“Ehrensache Natur” – the volunteer program in Germany’s protected areas - Anne Schierenberg -
“Ehrensache Natur”, EUROPARC Germany’s volunteer program, is an example of professional volunteer management in nature conservation.
Since it was initiated in the National Natural Landscapes in 2005, volunteer coordination has become an integral part of park management in more than 40 German national parks, nature parks and UNESCO biosphere reserves. Every year, about 3,000 “volunteers in parks” of various ages help park staff in a wide range of projects that focus on nature conservation, biodiversity and environmental education. The volunteers’ activities include swathing meadows, planting trees, leading excursions, monitoring animals, maintaining pathways and processing data. In each protected area the volunteers are instructed by a qualified volunteer coordinator among the paid staff.
In 2010, Chancellor Angela Merkel won the MIDORI Prize for Biodiversity (Special Prize). This was in acknowledgement of her leadership on global environmental issues including climate change and biodiversity conservation policy at national, EU and international levels. Chancellor Merkel donated the prize money to “Ehrensache Natur” to support the conservation of biodiversity and natural habitats. Thanks to this financial support, EUROPARC Germany and the National Natural Landscapes can carry out additional and exemplary conservation projects with volunteers.
To give some examples: In 2012, as a pilot project with volunteers, oak trees were preserved and planted in the river banks of the Mittelelbe Biosphere Reserve. Complementing the practical conservation work, a competition for pupils was organised that encouraged them to develop an oak tree model with educational elements as an exhibition module for an information centre.
Currently, the 2013 “Ehrensache Natur” pilot project focusses on swamps in the Müritz National Park and involves volunteers who are helping close drainage ditches that dewater the swamps. By dismantling the drainages, valuable habitats can be conserved that also have considerable importance for climate protection. Besides the pilot projects, each year about ten best practice projects with volunteers receive financial support and show – as models for other parks – how volunteers can contribute to nature conservation. For example, the habitat of the fire salamander was improved in the Thüringer Schiefergebirge/Obere Saale Nature Park, invasive neophytes were combated in the Südost-Rügen Biosphere Reserve and a near-natural playground for children was constructed in the Drömling Nature Park.
The volunteer program now not only addresses individual local citizens in the surroundings of the parks, it also includes other target groups such as international volunteers and groups of people with mental disabilities. Recently, this focus has even been expanded, involving businesses for corporate volunteering activities, volunteering tourists and young people after they leave their Junior Ranger groups in the protected areas. Collaboration with partners has been established for these different target groups, e.g. with the tourism sector and other businesses as well as with the Junior Ranger program in the National Natural Landscapes.
(Anne Schierenberg, Degreed Engineer in Landscape Planning, project manager of the volunteer program in Germany’s large scale protected areas, the National Natural Landscapes, EUROPARC Germany)
The partner areas of 'Ehrensache Natur' - the Unteres Odertal National Park, author: Katharina Fettweiß
The partner areas of 'Ehrensache Natur' - the Harz National Park, author: Stephanie Schubert