European Natura 2000 Award
The Authority of the České Středohoří Protected Landscape Area, a branch of the Czech Nature Conservation Agency, set itself three communication goals for Natura 2000: to explain to local people and visitors the action it was taking to conserve Sites of Community Importance (SCIs), to improve public attitudes to conservation, and to support local stakeholders and landowners in the good long-term management of sites.
“Gaining the Natura 2000 Award for communication is not only recognition of our work, but also the work of our partners and everybody who has worked towards the project or supported it,” says Jana Marešová. “The added value of the award is the positive impact that it has on current and future cooperation.”
In the Raná-Hrádek SCI, the authority is working to protect the dry grassland habitats in the Louny region of North Bohemia. These hilly areas are islands of nature in the surrounding farmland. The award-winning work, carried out through the ‘Steppes of the Louny region’ project, is supported by the European Commission’s LIFE+ financial instrument.
“The project helps to recover valuable steppe habitats by removing bush and invasive species,” explains Dr Marešová. “Sometimes this means changes in the countryside and it might be difficult for local people to accept them. We have alleviated the tension by contributing to local newsletters, organising local exhibitions, giving presentations and field excursions where we explain why management is necessary and how we intend to organise and sustain it.”
The largest public event is the ‘Celebration of the Steppes’ in May, when more than 1000 people come each year to explore the site, take part in games, watch squirrels, bats, or view sheep-shearing and herding demonstrations. The authority has erected information boards on access pathways, and distributed information materials (also in English) on a local railway network and at many public events, explaining the importance of SCIs like Raná-Hrádek and Oblík-Srdov-Brník.
Young people are a priority, through activities such as an annual art competition in cooperation with local teachers. Some 30 schools and clubs took part in 2013 and, the winning pictures appear on educational materials. Moreover, a recent seminar on traditional farming practices proved popular among local farmers and landowners.
The authority plans to use the prize to publish a brochure on Natura 2000 sites within the České Středohoří protected area. “The text accompanied with colourful pictures will illustrate to the public the best of local nature experiences,” says Dr Marešová. “There are still many opportunities to bring Natura 2000 closer to people in the Czech Republic. The award is definitely one of them. Such recognition by the European Commission is a great encouragement for us.”