Home Newsletter 2012 “What do you think? Engaging local communities in nature conservation - developing a toolbox”: the final conference of the Life EX-TRA project

by Grazia Felli, PNGSL

At the end of the LIFE EX-TRA project, the Gran Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park organized an international closing conference. The aim was to provide the people involved in environmental conservation and in the protection of natural resources with some basic information and a “toolbox” of useful techniques for involving stakeholders and local communities in participatory management.

In fact, one of the core actions of the LIFE EX-TRA project was to implement consultation processes in each country, using methods to maximize the cooperation and participation of the main interest groups. In the frame of the activities the guidelines and reports relating to the stakeholder analysis and the implementation of the participatory process were produced by the Faculty of Geography of the University of L’Aquila. In the three Italian National Parks these activities have demonstrated how such an approach has led to an institutional strengthening of the roles of the Park authorities. In this country the participatory process was conducted with innovative and inclusive techniques such as the world-café which, thanks to the active presence of a facilitator, have had great success in terms of building consensus and of improvement of the communication between the different parties.

Therefore, in coherence with the entire process, the final conference of the LIFE EX-TRA project was organized with the alternation of typical meeting activities and of informal methods and new meeting and group discussion techniques, such as the Open Space Technology.
The event took place between the 10 and 13 October 2012 at the Gran Sasso National Laboratory of the National Institute of Nuclear Physics at Fonte Cerreto in the province of L’Aquila. It brought together scholars and technicians from prestigious universities, NGOs and research institutes and drew the national attention onto the instruments natural protected areas have at their disposal for the understanding and management of local problems. The aim of these techniques is to encourage serene relations between administrators and the involved stakeholders and to identify shared techniques to achieve a conservation approach that is developed commonly and not imposed from above.

Annette Mertens, the project manager, concentrated her opening speech on these subjects. Her presentation was followed by the analysis of the historical and cultural background of the Human Dimension and its role in the conservation of nature by Prof. Michael Manfredo from the University of Colorado. Prof. Jerry Vaske, from the Department of Economic Resources and Development of the University of New Hampshire, analysed the emotional component of the Human Dimension whereas the rules of participative and decision-making democracy were discussed by Alessandra Valastro from the University of Perugia. Serena Cinque, from the University of Goteborg, discussed the reasons why participation is often refused by the concerned people and analysed the reasons for the conflict between local communities and the expectations concerning nature conservation.

The techniques for obtaining effective participation in decision-making processes were discussed by the negotiator Marianella Sclavi, and by Alistair Bath from the University of Newfoundland (Canada), who also explained the use of these techniques in the development of a Bear Management Plan in Bulgaria and Croatia. Camilla Sandström, from the Political Science Department of the University of Umea, shifted the discussion onto the interaction between the rights of native populations and the expectations for environmental conservation. This theme was expanded in the speech made by Carlos Schwartz from the Ecocantanhez Project for the promotion of sustainable development in the Tombali region in Guinea Bissau. It was also discussed by Leela Hazzah, representative for the Lionguardians Project realized in Kenya. She illustrated the way in which support has been obtained for the management of the lion population from the Masai community. Other similar meaningful experiences were discussed by Ruth Waters, who described the ecosystem approach adopted in the English plateaus and by Angela Luechtrath, from the University of Freiburg, who summarized the experience resulting from the participatory management of the conflicts concerning the presence of lynx in southwest Germany. Tasos Hovardas, from the NGO CALLISTO, a partner of the EX-TRA project, gave a methodological picture of the Human Dimension in the conservation of wildlife whereas the Italian Giambattista Rigoni Stern described experiences relating to the management of shepherds’ huts and summer pastures on the plateaus of the Seven Municipalities of Asiago.

Lina Calandra, who accompanied the entire Human Dimension experience in the Gran Sasso-Laga National Park, Davide Tamagnini, facilitator in the process of participative workshops and the national project coordinator Pina Leone, have discussed the experiences and participative approaches of Life EX-TRA in the Italian project areas.

The significance of the project in the partner countries was illustrated by Ivayla Taseva and Vesela Genkova, collaborators of the Bulgarian partner Balkani Wildlife Society, Tudor Stancioiu from the University of Transylvania and Tasos Hovardas from the NGO CALLISTO. They spoke of the management of the bear and wolf population in the different geographical contexts and evaluated the suitability of a series of actions that could improve co-existence with human activities.

The meeting, therefore, gave a very rich and differentiated picture of the situation and there were also other significant experiences regarding the participative approach to the management of the landscape and the biodiversity. Some of these were discussed by Jasna Mulej, from the Slovenian project LIFE SLOW WOLF, Gaetano Ladisa from Life Cent.Oli.Med realized in Apulia (South Italy) and Greece, Angela Tavone from Life DINAMO, Domenico Nicoletti from the University of Studies of Salerno, Jenny Glickman from Newfoundland University of Canada and Marisa Cengarle, who illustrated the role of the “Sensitive Administrations Committee” in favouring participative processes for a sustainable local economy in the Southern Milan Agricultural Park. In the end, Giuliana Quattrone, CNR IIA researcher, illustrated the possible methodologies for the participative management of the protected areas and, in particular through the application of the “Partecipatory rural appraisal” method.