|Natura Trails – Project’s Evaluation|
Since 2004, a network of by now 16 Natura Trails © promotes the experience of nature in our protected areas, makes the visitors aware of the objectives of nature conservation and at the same time accounts for environmentally sound leisure time activities and supports a sustainable regional development.
Easy-to-handle brochures serve as guideposts and inform about the characteristic species and habitats and the ecological relation, whereas sign-boards are used rather economically to avoid a “signage” of the landscape. Since 2007 an additional geocoaching-tool provides the opportunity to download GPS-data and additional information from the project’s website.
The project’s evaluation should provide the opportunity to audit the attainment of the project’s objectives. That way, conclusions for the further development of the project ought to be discovered, that can also be transferred to other, similar designed projects from the area of environmental education. The topics of the evaluation covered the Natura Trail’s target groups, the efficiency of the Trails in terms of awareness raising for nature conservation, the knowledge benefit of users, and – simultaneously to its implementation – the efficiency of geocoaching to attract new target groups and generally the suitability of Internet and GPS to promote the experience of nature and to raise the awareness of nature. Also the local/regional focus of Natura Trails was audited.
The main focus of the evaluation was on telephonic interviews with 100 persons that were randomly chosen from a data pool of 247 persons who ordered Natura Trail brochures. The outcomes of the telephonic interviews were evaluated statistically, and single parameters were checked for relevant coherences. Additionally, all communities involved as well as internal and external co-operation partners were asked about the project.
The outcomes show a considerable project’s orientation on the age cohort of the 40 to 60 year old. The proportion of under 40 year olds is rather small with 8 %. To reach this group it is apparently necessary to design the project more attractive especially for this target group – possibly by integration of mountain bike tours or by offers for families with small children. It is interesting that geocoaching doesn’t seem to aid reaching younger persons; in fact the interest of 20 – 40 year olds in geocoaching is below average. However, it has to be noticed that the geocoaching-tool was implemented as recently as in the course of 2007, and that reasonably the outcomes would have to be audited once more in one or two years.
The necessity for intensified public relation leading to coverage in major daily newspapers is confirmed. More than two-thirds of the interviewees came to know about the project due to several reports in a well-known popular daily paper. The fact that more than one-fifth of the interviewees learned about the project via online-media emphasises the importance of an online coverage. A major group of persons were reached by the print media of the Austrian Friends of Nature (“Naturfreund”).
Concerning the reasons for the interest in the project, “hiking/cycling” plays a major role. This emphasises the project’s great chance to introduce people to nature which aren’t primary interested in it. Almost every third person shows interest in geocoaching and GPS, confirming the decision for the implementation of the geocoaching-tool.
Participants in guided tours show a bigger amount of knowledge gained than persons who visited the Natura Trails on their own. At the same time the findings point out that a major part of the interviewees broaden their knowledge only by reading the brochures, irrespective of whether a tour is made on the Natura Trail or not. More than half of the interviewees show more awareness for the protection of nature after having read the brochures, although an interpretation of the relevant answers is obviously difficult.
The brochures were evaluated favourable. The question about the content of the brochure was also answered beneficial by a major part of the interviewees, confirming the concept of transmitting lots of information.
Concerning the involvement and commitment of the Natura Trail communities and other local and regional partners the results are very positive. A predominant part shows dedication beyond the distribution of the brochures, for instance by setting up info-signs, supporting PR-events or organising guided tours.
The whole report is available as download (see above, German only).