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PAN Parks – Wild at Heart

  • Paul Tavner
  • 22 April 2010

PAN Parks is an organisation dedicated to the preservation and protection of Europe’s wilderness spaces. Founded in 1997 as a joint venture between the WWF and the Dutch leisure company Molecaten, PAN Parks has today expanded to the point where it provides support for 11 distinct parks. Stretching from the frosty edge of the Arctic Circle to the warm waters of the Mediterranean, the PAN Parks network is now the perfect reflection of Europe’s incredibly diverse range of climates, habitats and geography.

A wild reindeer grazes in the tranquil isolation of Oulanka National Park, Finland (photo by Paavo Hamunen)

A wild reindeer grazes in the tranquil isolation of Oulanka National Park, Finland (photo by Paavo Hamunen)

A Bringer of Promise

PAN Parks offers a variety of benefits in the wilderness areas where it is active. In addition to conserving land and its wildlife, PAN Parks fosters increased involvement by locals in the preservation process, two results of which are improved commercial opportunities for local businesses and better services for visitors. The ultimate goal is to guarantee travellers access to a genuine wilderness experience, whilst maintaining and certifying the infrastructure that underpins the tourism process. This obviously delicate balance requires hard work and dedication, both from local collaborators and from the PAN Parks central team, which operates out of Hungary.

Until recently, the PAN Parks team have maintained a fairly low profile in the travel arena; now, however, they preparing to take their message directly to travellers with a new campaign. I spoke to their communications manager, Edit Borza, to discuss the project and to find out more about its unique offering.

“The foundation does not manage [the parks],” she explained. “It does not replace any agencies or park management bodies, but rather facilitates cooperation with them to motivate and support them in including wilderness management into their protected area management. Areas can join the network and cooperate with us after verification. They represent the best of Europe’s wilderness, both from a conservation and tourism perspective.”

The rugged horizon of Peneda-Gerês National Park captures the dynamic and challenging qualities of the Portuguese wilderness (photo courtesy of PGNP Archive)

The rugged horizon of Peneda-Gerês National Park captures the dynamic and challenging qualities of the Portuguese wilderness (photo courtesy of PGNP Archive)

Defying Contradiction

True wilderness can, of course, be somewhat intimidating to the average traveller. By its very nature it’s the antithesis of the closely managed, landscaped vistas we sometimes associate with the word ‘park.’ Then again, there’s something incredibly alluring about the notion of a genuinely untamed space in which nature has been left to its own devices.

Sadly, virgin landscapes are increasingly rare. The sprawl of development and clamour for resources mean that even the most traditionally remote spaces are being encroached upon, and genuinely isolated spots are harder and harder to find. PAN Parks was established to help protect what we have left, despite the apparent contradiction inherent in intervening on behalf of something (like nature) that seems to defy intervention.

“There are many reasons why Europe should pay more attention to its wilderness areas,” Borza added. “Most importantly, these territories are an invaluable refuge for many species that would be unable to survive even under slightly altered conditions. These include large mammals like the brown bear, wolf and lynx especially, but there are many other species waiting to be discovered, from birds and insects to various tree species and other forms of vegetation. Through providing a safe habitat, wilderness areas also act as a genetic reserve for countless endangered species of both flora and fauna and thus play a crucial part in preserving and enhancing ecological biodiversity.”

A hidden waterfall in the Central-Balkan National Park of Bulgaria provides a stark contrast to the warm colours of the surrounding autumn leaves (photo by Evgeni Dinev)

A hidden waterfall in the Central-Balkan National Park of Bulgaria provides a stark contrast to the warm colours of the surrounding autumn leaves (photo by Evgeni Dinev)

It’s a very important point. While wilderness spaces are often very beautiful places to visit, a great deal of value may lie in precisely what we cannot see. As the ‘observer effect‘ reminds us, we cannot study something without also altering it. To have the strength to take a step back and to allow something to remain truly wild and largely unobserved can sometimes be the very best thing we can do for it. Natural curiosity is all well and good, but if we tear nature apart to scrutinise it, what’s left to appreciate? Sometimes it’s better to put aside our need for superiority and just let the wilderness be.

Keeping Options Open

In its 13-year existence, the PAN Parks Foundation has expanded drastically and achieved much, but one can’t help but feel that even greater accomplishment lies just around the corner. With the recent surge in popularity of survival material, spearheaded by personalities such as Bear Grylls and Ray Mears, travellers the world over are beginning to realise the awesome diversity of experiences that wilderness spaces can offer. Whether it’s the spectacle of a shimmering wall of ice in Sweden’s Fulufjället National Park or the elation felt upon reaching the summit of a Balkan mountain, some sensations can only be achieved in the isolated splendour of a wilderness destination. Luckily PAN Parks is on hand to ensure that these options remain on the table in their most appreciable sense – the truly natural.

You can find out more about the work being done by the PAN Parks team at www.panparks.org. You can also download a recent publication (PDF, 2.21MB) for additional information about the various species they strive to protect.

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animal conservation, ecotours, Europe, forests & jungles, lakes, mountains, national parks, responsible travel, responsible travel news, RTFeat,

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