At the end of May, the Nature School in the village of Vlahi, Bulgaria hosted a “Volunteering for Nature Conservation Seminar” within the Erasmus + supported project „Mountain spirit – Strategic EVS for Nature Conservation“. Fully in the spirit of the seminar, the participants immersed themselves in nature and spent almost a week at the foot of Pirin Mountain National park. The 27 participants from all over Europe and not only had the opportunity to improve their skills and knowledge of working with volunteers and reaching out to more people.
The seminar brought together young people with experience as volunteers for preserving wildlife and natural resources who are involved with environmental organizations and willing to get more engaged into organizing volunteer activities for others. It also included young people who are currently or have been participants in short and long-term volunteer exchanges part of the “Mountain spirit” project. Thus providing them with an opportunity to give their feedback regarding the project and build it up by offering ideas and suggestions for future cooperation, projects and initiatives. Moreover, the seminar participants got more familiar with financial tools to help them implement conservation ideas and initiatives through Erasmus+, European Solidarity Corps and LIFE+ programs of the European Union.
The seminar started with presentations of participants’ personal and organizational goals. Great variety of very inspirational and motivating environmental projects was shared. The accumulated knowledge and know-how was related and adapted to other initiatives and ideas that came up within the seminar activities. Based on the shared information, personal experience and skillful facilitation the participants also spend some time giving suggestions and ideas on how international volunteering for nature conservation could improve. The collected recommendations are still under discussion between the seminar participants and other volunteers involved in previous Mountain spirit exchanges. Once the document is finalized we would publish it on the blog for public use.
An important moment for the seminar participants was the possibility to actually get their hands into work and volunteer for couple of hours every day in the Nature School. There was some work to protect the garden fence of the Nature School from weather and insects by covering it with linseed oil – the least harmful for nature. The fence was done in 2018 by the short-term Mountain spirit volunteers in the Nature School. Thus the seminar helped build on the experience. The participants in the international meeting also helped in the garden to take care of plants and other educational and demonstration elements in the School.
The last sessions of the program were dedicated to planning next concrete projects or ideas that the participants want to implement. As usually happens in such seminar, the young people felt they need even more time to share, exchange and plan specifically, therefore communication will continue online and hopefully it will end in a future gatherings, volunteer programs and initiatives that will bring them back together. One of the options on how to continue their communication through the online world was also presented during the seminar – Perangua – global network that aims to connect activists and communities around the world working for different causes in endangered areas.
Besides Pirin mountain the seminar attendees visited another biodiversity hotspot in the region – Belasitsa Nature park. They met with one of the very few employees of the park who is responsible for community outreach and education programs. The main topics of discussion were volunteering opportunities in the protected area and volunteers’ participation that helped improve the park tourism infrastructure.
Last but not least, the participants visited the Large Carnivore Education Centre, at which ground they were accommodated. The Centre is run by BALKANI Wildlife Society, a partner organization of Vlahi Nature School and Mountain spirit project, and includes exhibition hall dedicated to learning about biology and ecology of the brown bear, grey wolf, golden jackel and the European lynx. Moreover, focus of the exhibition is to appreciate those species and learn about ways of peaceful co-existence. Unforgettable but also controversial moment of the program was getting to know the two brown bears and two wolves, the wildlife ambassadors, living in enclosures in the centre. They have been born in captivity, some of them suffering in bad conditions and they cannot ever be returned to nature, since it is dangerous both for them and people. Thus BALKANI WS provided better condition for them, closer to natural environment. They provide opportunities to school kids to socialize with them in order to fight stereotypes and fears in the society against the beautiful but yet wild carnivores that need our respect. The visit created space for questions and discussions which continued during free time.
The Mountain spirit project is closing to the finish line, however, there is much to happen. For all of you who are interested into becoming long-term volunteers from EU, Norway, Liechtenstein, Iceland, Macedonia, Turkey and Western Balkans – there will be soon call for volunteers in Velebit Association Kuterevo in Croatia. Stay tuned.