No Distance When It Comes To Cooperation

Interreg projects help support many incredible areas of natural beauty. One of these is the UNESCO World Heritage Site 'Ancient and Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and Other Regions of Europe' which covers twelve countries, forming a valued and important part of natural heritage in Europe.

The project Interreg BEECH POWER, under the framework of Interreg Central Europe, helps directly support this World Heritage Site across five of its component countries: Austria, Croatia, Germany, Slovakia and Slovenia. The overall aim of the project is to improve the management quality and effectiveness of the World Heritage Site, through improving capacities and actively involving relevant stakeholders, in order to safeguard the ecosystem integrity of the site’s single component parts.

Since the middle of September, I have been involved in this project, helping with numerous tasks that contribute to the project’s overarching goals. With a background in political science and geography, the ecosystem and community-based approach that is pursued really appeals to me, as it covers not just the natural side of conservation, but also recognises the important role that local societies and people play in the functioning of these areas. The ecosystem services provided by the World Heritage Site, such as carbon sequestration, the provisioning of freshwater, and the recreational opportunities provided, are vital to the livelihoods of the people that live near them. By involving them in the conservation of the site, a more robust and sustainable future can be achieved.

My experience as an IVY volunteer has provided me with a multitude of ways to delve into this project more deeply. A Stakeholder Analysis Workshop, run by the Nationalpark Kalkalpen, an Austrian Project Partner, was my first real experience of trans-national cooperation with other project partners. Here, we discussed the considerations that stakeholder groups take during their decision-making processes through brainstorming sessions and other interactive activities. In addition to taking part in workshops, I have contributed to writing posts on the current state of beech forest conservation for the BEECH POWER website. The one thing that has stood out to me during my experience so far is the online nature of my work necessitated by the current situation worldwide. Despite the ongoing pandemic, the lack of site visits and the physical distance between the partners, significant progress has still been made with the help of technology, allowing us to move the vast majority of the project online. It has been amazing to see how well everyone has adapted to the current circumstances and how intra-European co-operation can still go full steam ahead! This is especially important in the context of nature conservation as threats to World Heritage Sites do not stop during a pandemic!

It has not only been eye-opening to cooperate with partners from different organisations across Europe, but it has also been a pleasure to work with a diverse team at my host organisation, the European Wilderness Society.

Here, I work with colleagues from five other European countries. This creates a vibrant environment where multiple perspectives are acknowledged and used to tackle the issues at hand. Drawing on these diverse perspectives, a former IVY volunteer and myself decided to create a Citizens’ Engagement Activity (Bringing Europe Closer to Nature) which aimed to highlight the role of IVY and the European Cohesion Policy in supporting nature conservation across Europe through a quiz and Christmas chit-chat.

On a more personal level, being in based in the Alpine town of Tamsweg has been truly awe-inspiring. From every angle,a stunning panorama greets me.

Whether it be from the Nock Mountains in the south, the Schladminger Tauern in the north, the Styrian Alps in the East, or the High Tauern in the west. During the early autumn this provided the perfect environment in which to go hiking and mountain biking and now that it is winter, the landscape has been covered by a wonderful blanket of snow. Coming from the UK, where there is very little in the way of mountains, I intend to experience the following months to their fullest by snow show hiking through the forests, backcountry skiing up to the snow-covered peaks and enjoying a bit of alpine skiing in between too.

Living in Austria has also allowed me to improve my foreign language skills, a key part of any volunteering experience abroad. Moreover, I have thoroughly enjoyed my time so far as an IVY volunteer and look forward to the following months of my placement where I hope to gain further insights into beech forest conservation in Europe and learn more from my colleagues and other project partners. My involvement so far has taught me that cooperation within Europe and with our partner countries helps us tackle natural challenges more effectively and efficiently.

This is definitely an experience I will cherish far into the future!

Timothy Sung, Tamsweg, European Wilderness Society

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