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Park Talk: Youth to the Fore!

4th October 2018

By Peter Argyle

At the end of September the CNPA hosted the Europarc Federation’s annual conference in Aviemore. It was a complete, even triumphant, success.

Europarc is a membership organisation for Parks and Protected Areas across Europe, from the Cairngorms to Georgia and from Finland and Russia to Southern Spain.

I little realised, when discussing the possibility of the event coming to the Cairngorms during the 2015 conference, just how much work would be needed nor the extent to which the beauty of the Cairngorms would draw in a record number of delegates.

Since this is the Year of Young People, the theme of the conference was ‘European Parks; inspired by the next generation.’ We worked on the basis that we would have perhaps 300 delegates and 100 young people.

A significant underestimate. The conference saw over 600 attendees of all ages, from 39 different countries. They represented parks, protected areas, agencies, governments and conservation charities. It was also visited by the Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment and the Deputy First Minister.

The highlight was the launch of the Europarc Youth Manifesto, a project that saw young people from across Europe working together to show decision makers in rural areas how to involve and empower young people.

The key themes were training, employment, natural and cultural heritage and education. Young people from the Cairngorms area were deeply involved in the project and they should be proud of the result.

The Manifesto was very well received by the conference,  presented with notable enthusiasm by the young people themselves.

One of the key note speakers was Richard Louv, the author of Last Child In The Woods. He addressed the way children and young people are increasingly being cut off from Nature by a parental desire to keep them safe and by the draw of small screens.

His address was deeply thought-provoking and made me rethink the extent to which my youngest son, now 6 ½, is able to access nature and the outdoors.

A series of field trips on the second day saw delegates visiting every corner of the Park and the response was enthusiastic, to put it mildly. One party that went kayaking on the Spey achieved speeds of 21kph while the hill walking groups encountered the first snow of 2018. And loved it.Happily the day of truly wet weather was spend indoors. Delegates spent a lot of their free time out and about, in Aviemore and beyond, and kilt hire shops did a huge trade in advance of the ceilidh that closed the conference.

None of this would have been possible without the massive amount of work done by CNPA staff, not only through the organising phases but during the event itself. Every delegate I spoke to was highly complimentary of our staff team, praising their friendly professionalism and hospitality.

I thank them all for the way they worked together so enthusiastically. They have boosted the standing of our Park across Europe and beyond and I am very proud of them.

Finally, this is my last column for the world’s leading local newspaper as my period as Convenor has come to an end. I would like to thank those who have read my musings since 2015. It has been a privilege and a pleasure to have held this office and I wish Xander McDade well as he takes up the role.