Recently, The European Nature Trust hosted an event in partnership with Samsung, at their incredible space in Coal Drops Yard.
It was fantastic to see such an enthusiastic turn out and to welcome a very engaged audience with guests from Steppes Travel, Cookson Adventures, and the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, and members of the press and editor of Times Luxx, Conde Nast Traveller and The Guardian.
Hosted by Chris Morgan and Ross Westgate, TENT was able to instigate an important discussion between some of the biggest names in ecotourism and luxury travel about the role of European travel in promoting and addressing issues of sustainable tourism and conservation.
We heard from the leaders of 5 organisations from across Europe, each with their own unique experiences of European wildlife and the battle to protect it.
Pieter-Paul Groenhuijsen of Alladale Wilderness Reserve spoke about the importance of making wild places more accessible to people and how by engaging people and opening them up to the wonders of wild nature, we can teach them to fall back in love with it.
Education of young people through the HOWL project hosted at Alladale is a prime example of the impact that spending time in nature can have on individuals. Each year when the programme finishes running, the team at Alladale are inundated with letters of thanks from staff and pupils alike saying how the experience had helped to shape and improve their outlook on how vital it is that we support conservation of our landscapes and wildlife.
Simona Bordea, the tourism manager at Foundation Conservation Carpathia added to Pieter’s point. Speaking about the organic experiences that FCC offer their guests, she said that it was always amazing to her how people reacted when they encountered their first truly wild animal. One of the dangers of global travel which Simona highlighted is that it detracts from the wonders that lie right on our own doorstep, but “with education, with the right marketing, we can show people that it is an endlessly diverse place to travel”.
Carmen Rueda Rodriguez from the CBD Habitat Foundation agreed that it is possible to gauge the impact of these experiences on people from the way they have changed by the time they return home, “by inspiring guests you spread the message: they go home with heads full of incredible experiences and stories to tell others about”. People do say that user-generated content is the best form of marketing!
A hot topic of discussion throughout the evening surrounded the tipping point at which tourism no longer benefits these conservation projects. In its efforts to raise awareness about these obscure yet wonderful locations and the projects which protect them, is TENT ultimately doing a disservice to the cause?
In response to this, Salviamo l’Orso leader Angela Tavone cited the important role that local people play in striking this balance between tourism and conservation. She spoke about how in bringing new visitors to these areas, it helps local people to fall back in love with their home and to appreciate the wildlife which they share it with. In doing so this type of tourism improves human-wildlife coexistence through education and communication at a local level – two vital tools of the human and social element of conservation.
Education and communication are two tools which are employed by all of TENT’s project partners, but in particular FCC who work with local people on “conservation enterprise” initiatives. By involving local people in conservation efforts and through grass roots projects, the impact of the work is amplified and far more sustainable. Conservation enterprise models employ communities and use their local knowledge and honed traditional crafts to help create new business which in turn improves the relationship that people have with their surrounding environment.
Founder of Fundación Oso Pardo, Juan Carlos Blanco spoke about how at this stage projects like his are not well-known enough to cause an imbalance between tourism and conservation. For him, he said, it was more important that people learn about these areas and that there is amazing wildlife living there which they wouldn’t otherwise know about without visiting it. He also addressed the issue of funding, and the role that tourism plays in providing vital income for projects like FOP across Europe. Most are funded by grants and by the EU, but this is often minimal so tourism brings in a very important supplement so that conservation work, research and education can continue to be funded.
Paul Lister, Founder of The European Nature Trust echoed this point, and emphasised that in bringing more visitors to Europe’s wild places there will not be the same damaging effect of tourism as has been seen in other parts of the world. “We are seeking to grow sustainable “mini-bus” tourism as a way to support our partner Foundations that operate in often remote, abandoned and somewhat forgotten corners of Europe. In my wildest dreams I do not imagine the crowded scenarios faced by many historical cities, golfing regions, beach and ski resorts.”
In fact that is exactly what TENT’s work is desperate to avoid, being only to aware of the dangers of this type of tourism having supported projects in regions which have been threatened and in some cases destroyed by it.
A common thread of the evening was that we all need to make more of an effort to let ourselves fall back in love with these wild places on our doorstep, and the wildlife that we share them with. For decades our attention has been on the exotic wildlife of the African plains and the Amazon Rainforest, but as one of our guests Peter Cairns (Director of Scotland: The Big Picture) said “Who needs Africa when you’ve got all of this incredible wildlife right on your doorstep!”.
The real driver for putting together this panel and instigating this particular discussion was that the travel industry currently lacks the offering of wildlife “safari” experiences at European destinations. We hope that the inspiring films and discussion on the evening stimulate further conversation about European travel, and that this will spark a new trend towards local, slow and sustainable tourism that will promote and ultimately boost European Conservation.