Case Study: The Erasmus Intensive Programme on European Wilderness Entrepreneurship
In the project 'European Nature Entrepreneur', the NGO Rewilding Europe and three Dutch educational institutes who deliver life sciences, rural development and nature education at vocational, bachelor, master and PhD levels, collaborate to develop new curricula that innovate on thematic contents and corresponding learning strategies. In this project, new curricula are being developed to offer (nature) entrepreneurship competences for students with an interest in forestry and nature conservation, wildlife management, applied animal sciences, rural development, and sustainable tourism/recreation. The project envisages students of different educational levels collaborating with each other and with professionals in Rewilding Europe's pilot areas.
One of the project outputs is a 14-day Erasmus Intensive Programme on European Wilderness Entrepreneurship (IP EWE) funded by the European Lifelong Learning Programme. IP EWE is an experimental course that introduces the concept of wilderness entrepreneurship to students from various disciplines in higher education in Europe. The first edition of this IP was held in Rewilding Europe's pilot area in Western Iberia in spring 2013.
The Western Iberian pilot area was proposed to Rewilding Europe by a Portuguese and a Spanish NGO, Associação Transumância e Natureza (ATN) and Fundación Naturaleza y Hombre (FNYH), respectively. Officially, since the end of 2011, Rewilding Europe and the local NGOs collaborate to develop and execute a strategy for rewilding an area of 100,000 ha (see Chap. 9). Within the pilot area, the two local NGOs own and manage two nature reserves (Faia Brava and Campanarios de Azaba) and they are in the process of buying more land to expand their reserves. Buying land is not an easy task even when money becomes available (from donations and commercial activities), because owners in this region are often absent or not known due to a lack of registrations in the Portuguese national cadastre. The small sizes of properties makes it even more complicated in the Portuguese region; Faia Brava includes 860 ha of land, which is divided in 140 different properties (Beukers 2013). Besides managing their own land, the NGOs also make agreements with other landowners to manage their land for conservation purposes. For instance, ATN owned in 2013 around 650 of the 860 ha of the Faia Brava reserve and the remaining land is owned by others. Some owners still use their land to grow olives, almonds or grapes, while others only harvest cork or do not use their land at all. Scaling up to rewild 100,000 ha is a real challenge and can only take place if local stakeholders (landowners and governments) support the idea, even if farmland continues to be abandoned. Just north of Faia Brava there is even an expansion of vineyards due to rising exports of Douro wines. Besides the reserves managed by the two NGOs, there are other natural protected areas in the region recognized by the Portuguese and Spanish authorities. None of these areas is designated as wilderness, but they are mostly managed to protect certain species and scenic landscapes. The Western Iberian pilot was an interesting location for the IP because both ATN and FNYH work together with Rewilding Europe to explore and experiment with wilderness entrepreneurship in and around their reserves (see Chap. 9).
During the IP, a group of thirty students and fifteen lecturers from seven higher education institutes (HEIs) in Bulgaria, Croatia, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden looked at the role of entrepreneurship to promote the future wilderness of Western Iberia. Participating students were enrolled in bachelor or master programmes in Biology, Agriculture, Tourism, Sustainable Land Planning, Land
Fig. 10.2 Execution of landscape observation exercise using creativity tools to train students to look from different perspectives in Celorico da Beira, Portugal. (Photo Credit: Judith Jobse)
Management, Environmental Science, Forestry and Nature Conservation, Tropical Forestry, Landscape Architecture, Socio-spatial Analysis, and Communication.
The IP was organised in a variety of locations in Spain and Portugal: Aveiro (Portugal), Ciudad Rodrigo (Spain) and Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo (Portugal). During the first day at the University of Aveiro, the programme was explained and students were introduced to each other. In Aveiro, and also later in the programme at other locations, lectures were given on subjects such as rural tourism, wildlife management, planning and land use strategies, but also about transdisciplinarity and the actor network theory. During the second day the IP group moved to the Mediterranean landscape of Rewilding Europe's pilot region in Western Iberia. On the way to the region, participants were given a landscape observation exercise using creativity tools (Fig. 10.2). The tools (sketchbook, drawing pencil, 3 colour pencils, eraser, and pencil sharpener) were later used in an exercise to create a group vision for an area, and students used these tools more spontaneously when preparing for their final presentations.
In the pilot region, participants visited a variety of natural and cultural attractions in the pilot area such as the Spanish and the Portuguese nature reserves owned by the NGOs, historical sites, such as the ruins and the restored village of Castelo Rodrigo, the Côa Valley Archaeological Park and the Côa Museum. They experienced the low population density in most of the small villages in the region where mostly retirees were encountered. Meetings with various local stakeholders were organized to discuss the problems and possible alternatives for regional development and nature conservation. Among stakeholders were: the NGOs responsible for the local nature reserves and Rewilding Europe; mayors of Portuguese and Spanish villages; the president of a hunting association, local entrepreneurs such as producers and retailers of cheese, jam, almonds, wine, and Iberian pig meat products; and the owners of a bar and a bed & breakfast.
The main assignment for the IP students was to explore economic dynamics that could contribute to the ecological restoration and future wilderness in the region. In groups of three to four, they articulated a vision for the region, together with a business model that would give both the ecological system and the local community new perspectives. Many of the business models that students produced were in the tourism sector, which is in line with what Rewilding Europe promotes in this region (see Chap. 9). Some student groups perceived the lack of publicity for the area as its main problem. Therefore, they came up with a web portal for local (tourism) enterprises and a marketing brand for the whole region. They also came up with models to expand the local variety of tourist activities. One group proposed to diversify the local economy by introducing a snail farm from which part of the profits would go to nature conservation and education. Two groups proposed ideas to stimulate the use of land, which would perhaps only fit with Rewilding Europe's vision for the area if these activities were outside of a core wilderness area. One of these groups launched the idea for an organization that could bring conservation volunteers from all over the world to Western Iberia to help maintain the agricultural production on some of the terraces. Another group proposed a company that mediates between local communities and businesses new to the area to smoothen the purchase of land. A final business model introduced the concept of small self-sustaining office units in the landscape to rent to people who would like work in a sustainable office with a great view for inspiration. During a 'market presentation', which was open to the public, students shared their visions and business models with local stakeholders and interested community members (Fig. 10.3). One of the IP students arranged during the IP her return to the region to conduct a MSc thesis research project on the use of social learning to increase levels of local involvement (Leuvenink 2013). Another MSc student helped organize the IP as an internship assignment and stayed in the region after the IP to conduct an analysis of the relation between Rewilding Europe, the Portuguese conservation partner ATN, and the local population (Walet 2014).