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 Home / About Us / Communication / News / Project launches : PROGRESS 
Project launches : PROGRESS «  Back

Nature conservation versus leisure demands:
PROGRESS launches a transnational solution

progress launchAfter a year of intensive preparation, PROGRESS a pioneering INTERREG IIIB project which could reshape recreational habits across North West Europe is now up and running.

Joint-funded by the European Regional Development Fund, PROGRESS (Promotion and Guidance for Recreation on Ecologically Sensitive Sites) is a four-year, €3.7 million initiative designed to balance the needs of nature conservation against the burgeoning pressures of 21st-century leisure demands.

It will examine the impacts arising from these interaction of these issues at two internationally important Natura 2000 sites, England's New Forest and the Fort de Fontainebleau in France, and devise possible solutions to the problems, which will be put into practice through pilot schemes.

One key aspect of the project will be the strong involvement of local communities and stakeholders at both locations, an essential factor in winning public support, getting messages across and making any new strategies successful on a long-term basis.

Representatives of many vital stakeholder groups joined partner members for the project's high-profile launch at the Rhinefield House Hotel, in the heart of the New Forest. The event was arranged and hosted by PROGRESS's lead partner, the UK Forestry Commission, but included more than 70 guests from its four other members France's Office National des Forts and Comit Dpartemental du Tourisme, the Countryside Agency in the UK, and Dutch research institute Alterra, plus representatives of their key stakeholder groups.

Also present were members of the steering group, a panel of land management experts drawn from France, the UK, Belgium and the Netherlands which will guide and review the work of the project as it develops, and provide the link into the wider European network of land managers who share the same issues.

Alongside many of the formative project meetings which took place at the event, many of the overseas guest were treated to a tour of the New Forest, visiting some of the popular recreation facilities and vulnerable wildlife habitats which will come under the PROGRESS spotlight.

Then it was onto the formal launch ceremony itself, which outlined the goals of the initiative and its importance for the future conservation of other similar sites across North West Europe.
The day received widespread coverage in the local press, and initial feedback from stakeholders on both sides of the Channel has been very positive.

Tony Climpson, New Forest District Council tourism officer, commented: We have been working for many years with recreation and tourism interests to tackle the huge question of recreation and access management, and this project comes as extremely welcome news.
The key issue of visitor volumes and their enjoyment of the forest is one that we can now tackle collectively and with some funds at hand, and I look forward to working together with all our recreation in New Forest

John Thackray, chairman of the New Forest Ramblers Association, was also enthusiastic.
I think a European exchange has got to be beneficial for both forests, and will help to broaden our horizons, he said.
We need to strike more of a balance between recreational interests and conservation, and the project offers a good opportunity to look at a number of important practical and strategic issues.

Philippe Schwab, office of tourism president for Fontainebleau said: The launch event allowed us to discover a forest different from Fontainebleau but, at the same time, similar to it in key issues such as high levels of recreation, since both forests are quite near to big towns.
The office of tourism is willing to develop opportunities of exchange between associations, schools and residents of Fontainebleau and the New Forest.

Gabriel Carlier, president of the Association of the Naturalistes de la Valle du Loing, Fontainebleau, added: I found that the ideas behind the project are very good. It allows different stakeholders dealing with natural, sensitive sites to meet and exchange ideas and experiences. 
To share with other European countries in order to find solutions to the issue of degradation of sensitive sites by recreation represents for us a good initiative, with an open-minded attitude.

Gilbert Detollenaere, from the Association des Amis de la Fort de Fontainebleau, said the project would allow us to understand the issues which need to be tackled, to develop a recreation strategy compatible with the preservation of the forest.
The volunteer program promoted in the New Forest could be an efficient solution to test in Fontainebleau, to reinforce the information available to the public.

PROGRESS is now well underway, with a project team based at the Forestry Commission offices in Lyndhurst working towards its early objectives.

A key initial phase will be groundbreaking, comprehensive surveys of visitor use patterns across both the New Forest (where it will be carried out by the Countryside Agency) and Fontainebleau during 2004. For the first time, these will record in detail why people use the forests, how often, where they go and what they do when they are there.

This data will then be fed to the staff at Alterra, who will use it to create a detailed computer model highlighting the spatial interaction of sensitive habitats and recreational use, and predicting any disturbance or erosion which may result.

Maps will be produced identifying the locations of greatest impact, and options for re-directing the public will be tested before pilot schemes for changes are fully discussed with stakeholders.

The Fontainebleau stakeholders have already met on two occasions, while the first New Forest forum meeting is scheduled for January 2004, giving representatives from local communities, agencies and user groups more detailed information about the project and their key role in its development.

This will also involve efforts to improve communication and public education about the forest, promoting a more responsible use of the landscape and long-term, sustainable leisure use. Part of the work towards this will include the development of a project website in conjunction with Alterra, together with brand new, map-based interactive web pages geared specifically to the New Forest, and the creation of a tourist information centre at one of Fontainebleau's busiest sites.

Comprehensive best practice guides will be put together spanning all user groups and tourists in both forests, while the New Forest will also see the expansion of its community volunteer programme and special programmes for local schoolchildren.

All project members are working closely together, and the trans-national co-operation aspect was further strengthened when the French partners played host to Forestry Commission and Alterra team members during a recent fact-finding mission in Fontainebleau.the team

Over two days, the visitors were given first-hand insight into the nature of the forest, its leisure facilities and the erosion pressures facing popular locations such as the boulder-strewn Carrefour du Bas Brau, near Barbizon.

While there were a number of intriguing differences between the forests, the common dilemmas and problems they face were all too apparent reaffirming how the great opportunity offered by PROGRESS could provide some effective, long-term solutions which could echo across North West Europe for decades.

Project Manager, Bruce Rothnie, concluded by saying: The project will provide an outstanding opportunity for countryside land managers from across North West Europe to share in developing solutions to the management of people on our most sensitive landscapes
We want people to enjoy and learn about these wonderful places, but in a way that demonstrates responsibility and care, and leaves them in a better condition for future generations.

Jonathan Slater, Forestry Commission
Project Communications Manager

Project Recreation Ranger

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