The Harz region is one of the most geologically diverse highland regions in Germany and a very popular cultural landscape. Dotted with castles and Romanesque churches, the region has been an important centre of power for centuries thanks to its rich iron ore deposits, flowing rivers, deep forests and fertile soils.
Today, the Harz region is not only of great cultural value but also protected as a Nature Park and a series of Natura 2000 sites in view of its exceptionally rich biodiversity. Yet few people are aware of this rich natural heritage. That is why in 2013, the Regionalverband Harz decided to launch a major communication project to raise awareness for the value and importance of the Natura 2000 sites in the Harz Region and to create an atmosphere of collaboration and mutual understanding amongst the different local stakeholder and governmental bodies across three federal states.
In order to reach as many people as possible, a characteristic animal was chosen for each of the 10 selected Natura 2000 sites in Saxony-Anhalt to act as its mascot (e.g. stag beetle (Lucanus cervus), black stork (Ciconia nigra), fire salamandra (Salamandra salamandra), middle spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopus medius), etc.. A series of brochures were developed for the ten sites, highlighting their special fauna and flora interests, geological and historical sights, and proposing circular walking routes. Information panels were also erected in the areas to link in with the brochures.
The brochures proved extremely popular. To date, over 86,000 brochures have been printed, far exceeding initial expectations. A "Species of the Month" was also featured every month in numerous news outlets and a permanent exhibition on Natura 2000 was installed at Castle Stolberg.
This constant communication not only raised awareness about Natura 2000 amongst the general public and tourists, but also helped to greatly reduce reservations amongst landowners, instilling instead a sense of responsibility for conserving and sustainably managing the area.
Apart from brochures, one of the major success factors of the project was its various Natura 2000 networking events and workshops for different stakeholders, businesses, administrations and politicians, which provided everyone involved with new contacts. Stakeholders were able to gain better insight into each other’s motivations and needs, increasing mutual understanding. It has also increased the local community’s identification with the respective Natura 2000 areas. In the future, this should lead to greater awareness of the protected areas’ importance and the need to ensure their continued existence.