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Challenges for rural areas

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key word: methodology and development
source: LEADER Magazine n°12
date of publication: 10/96

"Reconciling tourism and environmental responsibility"

Ernst Miglbauer (ÖAR-Regionalberatung, Austria)

For the past ten years, the main expectations of consumers of tourism and recreational activities can be summed up in the phrase: "an authentic landscape in a healthy environment". Natural areas constitute an extremely valuable capital for areas seeking to develop tourism. Yet, tourism is often the main cause of a growing deterioration of this capital.

Certain local action groups in Austria, "Mühlviertler Sterngartl", "National- und Naturregion Eisenwurzen" or the German LEADER group "Natur- und Lebensraum Rhön" (see LEADER Magazine No 6) have implemented actions to solve this problem.

"Mühlviertler Sterngartl" (Upper Austria) includes a well-preserved area of hills which makes it a very popular destination, especially for the inhabitants of Linz 10 km away who go hiking and ride mountain bikes there. Sustainable tourism is therefore one of the major concerns of the local action group. It drew up a list of the sensitive natural areas (wet grass, river banks, etc.) in the area's 12 municipalities. The results were discussed with the population, and the schools took over from there, analyzing water quality and organising "river sponsoring" by the pupils. The LAG also published brochures which were made available to visitors on hiking trails.

The situation is very different in Eisenwurzen. It is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Upper Austria. The area includes a protected space, Kalkalpen National Park. In order to reconcile local economic activity, tourism and observance of the Park's rules, the "Projektgruppe Kulturlandschaft" group set up a partnership involving in particular the municipalities and farmers. Municipal eco-audits in which the townspeople participated identified at least two elements in the local economy that could benefit farmers and the environment: hedgerow maintenance and the re-utilisation of old fruit trees. An awareness campaign showing that it is possible to reconcile agriculture and protected spaces is also in the pipeline.

For the LEADER group "Natur- und Lebensraum Rhön" (Hessia), which operates in a "biosphere reserve", information and communication are essential vehicles when seeking to establish tourist products in a context of sustainable development. Actions are conducted, for example, to encourage cross-country skiers not to disturb the habitat of capercaillies, a rare and threatened species. Bird observation posts also providing environmental information to hikers have been built, but they are still perceived as "gendarmes", especially by farmers who see them as an obstacle to their activity. As a result, an awareness action has also been launched in schools.

Raising the awareness of local people and visitors is generally on the agenda. But the question of the environment poses a series of yet unresolved problems, in particular the often conflicting relationship between the expectations of tourists and those of environmental organisations. Deciding where to put a hiking trail may, for example, result in a very damaging dispute for local development dynamics. That is why it is imperative particularly when developing new products to establish dialogue between tourist operators, the inhabitants and naturists.

As part of his activities for the ÖAR, the Austrian office for technical assistance in local development, Ernst Miglbauer has had the opportunity to work with the different groups mentioned in this article.

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