The Corridor Talk project held its first workshop and AGM on 9 November, hosted by the Rachel Carson Center in Munich. The workshop was held online as the COVID crisis made travel impossible. All six members of the Corridor Talk team were present.
Report by Graham Huggan
Chair: Dr. Katie Ritson (RCC Munich)
Participants: Corridor Talk project team
National park and other project-partner representatives: Pavel Bečka (Nationalpark Bayerischer Wald / Národní park Šumava); Etienne Farand (Parc National Pyrenees); Marco Heurich (Nationalpark Bayerischer Wald); Thierry Lefebvre (IUCN); Meindert Schroor (Waddenacademie); Hannah Wilting (Nationalpark Niedersächsisches Wattenmeer).
The discussion focused on three sets of questions, each of which had previously been distributed to the project partners along with a brief information package about the project. (1) To what extent do the Corridor Talk project’s main aims and objectives speak to your own, and how might the work done by the Corridor Talk team help you achieve them? (2) Which of these aims and objectives are shared between the participating national parks, and how might the project contribute to these? Which aims and objectives are specific to your particular park? (3) Has the COVID crisis forced you to rethink any of these aims and objectives and/or to come up with new ones? Should the Corridor Talk project be reframed as a result, and if so, how?
The discussion focused initially on definitional issues and problems, with the extended Wadden Sea park area providing a particularly complicated case study in that it not only crosses three sets of national boundaries (Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands), but the national park designations in each of the three countries vary widely in terms of the amount of land covered and their status within national conservation. Some discussion followed on the basic criteria for a national park, on the historical basis for this designation, and on different perceptions – both individual and collective – of the nature and purpose of national parks. It was suggested that national parks can serve a useful purpose in the framing of a common cultural identity, but also that they attract very different kinds of visitors, not all of whom identify with the broader cultural-political aspirations of the park. It was agreed that the fact that all of the parks selected for closer study in the project are, to a greater or lesser extent, transboundary entities complicates things further as different nations adopt different management policies, while transboundary cooperation can be impeded by emerging or ongoing political disputes. Generally speaking, this first phase of the discussion emphasized the problems involved in comparing parks that are not only managed in sometimes markedly different ways, but are not necessarily unified entities. It was noted, however, that there were some common concerns, namely the attempt to maintain protected areas and the biodiversity they contained while also capitalizing on their attractiveness to visitors, and the underlying desire in educating these visitors about the importance of nature conservation to effect behavioural change.
It was argued that in some cases, in the Nationalpark Bayerischer Wald for instance, visitor numbers (and visitors themselves) were becoming increasingly difficult to control, especially under COVID conditions; the crisis has created a surge of interest in a relatively accessible park. To some extent this has merely intensified tensions already built into the park as a protected area on the one hand and a popular tourist attraction on the other. It was suggested that mass tourism in this and other large European national parks (the Parc National Pyrenees, for instance) had resulted in a diversified clientele, but also in some cases a diminished sense of ecological responsibility; it had also led to forms of spatial reconfiguration, quite literally in some cases, with visitors ignoring park guidelines to manufacture their own routes and pathways through the park. While some attention was given in these exchanges to the routes also taken by animals, this part of the discussion tended to focus on humans, and it was suggested that more work needed to be done, and perhaps could be done within the project, on generating, analysing and comparing updated visitor responses to the parks.
This work seems more necessary than ever, participants agreed, in the context of COVID, although – to amplify the basic difficulties of comparison – the crisis has had the mixed effect of making some parks more accessible and others more remote. Project partners agreed, however, that the study of animal behaviour remained important, and that the project would be able to contribute meaningfully to a number of sometimes thorny debates on predator-prey relationships and the ecological role of invasive species. Similarly, it was agreed that the different kinds of landscapes involved in the parks, which had the capacity to shift from one state to another (notably in the Wadden Sea region), will benefit from a humanities approach that focuses on the different values and perceptions bound up in these landscapes, and that reflects their changing social and cultural meanings over time. Finally, the discussion reflected on whether boundaries, one of the project’s two key terms (‘mobilities’ being the other), were crossed to the extent that the very notion of ‘the boundary’ was questionable, or whether they were paradoxically necessary for the purpose of regulation.
The workshop participants returned to their screens in the early evening for informal conversation over a drink, pondering the demands made by increasing visitor numbers, pictures of bark beetle activity and forest regeneration, and the advantages of protected areas in the Wadden Sea that are physically inaccessible to humans. Despite our forced immobility and our discussions bounded by the limits of digital technology, we were able to have meaningful discussions and learn a lot from our project partners, and we look forward to taking their insights with us into the next phase of our research.