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Monday, 12 November 2018

Europarcs 2018 – inspiring the next generation

By Merryn Matthews

As a youth ranger for the Eastern Moors I was fortunate to be able to attend the 2018 Europarcs conference in the Cairngorms from 18th-21st September this year, and meet with people living and working in national parks all over Europe. The theme was ‘Inspired by the Next Generation’ encouraging all of us under 30 to share ideas, perspectives and for everyone to listen, learn and act to improve parks for the future.

Inspiring speeches filled of hope for the future of the parks welcomed hundreds of delegates to the Aviemore conference hall. Talks from the likes of the great author Richard Louv explored how the issues of being an increasingly technological society increase our need for nature.  We need the balance. It is more important now than ever to help to conserve and share the amazing beautiful landscapes we have and he believes this will be a youth lead movement. Hendrikus van Hensbergen, another amazing speaker, talked of his mission to bring more young people in touch with nature through his foundation Action for Conservation. There were many more speakers from people’s personal stories to open panel discussions with on how to ‘engage with millennials’.

The Cairngorms National Park Authority, who hosted the conference, really knew how to put on a good Scottish performance!

Being a youth ranger has really showed me personally the benefits and enjoyment of being in nature and having the opportunity to get hands on and feel like I’m helping nature. I can really see the importance of giving more young people from all backgrounds this chance to make a difference and spend time being in nature, so it’s great to see these schemes being setup. Get yourself or anyone else young and old involved in our protected areas, checking out the Eastern Moors events page is a great start!

Wednesday saw us all attend a variety of workshops from interpretation to sustainable tourism. I had fantastic fun learning bushcraft and the skill of safe fire making, which can hopefully be passed on to excite others. In an incredibly short space of time the youth workshop managed to brainstorm some great ideas to help with rural problems, such as transport and few job opportunities with high living costs, by creating community apps and supportive schemes. It was great to see the power that people coming to work together can have and I hope these ideas and connections are taken forward.  

We also attended fieldtrips to experience the wonderful Cairngorms and learn how they are managing and maintaining the park for the future.  Wildlife watching in Glencoe was a great experience; red squirrels, reindeers and rare fungi were some of the cool things I saw. Around 25% of Britain’s rare and endangered species live in the national park, so there was also evidence of pine martins, golden eagles and other birds such as crested tits and capercaillie. Others went canoeing and mountain climbing, amongst other things. I had a great day learning about the importance to maintain these areas and open spaces for everyone to enjoy.

Conference delegates had the opportunity to attend a variety of field trips around the Cairngorms National Park, learning about the management of this incredible landscape

The trips brought up important issues such as the balance between land management and rewilding. Many parks across Europe are utilising different ideas and initiatives including native tree planting, introducing new species to create better habitats or simply leaving nature alone, depending on the usage and community. Other national parks also had a variety of different schemes to engage the community in the parks directly with conservation work and for young ambassadors to have more responsibilities with showing the public the park. The week ended with the revealing of a youth manifesto created by the meeting and hard work of young people all over Europe. This manifesto can be found in and aims to start improving the national parks as areas for young people to experience, live and work in by providing suggestions for the decision makers in national parks.

Thank you to Eastern Moors for this wonderful experience and I really recommend this event in the future, even if just for the incredible multi-course buffet food!

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