After 4 years of both international and local cooperation and further the establishment of a partnership network for nature guides in Poland, Lithuania and Germany, the Nature Guide Network (NGN) project is coming to an end – but the work to support these guides and a related sustainable regional development through nature tourism offers will continue.
Accompanied by an almost two-year corona pandemic, some goals and measure had to be creatively adapted or newly developed, especially those related to network expansion and maintenance. Nevertheless, we were able to record some successes.
This includes, for example, the development of an internationally developed Nature Guide Job Description – based on international best practice examples – with the corresponding framework curriculum. On this basis and within the framework of a previously developed Quality Assurance Methodology for a successful Nature Guide training, pilot trainings were designed, carried out and evaluated in the three project countries. In order to give the trained guides the opportunity to better prepare themselves for international guests and foreign-language tours, a 4-language dictionary with relevant vocabulary was developed and made available online.
In addition to this qualification approach of nature guide professionalization, an international network of both active guides and actors from nature conservation, administration and tourism has been set up to support the work of nature guides and to give more importance to nature tourism offers in the traditional tourism sector and for political decision-makers as well as for society as a whole. For this purpose, among other things, network events were held in the form of a webinar series with guide experts from different countries and various advertising and PR materials were developed.
In parallel to the international efforts, the project partners of the three countries also carried out activities specifically geared towards regional actors in order to win active nature guides and network partners from the southern Baltic Sea for the NGN idea on a smaller level and to inspire actors from other countries.
In case of the easternmost project partner this is the Nature Guide Handbook which is dedicated for nature guides leading groups in the Curonian Spit National Park and written by experienced nature guide-interpreter and Curonian Spit National Park Administration staff. This booklet contains the collected knowledge and insights from the last four project years and consists of three parts: methodology in nature guiding, essential information about Curonian Spit National Park and FAQ about Curonian Spit nature. The handbook is full of pictures, illustrations and infographics that make complex information easier to understand and are also very representative for the audience. It will be printed in Lithuanian language and available in English in pdf version (soon here at the webpage). This is knowledge that will fortunately also be available to guides from other countries and that may help facilitate guide partnerships in different countries who offer multilingual tours to international guests in mixed teams.
The NGN promotional short films of the Curonian Spit National Park, which were published in Lithuanian and English, are particularly successful and bring the importance and beauty of nature in the national park closer to both the local population and international guests and make them want to visit. In addition, the videos give a wonderful insight into the work of the nature guides and are intended to encourage guests to take a tour with a nature guide or at least to be respectful of nature.
Since the demand for a Nature Guide training remains high and the National Park attaches great importance to qualified guides, the continuation of the Nature Guide training is already planned.
Due to the comparatively small number of guides that are explicitly geared towards nature tourism, at least in comparison to Germany and Lithuania, the Polish team has focused on attracting the nature guide’s offspring and its most recent activities are aimed primarily at the younger generation. In the past few months, the NGN was not only advertised at typical tourist and nature conservation events, but also information events were held at schools that reported on the possibilities of nature and environmental protection on the one hand and the activities of nature guides on the other.
In this context, the polish team is currently working on an environmental education game for children and young adults. For this purpose, specific animal and plant species of the southern Baltic Sea have already been compiled and the species names and their respective spatial distribution have been translated into the three languages of the project partner countries (Polish, German, Lithuanian) and English. For a visually appealing variant of the game, realistic drawings and graphics are now being created. As soon as the environmental education game is finished, it should be made available to the schools and environmental education associations within the three project partner countries. In addition, the game can also help to playfully support the work of the Nature Guides and at the same time to make the NGN better known.
In order to get a solid scientific assessment of the situation of the nature guides in the federal state Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania (MV), a graduate of the Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development could be won over to write his master thesis on the central questions about network formation, qualification and professionalization of nature guides. For this purpose, over 300 certified nature and landscape guides (ZNL) were contacted and asked to take part in a survey on their situation. Almost 90 people (around 26% of all those asked) took part in the survey and thus offer a certain insight into the reality of life of nature guides in Northern Germany and thus a basis for discussion and research for the situation in other countries (the abstract of the master’s thesis is also available in English, page 7).
The results of the survey clearly showed that, on the one hand, uniform quality assurance and qualification through centrally organized training are required. On the other hand, the respondents would like appropriate recognition and appreciation of the Nature Guide activities, especially on the part of the tourism industry.
One of the reasons why this form of recognition is needed is that people who offer nature tours can also make a living from it and no longer work on a voluntary basis or for “small fees”. In addition, the need was expressed at some points to receive better support from the administrations of the larger protected areas, such as nature parks, national parks and biosphere reserves, in the form of marketing offers and specific networking.
Initial discussions and developments have already taken place with regard to a uniform nature guide qualification by the State Environment Agency and the MV-wide adult education center association, as well as the optimization of cooperation with the protected area administrations – further meetings and measures are planned for 2022, which will pass on the project knowledge and network partnerships.
The NGN project time is coming to an end, but started activities and actions are not!
The entire Nature Guide Network project team from Lithuania, Germany and Poland would like to take this opportunity to thank all project and network partners as well as other supporters for the successful four years, for the extensive information and countless good tips and suggestions as well as the good cooperation –
without you we would not have come this far!
We hope that we have set a few stones in motion in the nature tourism industry and in the region of the southern Baltic Sea and will continue to work on the NGN development, even if not full-time!
Lithuania: Curonian Spit National Park Administration /CSNPA (Link; Lina Dikšaitė)
Poland: Northern Chamber of Commerce / NCC (Jacek Wójcik)
Germany: Environmental Action Germany / DUH (Link; Katrin Schikorr)
Title picture: B. Reimann