World Conservation Union

This Entry has been submitted.

World Conservation Union

Belgium
Project Stage:
Scaling
Budget: 
$1,000 - $10,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Hundreds of nature reserves in densely populated areas across Europe are falling into public neglect and are threatened because of the limited resources engaged in their promotion and maintenance. Ignace Schops has realized their untapped potential and has found a way to dramatically enhance both the environmental and economic value of these areas through concerted development. In the province of Limburg, Belgium, he has piloted the first citizen movement in Europe to claim the custody of a 6,000 hectare natural reserve into a national park, leading to the compatible development of a 20,000 hectare area. In doing so, he has mobilized a new generation of entrepreneurs to create calibrated investments that foster business opportunities while supporting local ecological quality. Ignace is now using this park to anchor an economic development model adaptable to small and large nature spots and reserves in densely populated regions across Europe.

About Project

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Ignace has anticipated and seen the rise of a movement of citizens shifting their focus away from consumption and materialism and looking for a renewed relationship to nature. He has been organizing these concerned citizens around various nature reserves and preserved regions by giving them a direct access to beautiful natural areas in their vicinity and multiplying entry points into nature, adapted to all socio-economic and age groups, through the creation of biking networks and the engagement of local, regional and international conservation organizations. Over the years, he has connected hundreds of thousands of citizens with nature, in Flanders and beyond. With the support of these citizens, Ignace has found bringing together businessmen and conservationists around the protection of nature reserves in densely populated areas to be a great opportunity. Indeed, unlike the usual divergent ways of nature conservationists and the business sector, Ignace is providing a new local development approach: He is showing to businessmen the value of nature in the eyes of consumers and encouraging entrepreneurs to invest and leverage nature reserves to foster proximity tourism and economic development, with a focus on authenticity. He is hence avoiding big resorts and packaged vacation experiences that typically destroy beautiful landscapes and have a high ecological footprint. Simultaneously, he is demonstrating to conservationists that working with businesses can create economic and social value, but also and foremost can generate a stream of resources to reinforce nature conservation if they agree to bring down the fences they typically build around nature reserves. In order to facilitate and deepen the cooperation between all these stakeholders, Ignace is forming new kinds of public/private partnerships around the combined economic and ecological development of natural areas. Representing the united voice of citizens and local governments, he is leveraging public and EU funds to bring conservationists and entrepreneurs around the same negotiating table, which allows him to tap into budgets not earmarked for environmental preservation and to combine these new investment streams with funds from a broad range of private sources. He thus sustains these public/private partnerships and reinforces them through payback systems for long-term investments in the maintenance, improvement and further preservation of these areas. To facilitate and accelerate the replication of his model across Europe, he is constantly developing new financial tools and mechanisms.