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The Green Belt as a European Ecological Network strengths and gaps

The Green Belt as a European Ecological Network strengths and gaps

Stefanie Maack, Tuuli

Stefanie Maack, Tuuli Veersalu, Henri Järv, Asnate Ziemele CULTURAL HERITAGE PILOT PROJECTS AT THE BALTIC GREEN BELT the Cold War are the radio tower of Irbene, which was used to surveil the whole northern European air traffic, the Karaosta prison in Liepaja, in which caught refugees were kept, and the 30 km long trail of a deconstructed narrow-gauge railway. At the same time, little is known about the Latvian past under Soviet reign as the topic is still sensitive. 3.2 Tourism With the restored independence in 1991, the Latvian tourism branch began to develop extremely fast, nowadays contributing about 5 % to the GDP, but tourism is focused on the cities. One problem arising in some parts close to Riga is residential sprawl. Seaside land is sold in small parcels to private owners, who neglect traditional architecture and block public access to the sea. On the Baltic Sea coast, tourism is currently little developed, and even the National Parks have few visitors. However, tourism can be expected to increase in the future with more touristic products becoming available and infrastructure improving steadily. Against this background, it is particularly important to further develop local and regional cooperations between stakeholders of nature conservation, tourism, and regional development. 3.3 Objectives and approach The goal of Latvian activities within the Baltic Green Belt project was to compile information useful for sustainable, nature oriented tourism based on military heritage at the Baltic Green Belt, to give good practice examples and to give guidance to further development while also advertising the new topic and products among the broad public. The main responsibility was with the Latvian Country Tourism Association, Lauku Celotajs, which has more than 1000 partners in tourism, in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, including members and accommodation providers and more than 150 of them active in the Baltic Green Belt. The association’s activities are focused on environmentally friendly rural tourism product development, promotion, provider training and consultations and networking activities with organisations in Europe. 3.4 Activities and outcomes The pilot project was carried out in three major phases resulting in a number of exemplary, tangible outcomes for sustainable tourism development: Assessment phase: In 2009, four stakeholder workshops were carried out to involve entrepreneurs and agencies in the project. In parallel, military heritage sites were assessed following guidelines developed by Lauku Celotajs. A list of suggested objects was presented to the regional nature conservation authority for evaluation of their suitability for touristic development against the background of nature conservation. Additional to general facts, Lauku Celotajs collected contemporary witnesses’ stories related to the sites identified. In a public campaign carried out through mass media, Latvians were called to send in their memories. In total, 69 stories were collected and translated. Development phase: The final list of about 100 military heritage objects was compiled in a multilingual tourism data base (www.countryholidays.lv/military). Based on this information, a tourist map of military heritage as well as brief travel guides for selected tours by bike, boat, canoe or car were compiled together with the local providers. 122

Stefanie Maack, Tuuli Veersalu, Henri Järv, Asnate Ziemele CULTURAL HERITAGE PILOT PROJECTS AT THE BALTIC GREEN BELT Dissemination and documentation phase: Dissemination was carried out on different levels targeting international and national professionals from nature tourism (international conference, publications) as well as the broad public (call for personal memories, press conference, press field trips, fairs) with remarkably strong media feedback. For documentation and durability of the approach applied, guidelines for the use and development of military heritage were written and translated to English. The tourist map was downloaded about 2800 times within the first ten months, while the guidelines are downloaded about 150 times per month. Stakeholder involvement: Special attention was given to involving local and regional stakeholders from economy as well as authorities at different stages (collection of information, development of a joint vision, elaboration of ideas for useful products, test of products, dissemination on the spot). Figure 3: Tourism products for the Latvian Green Belt: military heritage data base www.countryholidays.lv/military (left) and map (right). 3.5 Lessons learned Soviet heritage is a high potential topic in Latvia, as society has not yet come to terms with this most recent chapter of history. Currently, the public is divided with respect to the topic: There are supporters, but also people who are afraid or ashamed to talk or who consider the collection of contemporary witnesses’ stories an unwanted political act. However, many people quite willingly contributed to the collection and thus initiate an active confrontation and debate. In this manner, the project initiated a conversion process, changing the perception of the Soviet from a burden to a cultural history value. The former military areas do not receive enough attention among decision makers, because there is a lack of knowledge. Even some nature conservationists consider these areas as degraded. Even though the majority of previous borderland is still intact and partly protected, valuable habitats are therefore lost to private landowners. Additionally, this hinders the accessibility for inspection in the light of tourism development. The transnational potential of military heritage tourism development is not yet exploited. A number of valuable objects currently unused but with high potential for tourism were identified in Latvia. Due to a similar history, heritage and target market, developments in tourism marketing should be carried out at least in trilateral cooperations with Lithuania and Estonia. The Baltic Green Belt pilot project served as a common topic to stimulate stakeholder communication and joint development of visions; an external organisation was crucial as a moderator for the process. 123

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