With financial support from the SNPA project, twelve employees of the Nature Reserve Fund of Ukraine, nine of which from Ukrainian protected areas (PA) and three from the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources of Ukraine (MENR), participated in this year’s European Parks Academy (EPA). The EPA, an international summer school hosted by the Austrian E.C.O. Institute of Ecology and ICUN/WCPA, took place from 15 to 21 July 2019 in Klagenfurt, Austria. Participants could choose from three training seminars entitled “World Heritage and Sustainable Tourism”, “Ecological Monitoring and Innovative Technologies” and “Transboundary Protected Areas and Successful Management”.
The purpose of the EPA is to provide information and training, which are relevant for and directly applicable to the participants’ work in protected areas. People who attended the “World Heritage and Sustainable Tourism” seminar received a better understanding of the tourism potential of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and how to develop this economy in a sustainable way, particularly with regard to respective recommendations by the World Heritage Convention. In addition, they discussed how to organize public access to World Heritage Sites in accordance with legal provisions and improved their knowledge in the field of professional communications.
One participant, Vasyl Pokynchereda from Carpathian Biosphere Reserve, shared his impressions: “Sustainable tourism is an extremely important topic for us, as the number of tourists is increasing every year. 22,000 hectares of our reserve is a World Heritage Site, and subject to strict regulations, and the rest is a buffer zone where some restrictions apply. So, for me it was important to get the international experts’ experience in how to organize sustainable tourism in both territories. For me, the key points were: sustainable tourism is a type of tourism that does not necessarily affect the core value of heritage sites so we can practice it in that area, and the buffer zone is ideally designed for more intense tourism. ”
Similarly important for the Ukrainian participants was the seminar on ecological monitoring, which addressed the development of monitoring systems for different types of habitats and plant and animal species in accordance with international standards. The participants learned about technological devices that are currently employed for monitoring purposes in EU countries, how they work and how to adjust them to specific needs and conditions. For example, they studied the use of drones to access areas that are difficult or impossible to reach. This technology will be very helpful for monitoring work in Ukrainian PAs.
The third seminar was about international transboundary cooperation, an important aspect to those Ukrainian PAs that border parks of neighboring countries. Seminar topics included strategies to find common approaches, legal aspects and possible challenges of intercultural communication, which are important to consider when establishing long-term cooperation. The participants learned about different international approaches and recommendations of IUCN. Another key subject of the seminar was effective environmental management, which is the ultimate goal of cross-border PA cooperation.
During the seminars the participants had the opportunity to present their own cases, problems or challenges and discuss possible solutions with their fellow students and well-known international experts. In this way, they also worked on real-life issues of PA management in Ukraine and developed ideas that will now be tested in the field. Each seminar involved an excursion to a national park in the Alpine region, where the participants experienced examples and approaches in practice and discussed problems and solutions with local experts.
A national competition was held to select the EPA participants. This procedure was a novelty in the SNPA project context. Employees of the project’s target PAs as well as other Ukrainian PAs and MENR were allowed to apply. The project commission received 16 applications, nine of which were selected according to criteria such as command of English, the suitability of the seminar contents for the applicant’s work and overall competence/personal capacity. The three MENR employees were chosen through an internal competition at the ministry, applying the above criteria. The group of successful candidates was composed of two employees of MENR departments, one employee of the Department of Ecology and Natural Resources of the Donetsk Regional State Administration as well as nine employees of Ukrainian PAs. The latter came from Rivne Nature Reserve, Roztochya Nature Reserve, Dermansko-Ostrozhsky NNP, Shatsk NNP, NNP Buzkyi Gard, Carpathian Biosphere Reserve, Carpathian NNP and Synevyr NNP.
The next element of the SNPA project component on training and capacity-building is already in preparation: one civil servant from MENR and one PA employee will take part in the renowned international master’s program “Management of Conservation Areas” at the University of Applied Sciences in Carinthia (Kärnten), Austria. The aim of this program is to promote the conservation of biological diversity and sustainable regional development in Europe and worldwide by educating and training (future) PA managers and national authorities concerned with PAs (ministry level). Over the course of two years, the students acquire skills that enable and empower them to manage PAs and support their development effectively, to use new ways of communication and to deal with stakeholders in a constructive way. The knowledge imparted during this course will be applicable worldwide. Hence, there is a strong focus on development cooperation.