Natural and cultural landscapes in Europe are jeopardised by increasing traffic, by accelerating urbanisation and by indiscriminate settling of the countryside. In the European Union alone, landscapes are cut up by 3.5 million km of roads, which is approximately 90 times the earth's circumference. Every day, an average of 10 ha of land are sacrificed to the construction of motorways.
The effects of natural space being lost, cut up or massively changed are manifold. As a direct consequence many animal and plant species have become extinct. According to IUCN, 11 000 animal and plant species are being seriously threatened by extinction world-wide. Every fourth mammalian species and every eighth bird species is affected. In practically every case these effects are caused by human activities.
The Green Paths action programme was launched in 1999. In the focal years of its implementation, i.e. 1999-2002, Friends of Nature attracted attention to the often careless way our landscapes are dealt with, contributed through approximately 200 concrete projects to keeping natural and cultural landscapes intact, and enhanced awareness of this particular concern. The network of Green Paths covers Austria, Belgium, Czechia, France, Germany, Great Britain, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. The campaign programme included themed rambles, the laying out of theme paths, work camps, restoration and upkeep of paths and the organisation of public events. Many of the projects are still being carried on.
International Friends of Nature has been in charge of coordinating the action programme. A project group composed of representatives of the national federations planned all the activities and monitored the programme. The groups involved were provided with posters, information leaflets, a periodical newsletter, etc.. On the annual ‘Environment Day’, PR work was intensified and priority themes publicised.
A few projects by way of illustration: A cross-border, long-distance circular path along the rivers Maas, Schwalm and Nette in Germany and the Netherlands. The route has been documented in a vademecum brochure. An annual cross-border riddle rally has been organised for children from Poland, Czechia and Germany. Friends of Nature Great Britain undertook to save an ancient Saxon footpath which was in danger of falling victim to major construction works. Friends of Nature Austria have extended the Alpine Cultural Path – started by Friends of Nature Switzerland – along a northern and a southern route through Austria to the Hungarian border. This is another themed route supported by backup literature.
With the Green Paths action programme and the wide range of projects run under it, Friends of Nature have succeeded in contributing their share to preserving Europe’s variegated natural and cultural landscapes. This is one of the objectives that will also take centre stage in the follow-up campaign run under the motto, ‘Preserving Landscapes – Experiencing Europe’.
Logo of the Green Paths campaign
Photo: Ulrike Balek