Connecting with nature in West Pomerania

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This report can be downloaded as a pdf.

Click to read about Jess’s “Five Great Sights from Poland” in the RSPB Community Blog https://community.rspb.org.uk/ourwork/b/scotland/posts/five-great-sights-from-poland

Nature Exchange Five: Managing our Natural and Cultural Heritage Assets

Connecting with nature in West Pomerania

Bórbagno Miałka Reserve, Western Pomerania Regional Landscape Parks

West Pomerania lies in the north west corner of Poland. A relatively new addition to the country, it was previously a part of Germany until agreements made at the Postdam Conference in 1945 following the end of World War Two, and only formally became part of Poland in the 1990 following the end of the Cold War, break up of the Soviet Union and reunification of Germany.

The area is rich in nature with a variety of habitats and home to a huge number of wildlife species. There are a number of areas set aside for nature with varying levels of protection. These include National Nature Parks, Landscape Parks, Natura 2000 sites, and a Nature Park run by the Society for the Coast.

In June 2019 I attended the one-week long Odra Delta study tour, funded by Erasmus+ and coordinated by ARCH Network. Our host for our time there was Kazimierz Rabski from the Society for the Coast (EUCC-Poland) which runs Odra Delta Nature Park. While there we visited Woliński National Park, Western Pomerania Regional Landscape Parks and Odra Delta Nature Park. We learnt that nature protection has traditionally not been high priority in Poland and so encouraging people to spend time outside, take an interest in nature and learn about it are some of the main priorities for Polish conservation.

Woliński National Park has three main tasks:

  • Protect habitats
  • Encourage visitors in line with the management and/or protection plan
  • Provide education connected to conservation

Western Pomerania Regional Landscape Parks work areas focus on:

  • Caring for nature and landscape conservation
  • Protection of cultural and historical heritage
  • Tourism promotion
  • Education
  • Cooperation with local communities, businesses, authorities and forestry

As a Communications Manager for RSPB Scotland I was very interested in how the nature areas in West Pomerania connect people in the local communities and across Poland with the nature at these places to inspire them to want to help it, educate them about it and encourage them to spend time in it. I have focused my report on the following areas:

  • Media and publications
  • Community outreach
  • Education
  • Interpretation
  • Social media and blogs

At RSPB Scotland we have a number of teams taking care of these areas of work to maximise our opportunities to connect people with nature. The three organisations we visited have far smaller teams than RSPB Scotland, and none have a staff member solely dedicated to communications and connecting people with nature. Rather communications is interwoven into other roles, forming part of the work area of various people. External communications support can be provided as and when needed.

Media and publications

Media and publications are traditionally one of the most utilised ways of informing members of the public. While the rise of social media and the 24 hour news cycle in the twenty-first century has lessened its impact to some extent it still remains one of the primary tools of many organisations for promoting their messages and stories.

In my time in Poland I found a different relationship and priority placed on this relationship by the nature organisations we visited. They focus far more on face to face interaction than press work, and as none are membership organisations they are not duty bound to create regular publications with updates of their work for members. While this concentration of resource on interacting with people does mean that they reach a smaller audience it allows them to engage more in-depth with people, hopefully having more of an impact with them.

At Woliński National Park relationships with the media are managed by those working in education, primary to promote their work and the events they host connecting children to nature.

When Western Pomerania Regional Landscape Parks need to issue press release they are supported in this by the Marshall’s office who has a public relations team able to provide the skills and expertise needed. Recently the Parks collaborated with the local media to give away the series of maps of the various parks through the local newspaper to promote them as places to visit and encourage more people to explore them and find out what they are about. One map was given away each week so a collection of the complete set could be built up.

Community outreach

View from the new tower at Ińsko Landscape Park

Community outreach was at the heart of much of the connecting to nature work done in West Pomerania. Wherever possible face to face interactions and meetings are primary means of communicating with the public.

In Poland, Landscape Parks are able to deliver infrastructure projects, by coordinating and securing financial support, to areas of the parks which can then be handed over to the community to care for.

In April this year a fully accessible viewing tower and a pier were installed at Ińsko Landscape Park on Lake Ińsko, part of Western Pomerania Regional Landscape Parks. The town by the Lake also called Ińsko was previously a popular domestic holiday resort but has lost out on visitors in the last 20 years or so as more people head abroad for their breaks. In planning these new pieces of visitor infrastructure Western Pomerania Regional Landscape Parks had held consultation meetings with the local community to decide on what they would like to have and would be of most benefit to them that the organisation could help deliver. The viewing tower and pier project were decided on by the local community who agreed to be their caretakers once they had been delivered.

