural Advisory Committee, representing 200 environmental bodies across Europe. So, my task at the Europarc seminar was to share my expertise.
I set out some basic things about how the EU has changed over the years, mainly by the remarkable growth from 6 members in 1952 to 12-15 in the years I was active to 27 today. This means that today the EU Commissioner responsible for our environment is a Slovenian Janez Potocnik and a Romanian Dacian Ciolos has the most prized and politically sensitive Agriculture portfolio. I set out how the different EU institutions work together, how to influence them and gave 3 examples of the way in which organisations can influence the EU decision-making procedures. My presentation is here EuroparcpolicyPresentationJimDixon230110
I used 3 examples. Firstly, I drew on the recent and excellent work the English National Park Authorities have done on climate change (www.enpaa.org.uk ), albeit this is influencing in the UK not at EU level.
Secondly, I explained how BirdLife International (www.birdlife.org/regional/europe/index.html ) influences agriculture policy. I set this work up about 12 years ago and I’m delighted to find that it is still going strong. BirdLife International works closely in coalitions with hundreds of environmental groups across Europe under the umbrella of the European Environmental Bureau (www.eeb.org) and also with the Worldwide Fund for Nature which has a large presence in Brussels (www.panda.org/what_we_do/how_we_work/policy/wwf_europe_environment/ ; the International Organic Farmers Movement and the European Forum on Pastoralism. This powerful and well-respected coalition has done much to create more funds for environmental management through successive reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy.
My third example was the excellent and high impact document produced by WWF to get some strong environmental messages across to the Spanish Government who have the EU Presidency from now until mid 2010.
Our afternoon’s work at the seminar was about defining what Europarc could do to help present its messages to European decision-makers. Key conclusions of the workshop which was attended by Europarc staff and Council members and representatives form 12 countries were:
• Members are excellent examples of integrated land and nature management
• There are many opportunities to demonstrate practically the implementation of policy in practical examples
• Most Europarc members are well connected to local, regional and national governments so can have influence there
• Europarc members have expertise on nature management, rural development, sustainable tourism, sustainable farming, fisheries, hunting and forests and spatial and rural land use planning.
• Our work is done on a largescale, with whole and connected landscapes and cross administrative boundaries
• Our work is popular with the public and the places we steward are iconic and help to define Europe – Vienna Woods, Danube Delta, Norwegian Fjords, Lake District, Pyrennees, Alps etc.
• We can demonstrate practical and participatory types of management with many communities
• We bridge urban and rural Europe, with ways of making positive connections such as through visits and ecosystem services.
It is early days for Europarc’s work in influencing Europe. Decision-makers across the continent face huge economic and social challenges and may see nature as a ‘hindrance’ or ‘luxury’. Whilst the public love protected areas, they are sceptical of governments and this is particularly true of European bodies. But, in her summing up Erika Stanciu made clear ‘we need to make sure that decision-makers see protected areas as the building stones for a more sustainable society’. It is that important, even though it may be difficult.