The Endangered Landscapes Programme (ELP) has an ambitious vision for restoring species, natural processes and local economies in Europe. It aims to do this primarily through the provision of grants to organisations that will use ELP funding to implement, plan and facilitate landscape-scale restoration in some of Europe’s most important landscapes. A related ambition of the Programme is to develop the capacity of its grantees (individually and institutionally) so that they can most effectively deliver such initiatives.
One of the ways that the ELP does this is through targeted training workshops for grantees who are implementing large-scale restoration initiatives. The Programme ran the first of these workshops in February this year, focused on the development of nature-based businesses in project focal areas. All eight Implementation Projects funded by the ELP have an ambition to develop sustainable, local economies which are based on healthy ecosystems, so this training (delivered by Conservation Capital) was of great relevance to them.
The event was hosted by the ELP-funded Cairngorms Connect project in the Scottish Highlands, where we were generously accommodated by one of the project’s partners – Wildland Ltd. Usually based in Cambridge, where we have little chance of snow, I was glad for the opportunity of ‘slow travel’ on the train and eagerly watched as the farmland and fens eventually gave way to imposing, white-topped mountain covered in blankets of snow that characterise this region.
Participants across the eight projects, from the Cambrian Mountains of Wales to the grasslands of the Iori River Valley in Georgia, attended the event. The group represented a fantastic mix of expertise and experience – from practitioners, to finance managers, to trained economists. Such a diversity of perspectives, not to mention project contexts, created the conditions for interesting and valuable discussion between the group and their growing ‘Community of Practice’.
First, the concept of a ‘nature-based enterprise’ was defined, and how this might differ from a conventional approach to starting a new business. For Conservation Capital, a nature-based enterprise can be considered as “Any commercial activity that can generate economic or social benefits in a way that supports one or more meaningful nature conservation outcomes.” In essence this means considering positive environmental and social impacts as valuable an ‘outcome’ as financial profit. This of course has significant relevance to conservation and restoration projects that are aiming to put healthy ecosystems (and the ‘services’ they can potentially provide) at the heart of new enterprises. In practice, this might be implemented as conservation tourism, development and marketing of local products, payments for ecosystem services (PES) or conservation agriculture.
What mattered most in this training was ensuring that projects could apply what they learnt to their own project plans – and the ideas and lessons that could be learned from each other. As such, most of the training event was spent listening to each project’s ambitions for nature-based enterprises in their own contexts and providing each other with feedback on these ideas. Some initiatives are more developed in their plans, such as the project in Western Iberia that recently launched a local business network to create a full, linked network of tourism business (accommodation, wildlife-watching, local products including perfume).
Other projects were in the earlier stages. For example, the Polesia project are considering alternative livelihood provision to counter unsustainable cranberry picking in protected areas in Belarus. They are considering doing this by diversifying incomes for seasonal workers, by creating a local bakery, supporting berry cultivation outside the protected area on small-scale farms, and even introducing opportunities for snail farming for export to markets in Western Europe.
The Glen Feshie estate, owned by Wildland Ltd, is a fantastic example of restoration and demonstrates the new opportunities (such as tourism) that can be created by nature recovery. Photo credit: Georgina Mayhew.
Making the most of being hosted by the Cairngorms Connect project, the group also visited Wildland’s Glen Feshie estate – an inspirational site for forest regrowth due to effective deer management, that is also pioneering the development of new businesses linked to the restoration of the estates landscape and natural resources. Flanked by two rangers and their ponies, we walked through the glen to a restored ‘bothy’ and (for the non-vegetarians among us!) were fed local venison burgers – the same ‘pony trek’ experience offered to clientele staying at Wildland properties.
The group also met with two other local entrepreneurs who have created sustainable business ventures in the local area. Peter Cairns from Scotland: The Big Picture, a rewilding communications charity, shared his vision for engaging people in nature, which includes organising photography and wildlife-watching trips for clients (in Scotland and further afield). Ruari Law from Instinct Guides, a wilderness guiding company, explained his business arrangement with a local landowner giving access to his land for wildlife-watching in return for a commission.
Attendees found speaking with local entrepreneurs Peter and Ruari extremely valuable, and were pleased to get the ‘real-life experience’ in the comfort of Ruari’s tipi! Photo credit: Georgina Mayhew.
The training, as well as experiences shared by projects and local entrepreneurs, clearly demonstrated that there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ to developing enterprises that create returns on investment, but which also provide benefits to people and nature too. Indeed, the diversity of nature and therefore business opportunities is amazing, if only we are willing to be more creative in our approach and put nature at the heart of our economy.