From art to river cleaning – seven ways to engage citizens with nature

This year the European Wilderness Society has started a cooperation with IVY, the Interreg Volunteer Youth. IVY “offers the possibility to young people aged 18-30 to serve as volunteers in cross-border, transnational or interregional programmes and related projects.” So, we had the possibility to host three young students: Jonas, Helena and Leona. They stayed with us for a four- or six-month period in 2019. During this time, they supported us with our two Interreg projects Centralparks and BEECH POWER.

As part of their volunteering experience, they had the chance to organize a Citizens Engagement Activity. These events aim to “promote European Territorial Cooperation and to tell citizens what, thanks to Interreg, has been implemented in the region to enhance local development, while exchanging with citizens.” As we are always looking for synergy effects, we thought this is the perfect opportunity to show citizens the connection between nature protection and local development. So, our volunteers set out to organize Citizens Engagement Activities all throughout Europe. In total they did seven events from September to December 2019.

WILDArt in Italy

WILDArt Majella 2019- 26980.jpg - European Wilderness Society - CC NonCommercial-NoDerivates 4.0 International
Artists and our team at WILDArt Majella

Jonas made the start with WILDArt Majella in the beginning of September. This was not only the first, but also the biggest event. Just like in last year’s WILDArt in Synevyr, Ukraine, we took a group of artists into the Wilderness for a week. This time the destination was Majella National Park. Majella is a beautiful area on the east coast of Italy. here, you can stand in the snow on top of a mountain and see the Mediterranean sea at the same time. First, the artists got inspired by the Wilderness and created unique artworks. The final highlight of the event was the opening of a travelling exhibition, where local citizens were invited to examine these art pieces. Through this art, local communities in and around the Majella National Park can see how much their home inspires people from other parts of the world.

Nature experience in Bulgaria

The second Citizens Engagement Activity was a nature experience workshop in Bulgaria. This event was not organized by one of our current volunteers, but our project coordinator Hanna Öllös as a former IVY volunteer. Her goal with this event in Bulgaria was to bring together local communities, nature specialists and outdoor enthusiasts from different regions of Europe and explore nature while discussing burning topics of the protection of local nature. Together, they promoted local development, solidarity and safeguarding of local nature.

Bulgaria Trip 2019-28657.jpg - European Wilderness Society - CC NonCommercial-NoDerivates 4.0 International

Insect respect with Austrian and Ukrainian youth

The next two Citizens Engagement Activities happened around our Youth Green Conference. During “Insect Respect” Helena informed school children about one of the biggest environmental issues in Europe. Insect populations eveywhere are drastically declining. Of course rather than just talking, kids took action. They built their own insect hotels to provide a home for insects in their backyard. In addition, they learned how important insects are for agriculture. Agriculture and thus insects are a main source of income for rural areas and one of the focus points of European policies.

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The participants of Insect Respect with their insect hotels that they made themselves

Respect nature in our home, the Lungau

Only two weeks after her first Citizens Engagement Activity in Bulgaria, Hanna informed interested participants about the importance of appropiate behavior in nature during “Respect Nature“. For many regions, nature tourism is an important source of income. However, people are not longing to see destroyed or polluted nature. Therefore, participants spent a whole day outside learning how to plan a trip into nature, respect camping rules and take care of their waste.

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Hanna taught how to read a map during Respect Nature

River cleaning in Slovakia

In the end of October, Jonas and Hanna organized the “Hornad Wild River Cleaning” in Slovakia. This Citizens Engagement Activity was all about rivers. Rivers are the life lines of many regions and transcend borders just like the European Cohesion Policy. Unfortunately, a lot of rivers suffer from pollution. Clean water supply is crucial for all parts of human life and for nature. On the first evening, citizens discussed the importance of river protection. The next day, dozens of volunteers took this matter into their own hands and cleaned the Hornad river from waste.

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Local volunteers cleaning the Hornad river

Whispering of the trees in Germany

One week later Helena organized “Whispering of the trees” in Eberswalde, Germany, at her home university. The UNESCO World Heritage beech forest Grumsin near Eberswalde is an important tourist magnet for the region. Following the trend of Forest Bathing, participants went out to a nearby forest to experience it with all senses and turn this experience into poems.

Bridging the gap in South Tyrol

The last Citizens Engagement Activity of 2019 took place in Tschengls in South Tyrol in the middle of December. The event named “Bridging the gap” focused on the future of the pasture farming in the region. With the return of wolves and other large predators, alpine pasture farming is under pressure and needs joint solutions. More than 60 participants joined the event and discussed the topic with experts.

Seven events, six countries, five languages

Supported by the IVY initiative, we were able to organise seven events with seven different approaches on how to engage citizens with nature and Europe. We covered six different countries throughout Europe and used five different languages to reach citizens. It was amazing to see how many locals were willing to lend a helping hand. Even though culture, language and focal interests of all groups varied, they always showed care and passion for their local nature. With 2020 on our doorstep, the European Wilderness Society is looking forward to welcome new IVY volunteers and support them in turning their wild ideas for citizens engagement into practice.

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