The viewing tower is free to use and has a lift to the top, and gives spectacular views across the lake. The nearby pier cordons off a small part of the lake, which is top rated in terms of clarity and cleanliness, providing an enclosed swimming space suitable for families and those less confident in the water. It also provided a new business opportunity. Boats are currently not allowed on the lake except for the emergency services in order to maintain its water quality and so as not to disturb nature. A new business has opened on the pier allowing a limited number of tour boats for hire so people can go out on the lake. It is hoped the opening of the pier will encourage redevelopment of the nearby empty buildings into a hotel bringing a return of visitors to the area. A successful restaurant that is popular as a wedding venue is already up and running.

Education

Education is another crucial aspect to the nature connection work is West Pomerania. Both Woliński National Park and Western Pomerania Regional Landscape Parks visit schools in their communities to educate children about nature. They also over see school trips to the parks all the year round, including guided walks during the snow in winter, to give children on the ground experience of the nature areas.

Annual competitions are held for school children to engage them with Polish nature. Western Pomerania Regional Landscape Parks have an annual contest which has been running for 20 years testing children on their knowledge of the beech wood forest found in Poland. The Society for the Coast runs a photography competition for local children and Dutch children promoting cross border knowledge and culture exchange as well as learning about the nature of their own and each other’s countries.

In terms of educating the wider public these organisations often attend events with stands so that visitors to the events can come and learn about them and be inspired to visit.

Part of Woliński National Park intertwines with Międzyzdroje, a popular beach resort on the Baltic Sea. The Park staff take an event stand to the beach during the summer months to encourage holidays makers to spend some of their time in the park exploring the local nature areas.

Interpretation

All of the nature sites we visited had some level of interpretation associated with them. Leaflets about Woliński National Park could be picked up across the region promoting it as a place to visit. The Western Pomerania Regional Landscape Parks had a series of tearaway maps that were low cost and could be given out to visitors.

Information board at a Western Pomerania Regional Landscape Parks site

All of them had information boards at the nature sites. These tended to be displayed at the entrances or at viewing points. At Woliński National Park and Western Pomerania Regional Landscape Parks these were all tri-lingual (Polish, German, English) taking into account the local community, the close border with Germany, and trying to ensure visitors from other countries also had the opportunity to understand the area.

Natura 2000 sign

Each protected site is made clear by an official red sign, and in some instances the inclusion of the rules that needed to be followed when accessing the site.

The interpretation boards contained a variety of information including the species that could be seen at the sites, the history of the area, how nature has changed and adapted over time, and why the site was important for nature. There were some interactive ones featuring spinning elements, making them into more of a game for the younger audience. They also featured safety instructions, for example at Odra Delta Nature Park to let people know to keep a safe distance from the livestock and not park their cars within the park as the Konik ponies would damage them.

Spinning species information board at a Western Pomerania Regional Landscape Parks site

The provision of such information on site ensure that visitors had the opportunity to find out about the areas and the species they might see, creating the potential for them to learn about it and identify things as they walk around, and thus build a relationship with the place. Trails marked out on maps on the boards and with paint on the trees guided people around sites. These not only helped people to explore but encouraged people to stay within designated areas, helping keep visitors away from areas that would be damaged by footfall.

Signs at Odra Delta Nature about the livestock

As with the viewing tower and pier the interpretation boards at Western Pomerania Regional Landscape Parks were all agreed with the local community prior to being installed, and they had responsibility for them. The boards at the park area that borders the city of Szczecin meant that those using the park are aware it is in the Western Pomerania Regional Landscape Parks.

Social media and blogs

Overall the use and engagement in social media the three organisations were low. Both social media and blogs take a lot of time management and require constant maintenance to be a successful way of engaging with people. Given the smaller teams and the diversity of the work the organisations have to cover social media and blogs were of low priority for them, and they instead preferred to concentrate on their face to face engagement.

I was inspired by the focus placed on face to face engagement in Poland to connect people with nature. Given the small size of the teams overseeing the nature areas I felt the decision to concentrate on being out amongst people rather than focusing on producing written communications for press and social media allowed them to build support for nature with the people living next door to it. It highlighted the importance of having local people engaged with nature and supportive of their work which in turn helps with the delivery of conservation.

Jess Barrett, RSPB Scotland

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