One week in the Wild Rivers Camp in Slovenia, September 2017
One week in the Wild Rivers Camp, reported by Hamish Hay, the Living Taff (UK).
For the Wild Rivers Camp 2017, 30 young people came together from the far corners of Europe in the mountains of the north-west of Slovenia! Everyone agreed that this was definitely the most remote spot for a River Camp so far, after previously being hosted in Berlin and Brussels respectively!
Saturday - Wild Rivers and the River Walk
After a rapid Friday night of food and team bonding over a campfire (all the more impressive given the rain earlier in the day), we dived into our mission on the Saturday. The first morning was organised around two parallel sessions.
The first was based around the Rivières Sauvages scheme. It's an assessment process that judges the quality of a river against 47 social and ecological criteria. The workshop was hosted by a team from France, who has developed a certification scheme for protecting wild rivers.
Photo: Inès Joubert-Boitat
It goes far beyond existing processes, such as the European Water Framework Directive and judges not only the biological quality of the river and its closeness to a natural state, but also the sense of 'wildness' that is inspires in the people that visit or use it. Any river successfully awarded this accolade must not only satisfy the criteria, but have a suitable management plan in place to ensure long term conservation. The European Rivers Network is adapting this so it’s applicable across Europe, and we tested a version of the tool on the beautiful Mostnica River, a short bike ride away.
The other workshop, hosted by a team from Austria, introduced the ‘River Walk’. This is an annual project, where young people travel the entire length of a river to highlight how it changes across the catchment. It not only brings public attention to the importance of rivers, but can provide important social benefits for those involved - dramatically boosting their confidence and interpersonal skills. In the afternoon, participants shared their knowledge and experience around the topic “Activism for water protection”. The discussions continued until late with the “International Evening”, where we shared (huge amounts of...) food, and some quite dangerous drink, from around Europe.
Sunday - Social Media and our Manifesto for Wild Rivers
On the Sunday, the sunny spell was broken, and mist and rain defended in a gloomy soup over the lake. A perfect weather for brainstorming inside. We shared our experiences using social media to engage people in our activities - some of the group had a great deal more experience than others, and it became clear that effective engagement requires a good deal of thought and planning.
Photo: Lucie Galland
The afternoon was spent putting together our Youth Manifesto for Wild Rivers - no easy task, with 30 strong minded people with different ideas of what a 'wild river' really is! Each of our respective countries faces different pressures - many of the Balkan states face huge pressures from dam construction, whereas river pollution appears to a primary concern in the UK, for example.
Monday - Rafting and Letter Writing
On Monday we spent an exhilarating few hours rafting down the Sava river. It was described as being a very much 'beginners' section of river, but the drops and currents and swirls made for an exhilarating experience! The river is largely untouched and unaltered, and is dotted with canyons, rapids and deep pools. The water is a crystal clear turquoise, and it appears to be teeming with life - if the dozens of fishermen dotting the banks were anything to go by.
Photo: Neža Posnjak
In the afternoon and evening we penned a joint letter to the Prime Minister of Montenegro, to highlight our concerns about mini hydro power plants. Montenegro is infamous for its rocky terrain, mountains, lakes and exceptional wildlife and is the home of the Tara River Canyon, the deepest in Europe. However, Montenegro is currently engaging in a Hydro-building spree, with around 50 approximately 1MW micro-hydro schemes proposed around the country. These typically involve separating the flow upstream and re-directing it down a long pipe to a downstream generator. Whilst pico-hydro can be a fantastic source of energy, especially in rural areas and in the developing world, there's significant concern that such a scheme in Montenegro could irreparably damage the integrity of the wild rivers in this incredible country.
Tuesday and Wednesday - A European Perspective
On Tuesday and Wednesday, we travelled down to Ljubljana for the slightly more formal part of the trip. First, we presented our Youth Manifesto for Wild Rivers to the representative of the European Commission in Ljubljana. He'd read our manifesto in advance and commented on some of our proposals.
Photo: Jure Klancar
Whilst afterwards, some of us accused him of avoiding our questions, he was largely sincere and gave as some useful pointers. One of us pressed him on the balance of power at European level, and how farming lobbyists and others often overwhelm those of NGOs and communities, leading to environmental destruction through mechanisms like the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), whereby farmers are often incentivised to remove natural environmental features in the name of productivity. Whilst relatively non-committal, he made a fairly convincing point that the dominance of the farming lobby, and the CAP budget, has declined in the last 20 years. He also commented that the credibility of organisations such as Greenpeace has improved dramatically, such that they are no longer seen as 'troublemakers', but partners for policy makers. He also claimed that the Commission is typically much better at facilitating community level participation at a community level, much more so than National Governments which may be dominated by political considerations.
With gusto, and European Commision freebies stuffed in our pockets, ten of us headed to the SPARE (Strategic Planning for Alpine River Ecosystems Project) meeting next door. This is an EU funded project which aims to introduce more effective participatory processes for decision making in river catchments, and introduce a consistent approach to managing and valuing 'Ecosystems Services'. We all joined different tables. Me and a few others were placed on a very good humoured table considering the specifics of the Inn river (in Switzerland/Austria) and the Dora Baltea in north-west Italy. Everyone on the table seemed to agree that youth participating was extremely difficult to ensure and maintain, for a multitude of reasons - be they different technological expectations, or 'drowning out' by older participants. We were able to agree that the most effective approach is to separate out participatory groups, and only bring them back together after they've agreed on common goals - known as Multi-level Participation.
This goes for different cultural and demographic groupings, but for young people this means up-skilling individuals to host and manage their own engagement processes. It was satisfying to see some of our work appear in some of the outputs of the conference, and most of the participants seemed very pleased to have some young energy in the room!
To try and bring our message down into the real world, we scared some locals and tourists through two flash-mob performances in the city centre to Lykke Li's I Follow Rivers (naturally). We were choreographed by the wonderful Meraki Dance Project who bring professional dance to those who can't normally afford it.
Photo: Simon Bradwick
On a last, emotional, evening, we talked about the future of the Youth Network for River Action (YNRA) and how it could grow and change in the coming years. It doubtless has massive potential to be a force for change in Europe for channelling the energy of young people! A huge thanks to Neza and Inès for organising the camp, and we can’t wait to meet again in 2018!