This past week, I had little time to post much here because I was engaged all day every day at the Europarc 2018 Conference in the Cairngorms National Park in the Highlands of Scotland. Europarc is a non-governmental organization that works to coordinate the efforts of all the people who run national and regional parks across Europe. There were 620 delegates from 39 different countries at the conference! It was one of the most amazing conference experiences I have ever had.
This was a truly international conference focused on how to engage the next generation in the use and protection of European national parks. The idea of national parks is pretty new in Europe. The Cairngorms National Park, where the conference took place is only 15 years old, but it is the largest park in the U.K. What a spectacular setting! There is almost no public land in the park, it is a cooperation of local landowners and the local villages such as Aviemore where it was located.
This was just a path on the way to the conference every day.
The river Spey runs through the town, it is Scotland’s fastest river and its third longest river. The water from this river flows out of the Cairngorm mountains and supplies the Glenlivet distillery and the Dalwhinnie Distillery among others. They make some of the finest Scotch whiskeys in the entire realm.
This is the little cabin in the village that we stayed at. A quiet little retreat, right next door to a pub and only a 10 minute walk to the conference. Paula and Erin made this their retreat for the week, but I spent most of the time interacting with delegates from all over Europe. I shared meals with wonderful new friends from Lithuania, Wales, England, Italy, Poland, Greece and Scotland among others.
The Cairngorms National Park is home to 18,000 people, 4 of Scotland’s 5 highest peaks, a quarter of all their endangered species, and some of the most spectacular scenery I have seen so far.
It seems to house wonders at the macro and micro scale.
It is truly teaming with life at every turn of the corner, and I was fortunate enough to spend quite a bit of time at the conference at field trips traipsing through the woods,
Meeting with the locals as they shared the pride they have in the local park they help manage through joint stewardship.
and learning about how local communities benefit from their inclusion in the park as they work to improve their quality of life, local economy and preserve their cultural and natural heritage.
There are so many different models of National Parks across Europe, some almost entirely private, some mostly public lands, and many a mix of the two where public entities work with the input of local authorities to develop a park image that is both a national treasure and a source of pride and participation from the locals. We could learn a lot from the model.
The theme was about engaging the next generation. We heard from keynote speakers such as Richard Louv (author of Last Child in the Woods and the person who coined the term Nature Deficit Disorder – last guy on the left here) and young policy entrepreneurs such as Heinrick van Hendenberg (second from left) who is training youth leaders (12-18 years old) through an organization called “Act!on for Conservation” to take environmental leadership action now, not in some distant future. In my breakout workshop the first day there were 26 of us in the room representing 18 different countries (Iceland, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Belgium, England, Wales, Russia, Israel, the Netherlands, France, Italy, Hungary, Croatia, Greece, Scotland, Austria and of course yours truly from the United States). I have never been to such an international gathering. Most conferences in the US, there are representatives from only a handful of other countries. To see the commitment to international cooperation (not a lot of Brexit fans in the crowd based on the constant comments by speakers and the cheers from the crowd when it was referred to a s a nightmare) and the sharing of knowledge gave me almost limitless amounts of energy while in their midst, then a hard crash every night from intellectual over-stimulation. I will be processing the experience and what I have learned for sometime to come. Thank you, Europarc for hosting me and 619 other souls who came together in this beautiful location to work on making the world (or our corners of it) a better place for all.
What an incredible way to start the fall!!! Time well spent in good company (some I brought with me, and many I met along the path). It is never too late to make new friends as this last sign from Aviemore suggests.