Tilmann Disselhoff  | 21.11. 2023

Above: The famous Eurosite cocktail. Participants bring food and drinks typical for their home area and share them. Photo Hans von Sonntag


The best-attended Eurosite event

I just got home from the 34th Eurosite Annual Meeting in Amiens, France. This was the best-attended Eurosite event in at least the last 15 years, maybe longer. Almost 120 people from more than 20 countries participated in the 3-day gathering. In the spirit of European cultural plurality, our hosts had organised simultaneous translation from French to English for the plenary and some workshops – and the two translators did an admirable job.

Harm Schoten, Director of Eurosite, thanks the event’s host, Christoph Lépine, president of the Conservatoire d’espaces naturels and Brigitte Fouré, Amiens’ mayor since 2014, in the Musée de Picardie. In the background, Lady Godiva mounted naked on a horse, forcing her husband, Leofric, Earl of Mercia (died 1057), to lower his oppressive taxes, painted by Jules Joseph Lefebvre, France, in 1890. Photo Hans von Sonntag


Language defines our thinking

In my German mother tongue, the profession of translating is called “dolmetsch”, after the Turkish word “dilmaç”, which means “to mediate”. I find that fitting. Despite decades of European integration, we need mediators.
Language barriers still surround us, sometimes due to our own faults. Conservationists like to use jargon. Why do we speak of “stakeholders” or “interest groups” when we could say partners? Language defines our thinking. Some perceived barriers disappear as soon as you stop calling them that.

Anton Gazenbeek (Eurosite ABC Working Group chair on nature-friendly farming) talks to Laura Chirilă-Pașca of ADEPT Foundation, who became a Eurosite member this year. Photo Hans von Sonntag


Becoming friends

We at Eurosite pride ourselves on having a great relationship with ELO. After all, we went a long way together, from being adversaries to becoming friends. But we still speak of “conservationists and landowners” as two sides coming together. With conservation NGOS owning more and more land and landowners caring more and more about nature conservation, I hope we will soon reach a point where this old distinction is no longer helpful.

But conservationists are not the only ones using jargon. During the Annual Meeting, participants in the Conservation Finance Workshop were exposed to a healthy dose of “economese”. How many nature conservationists know what “concessionary finance”, a “balloon loan”, or a “blanket mortgage” is? Learning a new language is exhausting, but it widens your horizons. Without the right words, we cannot even think of new concepts.

Peter Stein (Managing Director of Lyme Timber Company, USA) explains to participants the financial tools he has successfully used in his long career as a conservationist in the event’s Conservation Finance Workshop. Photo Carolin Frühauf.
The group shot. Photo Hans von Sonntag
Marc Argeloo talks about shifting baselines in conservation in his keynote at the Eurosite Annual Meeting 2023. Photo Hans von Sonntag
Host Christophe Lépine, Fédération des Conservatoires d’espaces naturels (FCEN) enjoys a drink at the Eurosite Cocktail with his French Colleague Régis Leymarie from Conservatoire du littoral, délégation Normandie. Photo Hans von Sonntag
The Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Amiens was consecrated in 1270 and built in just 50 years, a record construction time for a Gothic cathedral. Photo Hans von Sonntag
Douglas McMillan of the Green Restoration Ireland Cooperative Society Ltd, Ireland, is welcomed as a new Eurosite member. Photo Hans von Sonntag
The new Eurosite Board from left to right: Kyriakos Skordas (Hunting Federation of Macedonia & Thrace), Lisa Ernoul (Tour du Valat), Lander Wantens (Natuurpunt), Tilmann Disselhoff (Naturschutzbund Deutschland – NABU), Melina Addix (Groningen University), Theo de Bruin (IDBBO), Miquel Rafa (Fundacio Catalunya – La Pedrera) not on the picture. Photo Hans von Sonntag


Involving people of different backgrounds and perspectives

Being mindful of our language also helps us to become more diverse. If our network wants to represent and include the entire nature conservation community, it must involve people of different backgrounds and perspectives. We are getting better at mixing up our Annual Meetings, and my impression is that participants like that. Of course, the AM will always remain a place to meet old friends, but it’s also fun to see some unfamiliar faces and get to know new people. This change is reflected in our organisation. We appointed a new Board in Amiens. I am happy that it is now much younger on average, even if four oldish men (me included) continue to serve on it.

Increasing diversity, inclusion, and equity are laudable goals for any organisation, but they are also instrumental for an effective implementation of climate and biodiversity policy. While we gathered in Amiens, representatives of the European Parliament, the European Commission, and the European Council in Brussels agreed on the text of the EU Nature Restoration Regulation. If the law is formally adopted (which is expected to happen soon), we will have a legal basis to heal many of the wounds that humans have inflicted on nature in the EU.

The Eurosite Annual Meeting’s venue. During lunch break, networking is high on the list. Photo Hans von Sonntag


Disenfranchisement will turn into opposition

But a legal basis alone will not suffice. If we do not find ways to involve those affected by the nature and climate crises, disenfranchisement will turn into opposition. And I am not just talking about farmers here, although they are crucial. Young people in rural areas and in cities need to see that nature restoration is good for them, that it secures their future, and that they can take matters into their own hands. We must find the right words to convey this message and, more importantly, listen to what they have to say.

I hope that Eurosite will soon become known as the network that speaks human as a mother tongue and conservation only as a second language.

Image below: On their journey to Eurosite’s Annual Meeting in Amiens, Inga Racínska, Eurosite’s Peatland Restoration Accelerator (EPRA), talks to Tilmann Disselhoff, Eurosite’s president after a meeting with fellow conservationists in Brussels. Photo Hans von Sonntag