Hans von Sonntag | 22.11. 2023

Above: Wellies were advised for the field trips. Régis Leymarie (Conservatoire du littoral) reaches out his hand to Eurosite Board Member Kyriakos Skordas (Hunting Federation of Macedonia & Thrace). Photo Carolin Frühauf


Harm Schoten, Eurosite’s director, whom I asked for a quote on the recent Eurosite Annual General Meeting, held in Amiens from the 7th to the 9th of November, mailed me back:

Identity plays a significant role in shaping people’s values and beliefs, including their attitudes towards nature. Our meeting in Amiens showed the strong desire of site managers, landowners, farmers, businesses and communities to collaborate for long-term conservation. Together, we continue on that path!

The three-day meeting in Amiens, attended by almost 120 people from over 20 countries, demonstrated just that. It was proof of the potential to turn unlikely allies into important partners for nature conservation if cooperation is truly wanted. The key is to find the right language and offer appropriate support. The various workshops that took place during the event provided insightful examples of this transformative approach.

Clara Diebolt, AC3A,  presents her insights into the future of farming on French degraded peatlands. Photo Hans von Sonntag


Farmers need support

In the Peatlands in Agricultural Areas Workshop, a segment of the EUKI project Building a European Peatlands Initiative, Clara Diebolt from AC3A [AC3A] highlighted a poignant issue: farmers may become the overlooked casualties in the necessary rewetting of peatlands used for agriculture, a process vital to reducing substantial greenhouse gas emissions from their soils.

Douglas McMillan, representing a cooperative of individual Irish farmers rather than a broad farmers’ union as Diebolt does, brings a unique viewpoint shaped by his work in Ireland. Despite these differences, his conclusion aligns with Diebolt’s: farmers need support. He advocates for adaptive measures to facilitate their shift from traditional peatland agriculture to sustainable, climate-conscious farming practices.


Maximillian Loessl, managing director of Aeco. Photo Hans von Sonntag


Bridging a critical gap: monetising rewetted peatlands

Maximillian Loessl,  leads the startup Aeco aiming to bridge a critical gap: monetising rewetted peatlands and building an investable, implementation-ready peatland restoration project pipeline. Aeco creates and markets CO2 and ecosystem service certificates by collaborating with financial partners and the Eurosite network.

This innovative approach is reinforced by Moritz Kaiser, Michael Succow Foundation, whose research underlines a stark reality:

Peatland drainage ranks Europe’s second-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Moritz Kaiser, Michael Succow Foundation, presents the audience with the European peatlands reality. Photo Hans von Sonntag


Exploring effective strategies for involving communities

Addressing this colossal challenge requires community engagement, underscored by Theo de Bruin, who leads the Eurosite Working Group on Nature Recreation. De Bruin hosted a workshop at the Eurosite Annual Meeting focused on nature perception and community involvement. Central to this workshop was exploring effective strategies for involving communities and the broader public in nature restoration efforts.

At the Eurosite Cocktail. Board member and treasurer Theo de Bruin also chairs the Nature and Recreation Working Group. Photo Hans von Sonntag


Régis Leymarie, Conservatoire du littoral, délégation Normandie, presents his flood preventing conservation project at the Normandy coast. Photo Hans von Sonntag


Grasping a community’s identity

Régis Leymarie from Conservatoire du littoral, Normandie, showcased a crucial environmental project in Normandy designed to harness natural processes for preventing catastrophic floods in coastal areas. The project’s success hinged on more than just scientific and engineering expertise; it required significant shifts in the local economy, including relocating a camping site. Leymarie emphasised the importance of patience and a profound grasp of the community’s identity and the locals’ aspirations as key to the project’s success.

Garnering broader public interest and acceptance through volunteering

Liesbet Cleynhens, Head of Service Nature Experience at Natuurpunt, the Belgian conservation NGO renowned for its robust volunteer network, highlighted the significance of a volunteering culture in nature conservation. She stressed that the value of volunteers extends far beyond cost-saving labour. It’s their numbers and active participation that embed these projects within the community, garnering broader public interest and acceptance.

The unique and biodiversity-rich Zwarte Beek Valley peatland landscape in Belgium is managed by Natuurpunt, mostly volunteers. Photo Hans von Sonntag


Cristiana De Lia, freelancing policy adviser, explains her advocacy work on the European Nature Restoration Law. Photo Hans von Sonntag


Forging alliances

Cristiana De Lia and I discussed the importance of forging alliances in our presentations. In her work with Climate Catalyst, Christiana demonstrated how engaging intermediaries can be pivotal. For instance, Cambridge University was a crucial conduit, connecting her with international businesses. These connections were instrumental in rallying corporate support for the European Nature Restoration Law at a critical moment in time. This effort culminated in over 80 CEOs, including Alan Jope of Unilever and Jon Abrahamsson, CEO of Inter IKEA Group, signing an open letter endorsing the law, illustrating the power of strategic partnerships in environmental advocacy.

The author presents his insights on the German #PeatlandsMatter Social Media Campaign. Photo Carolin Frühauf


Farmers need to feed a family. I need that, too

In the realm of conservation, allies can emerge from unexpected quarters. My experience with the German #PeatlandsMatter campaign, in collaboration with the Greifswald Mire Centre and Climate Catalyst, has shown me that farmers, often perceived as part of the problem due to peatland drainage, are critical to the solution. They are essential allies in the effort to rewet Europe’s peatlands. These farmers are not opposed to nature conservation; they only need to feed a family. I need that, too.

From that perspective, we sit in the same boat, highlighting the importance of aligning conservation goals with the livelihoods of those directly impacted by environmental policies.

Include those we least expect to ally with

Our approach to conservation communication requires a shift. We must move beyond specialised jargon to speak a language that resonates with all potential partners, including those we least expect to ally with. Tilmann Disselhoff, Eurosite’s president, captures this sentiment, emphasising the fundamental role of language in this article. It’s not just a medium for communication; it forms the very foundation of our thoughts and interactions. This understanding is crucial in making our conservation efforts inclusive and effective.

Image below: Unlikely allies. René de Bont (FPG, left) represents Dutch landowners and farmers, while  Mathias Brummer works as a policy expert in forest conservation at Xarxa per a la Conservació de la Natura (XCN), a conservation NGO located in Barcelona, Spain. Photo Hans von Sonntag

The Eurosite Annual Meeting is co-funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the contributors only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or CINEA. Neither the European Union not CINEA can be held responsible for them.