ERC 2017: Rangers without borders

Continuing on from my last post about the European Ranger Congress, I’d like to focus on international cooperation.

The spirit of international cooperation was strong at the European Ranger Congress last month. The theme of this congress was “Exploring new approaches to conserving nature”. Carol Ritchie, Executive Director of EUROPARC  pointed out that the future is full of challenges, but also opportunities too. “We are not alone – we are one big family”. She said that “we need to look beyond our own patch, and elevate our role… Look to the future for Rangers in Europe.”

The Congress had a number of examples of people already working together across borders for nature conservation. Many of the National Parks in Czech Republic are near the country’s borders, so there are examples of parks linking up across borders such as Šumava National Park (Czech border with Germany and Austria) and Bohemian Switzerland (Czech and German border) to show us what can be achieved by working together.

The Congress also looked at ideas and projects to stimulate and develop more international cooperation. Different forms of cooperation were discussed, such as twinning, sharing knowledge, ranger exchanges and clustering. A number of IRF twinning agreements were actually signed at the Congress too. The IRF sees the twinning document as a sign of intent from ranger in different countries to work together. It can be the framework within which ranger exchanges, cross-border projects and other forms of cooperation can develop.

The twinning agreements that were signed at the Congress were between:

  • Czech Republic and Slovakia
  • Iceland and Romania
  • Finland and Denmark
  • Portugal and Croatia
  • Portugal and Spain
  • Switzerland and Albania

In the spirit of international cooperation, German and Israeli rangers visited the local memorial concentration camp site “Terezin”, together. Both ranger groups carried both flags through the memorial. In a historic gesture, these two countries also signed a twinning agreement to work together.

​Frank Grütz from Germany – the IRF European representative (and now president of the newly formed European Ranger Federation) said:

“We’ve had a special congress, establishing the ERF and signing some twinning projects including a very historic event – Germany and Israel. This is a historic step among European Rangers. It’s giving courage, it’s a sign of openess and tolerance. It’s a kind of brothership – we are all the same despite borders, despite religion or belief. We are all the same.”

I travelled to Bohemian Switzerland National Park on a field trip as part of the Congress, which allowed me to see first-hand some of the great cooperation already happening between the Czech Republic and Germany along this border, and why this kind of cooperation is so important.

Bohemian Switzerland is the youngest National Park in the Czech Republic. It sits by the German border and is linked with Saxon Switzerland National Park on the German side. This is a region of sandstone, 6,000 square kilometres of sandstone in fact, which makes for a landscape of deep mountain passes, rock towers and canyons – including the largest sandstone canyon in Europe. This is a popular area for challenging rock climbing, and the sandstone here was actually used to build much of Prague and Dresden.

On the field trip we were told that 70% of visitors to this part of Czech Republic are from Germany (where climbing and caving are big traditions). Because of this, there are many multilingual signs, for example signs explaining how visitors should behave to help staff to protect bats living in the caves.

The Head Ranger of the German National Park also talked about how he works with the Czech National Park. Connections between the two sides, especially between the National Parks, have a long tradition. For the rangers this includes joint patrols and even a joint Christmas party. The police also carry out joint patrols on the river Elbe (Labe) by boat, and we were treated to a trip on one of these patrol boats as part of the field trip. The border between the two countries ran down the middle of the river here. At one point we had to swap boats, jumping across from one with a German flag to one with a Czech flag, in order to reach the shore. For me this highlights the point of this international conference – we have to be ready to jump out of our boat, ready to reach out across borders and work together with others.

RangingFar - Czech and German Cooperation
Police and Rangers on both sides of the border work together

The Peregrine Falcon has benefitted from the cooperation between the Czech Republic and Germany. These birds disappeared from the area due to pesticides, with the last nest seen on the German side in 1972. Peregrines returned with the help of a reintroduction programme, starting in Germany in 1997. When the Czech side was declared a National Park in 2000, the park admin joined the initiative and released 77 birds over 6 years. These birds were actually sourced from a church tower in Berlin! The aim now is to further encourage these birds in both the National Parks and Protected Area land. The Peregrines are also spreading out into other parts of the Czech Republic, and I think I was lucky enough to see the fruits of the German and Czech rangers’ labours while hiking in the hills north of Litoměřice after the congress. Falcons were nesting on the church tower in Žitenice, a small settlement up in the hills; these birds were either the reintroduced Peregrine Falcon, or the similar Saker Falcon which is “a rare but regular breeder in the Czech Republic” (Beran et al 2012). Although there is some overlap in the appearance of the two birds, from what I can find out the Saker Falcon Falco cherrug primarily nests on trees, cliffs and power lines whereas the Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus  is well-known for nesting on tall buildings like this church (even in cities like New York and London). Either way, it was a great sighting!

Thanks for reading!

European Ranger Congress 2017 field trip. Tom on a police patrol boat on the River Elbe, in Bohemian Switzerland. This boat is used by both German and Czech police forces, and the German flag can be seen in the background.
Travelling on a police patrol boat on the Czech-German border

 

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