As integrative protected areas for humans and nature, Regional Nature Parks combine the protection and use of landscape within the meaning of sustainable development. They make up a large proportion of national protected areas and include many Natura 2000 sites, the European network of protected areas. At national level, Regional Nature Parks are protected by conservation laws; internationally, they are recognised protected areas according to category V of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
In Europe, which is so densely populated, nature protection measures in areas used for human needs are of utmost importance. Many of our species-rich ecosystems have been created by traditional land use. One of the objectives of Regional Nature Parks is to hinder species loss caused by intensive agriculture and to preserve cultural landscapes with high biodiversity through sustainable use. As large scale protected areas and with their manifold conservational activities, Regional Nature Parks help to implement international policy strategies as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the European Water Framework Directive.
Regional Nature Parks can make a vital contribution to the Europe 2020 strategy, which aims at promoting intelligent, sustainable and integrated growth. In the areas of employment, social inclusion, education, resource and climate protection in particular, nature parks already contribute to the positive development of rural areas by, for instance, promoting knowledge bases in rural areas, restoring, preserving and improving ecosystems, promoting local markets and short marketing chains, and supporting local development in rural areas. In addition, nature parks play a role in coping with demographic change in rural areas.
Regional Nature Parks are cooperative models. They co-ordinate their development objectives in the region with numerous stakeholders, providing a framework for joint commitment to the future-oriented development of the region, involving many partners. By connecting nature conservationists, farmers, tourism providers and education institutions, they create value added and promote innovation.
Regional Nature Parks enhance the image and tourist development of a region. In these parks, local people and visitors can recover, explore nature and enjoy sporting activities. Regional Nature Parks cooperate with key tourism service providers and organisations to support a sustainable and environmental friendly tourism. By promoting regional products, they strengthen the local economy and help avoiding long transport distances. They provide a service-orientated infrastructure for recreation and attractive offers for experiencing nature.
Regional Nature Parks are best suited to win people over to support and become active in nature conservation. By providing manifold environmental education offers they teach nature conservation and sustainable development to children, young people and adults. Within the cooperation with schools they help in giving children of all social classes an understanding of nature and the possibility to explore the diversity of plants and animals on their doorstep. They forge regional identity in a modern way and are ideal for promoting voluntary work by citizens. With their numerous information centres, educational offers and exciting theme trails Regional Nature Parks reach a broad audience.
The task force agreed on the following criteria to identify Regional Nature Parks in the European countries within the project
- Regional Nature Parks are government recognised or government-designated protected areas that have the objective of protecting nature and landscapes, especially those landscapes that are characterised by long-term human use (cultural landscapes), with their diverse species and habitats. They therefore correspond to the description of Category V ‘Protected Landscape / Seascape’ according to the management criteria of the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources). However, they do not necessarily have to have been assigned by the IUCN to Category V or even categorised by the IUCN at all.
Regional Nature Parks have the following basic areas of work and objectives:
- Conservation, protection of biological diversity and preservation and further development of a landscape shaped by sustainable use
- Sustainable tourism and recreation
- Sustainable development of rural areas
- Environmental education and education for sustainable development
- Regional Nature Parks are large scale protected areas. Apart from exceptional and duly justified cases, the median size of Regional Nature Parks within a country should be at least 3,000 – 5,000 ha.
- Regional Nature Parks are areas that are managed by permanent, salaried staff from the organisation responsible. They are considered to be one communication and development unit. Regional Nature Parks can be managed by their own office or administration or by an organisation responsible for several protected areas in one region.