A stroke of luck: filming Natura 2000
As we celebrate 60 years of European unity, the director of SEO/BirdLife (Spain), Asunción Ruiz, reflects on the success of the EU’s Natura 2000 network – the largest coordinated network of protected areas in the world.
At SEO/BirdLife Spain, we try to make our own luck – when you work for an environmental NGO, you can’t afford to just wait until it finds you. But every once in a while, fortune smiles on you and you have one of those truly rare things – a stroke of luck. Our lucky day was four years ago. I remember it was summer. A group of us was standing in the corridor of our Madrid headquarters and someone threw out that kind of question that seems so simple at the time but sets everything in motion.
And the question was ‘What is the main threat to protected areas in Europe?’ All the usual answers came thick and fast – ‘climate change of course!’, ‘but surely it has to be biodiversity loss?’, ‘no, no, it’s definitely habitat destruction…’ Then, in the middle of the debate, someone said ‘all this is true, but what can we actually achieve if nobody knows about the areas that need protecting?’ Suddenly there was silence, the lightbulb over our heads switched on and everything became clear: knowledge is power.
Almost 30% of Spain (nearly 15 million hectares) is part of the European Union’s Natura 2000 network – the largest coordinated network of protected areas in the world, offering a haven to our most valuable and threatened species and habitats. Yet we constantly found that there was very little public awareness of this network in Spain (even amongst people who live close to these areas) and this knowledge gap was having a hugely negative impact on our conservation work. And so the project ‘LIFE+ Activa Red Natura 2000: Connecting People & Biodiversity’ was born!
Filming 'Red Natura 2000' (c) SEO/BirdLife
'Almost 30% of Spain (nearly 15 million hectares) is part of the European Union’s Natura 2000 network – the largest coordinated network of protected areas in the world...'
LIFE is the EU’s fund for projects that support the environment, nature conservation and climate action. In 2012, we secured just over €1 million of co-financing from the EU for a four year project to raise awareness of the Natura 2000 network in Spain. Our goal from the outset was to help Spaniards discover this network in a fun and dynamic way – from interactive games to the celebration of a ‘European Natura 2000 Day’ – and foster a real sense of public ownership and pride in these areas. It was our belief that this in turn would ensure a better understanding and protection of biodiversity as a whole.
And our luck continued – or maybe the hard work paid off. We filmed a documentary series ‘Red Natura 2000’ where we mixed stunning footage of Spain’s natural heritage with heartfelt human stories of the people working to protect it. Last year, we premiered the series on Spanish national television and more than 5 million viewers tuned in. After only two episodes were aired, we were already winning awards. Popular and critical acclaim – we couldn’t have asked for a better reaction!
The project has just come to an end. It’s impossible to fully recount here all the highs and lows of this rollercoaster experience. Together, we have brought the Natura 2000 network closer to those who live it every single day - its workers and inhabitants; we have explained its importance to local and regional administrations, large and small. I can say, truly, that this project has changed the way Spanish people relate to the natural spaces around us, and that it has also changed all of us here at SEO/BirdLife Spain.
Valle del Iregua, La Rioja - Part of the Natura 2000 Network, (c) SEO/BirdLife
Over these same four years, a lot has changed in Europe. And in the face of all this political uncertainty before us, that lucky summer day makes more sense to me than ever – if there is something that unites us as Europeans, if there is something that guarantees our future and unity, then it is our shared natural heritage. Just a few days ago, the European Commission showed its commitment to this heritage when it announced that, from now on, 21 May will official be ‘European Natura 2000 Day’, an idea proposed by this project. This is the first citizens' initiative to become an official calendar date for the EU!
There are many of us who want Europe to have its fair share of luck because the challenges we face cannot be solved alone. Defence of the environment – the space we share and the legacy we leave to future generations – is one of the highest expressions of democracy that we have always dreamed of for Europe. Our future is secure only if it is fair, sustainable and collective. So let us take Europe in that direction – let us make our luck together.
Asunción Ruiz is Director of SEO/BirdLife (Spain).
Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe.