Valuing Urban Ecology
One of 50 proven solutions to change our nation.
RLKM are working in collaboration with Bord na Móna and Coillte to develop national parks in north west Mayo and the Midlands.
11 months ago
Find out more about this project at Changemakers
Ignace Schops has created a model for local citizens to take control of their local nature reserves, creating new business opportunity while supporting ecological quality.
*Bring this to your community: Contact – Sarah Bernstein, email@example.com*
The potential of proximity nature tourism in Europe is very strong and yet untapped. The rise in the number of retirees, the new aspirations and limited budgets of families, and the increasing costs of airline transportation explain a rising demand for proximity tourism and more authentic experiences in relationship to nature.
According to a 2007 survey in Europe, more than 70 percent of European tourists are looking for a renewed connection to nature during their holidays. However, more than half of them fear that they cannot find the type of experience they are looking for nearby, and favor further destinations. This constitutes a missed development opportunity in Europe.
Many densely populated, transitioning areas are struggling to convert their coal mining and heavy industries into healthier local economies. The paradigm of tax incentives and public subsidies needs to be changed from one which has typically been encouraging industrialization at the expense of nature preservation.
Ignace has anticipated and seen the rise of a movement of citizens shifting their focus away from consumption and materialism and looking for a renewed relationship to nature. With the support of these citizens, Ignace has found success in bringing together businessmen and conservationists around the protection of nature reserves in densely populated areas.
Indeed, he is providing a new local development approach: He is showing businessmen the value of nature in the eyes of consumers and encouraging entrepreneurs to invest and leverage nature reserves to foster proximity tourism and economic development, with a focus on authenticity.
He is hence avoiding big resorts and packaged vacation experiences that typically destroy beautiful landscapes and have a high ecological footprint. Simultaneously, he is demonstrating to conservationists that working with businesses can create economic and social value, but also and foremost can generate a stream of resources to reinforce nature conservation if they agree to bring down the fences they typically build around nature reserves.
How it works
In March 2006, Ignace Schops inaugurated Hoge Kempen in Maasland, the first national park in Belgium and provided undeniable demonstration that a new form of ecological development was possible. When the World Conservation Union (IUCN) validated the creation of the park, it found most striking Ignace’s ability to mobilize a broad citizen movement “to create the first national park from a bottom-up approach,” as opposed from a governmental initiative.
Since the opening of the National Park, more than 700,000 tourists have visited and many more have discovered nature reserves nearby. More than half of them were living in neighboring cities. To strengthen the links between people and nature, Ignace created a brand for Hoge Kempen, embodied by nine stones positioned in the shape of a footprint. With it, he certifies the quality of the nature experience in the Park.
Because of the massive number of citizens he has mobilized, Ignace was able to convince local entrepreneurs to ignore the roads and industrial districts that were polarizing investments and to look at the business opportunity of investing in preserved areas and beautiful landscapes. This led to the creation of over 100 businesses and hundreds of jobs around Hoge Kempen as well as smaller nature reserves in Belgium.
Ignace is now using this park to anchor an economic development model adaptable to small and large nature spots and reserves in densely populated regions across Europe. Additionally, he has successfully implemented an endangered species (plant or animal) adoption program in 44 municipalities in his region, thus encouraging local communities to become involved in the preservation of biodiversity.
A solution is nothing without action. Here are the pledges of support from our Change Makers that this solution has so far gained during the event.