Experiencing nature together, discovering its diversity and understanding the effects of human intervention are at the heart of most Naturefriends activities. We thus aim to raise awareness for the importance of the environment and the threats imposed on it and we want to encourage people to treat nature with respect.
A good example for this are the Nature-2000 days that were organised by Naturefriends Germany at the beginning of June: about 40 hiking tours, bike rides and canoe tours as well as several Natura-2000 festivities invited the population to get to know the natural treasures right on their doorstep and to learn more about the Europe-wide network of protected areas.
Within our Water:Trails campaign, we also organised a wide range of regional activities this year. On foot and by ship, equipped with binoculars and magnifying glasses, in spring, summer and autumn, there were a lot of opportunities for exciting experiences and relaxing moments in the outdoors. We frequently brought our environmental educational kit Water:Rucksack, which is a wonderful instrument for activities with kids. After Christina Vlachaki from Naturefriends Greece shared her experiences with the Water:Rucksack in the last Biodiversity Info, it is Ulrike Reutterer from Naturefriends Vienna who will answer our questions in the interview series "Who is Who" in this issue. Ulrike participated in the development of the Water:Rucksack; she held trainings on how to best use it as well as numerous Water:Trails activities. Hynek Pecinka from Naturefriends Czechia will also share his experiences with the Water:Rucksack, to be found on the next few pages.
Besides awareness-raising on the importance of and threats to nature and the environment, it has always been a main Naturefriends objective to enable everyone to have access to the treasures of our environment. But unfortunately, there are still population groups that have very limited access to nature − be it due to physical or mental impairments or due to poverty. Our initiative "Experiencing nature - for everybody" aims to demonstrate how to implement nature-experience offers for disadvantaged groups. The objective is to not only contribute to awareness-raising and environmental education, but also to foster solidarity. Please find more information on this project on the following pages.
A basic prerequisite for nature discovery is the existence of necessary infrastructure: hiking trails and, especially in an alpine environment, mountain shelters. Both require public subsidies which, in times of economic crises and austerity packages, become scarcer and scarcer for organisations like Naturefriends. The situation is especially precarious in Austria, where state funding for maintenance of mountain shelters and trails have been cut back three times and are currently at the same level as in 1991. Together with other alpine organisations, Naturefriends Austria were able to collect 125,000 signatures in support of their mountain shelter petition ("Hüttenpetition", see http://petition.prohuettenundwege.at) since June. The petition was accompanied by an information campaign. Heinz Fischer, the Austrian Federal President and patron of alpine organisations, pledged his support and professed his intention to espouse the topic of a long-term protection of the alpine trail network and mountain shelters in talks with the future government. It remains to be hoped that also the final stage will be put into practice in the end.