An opportunity To learn about the process and outcomes. To check the environmental value and potential of one area (SNA) in each county. And encourage engagement with local experts, enthusiasts and others to see if there was a shared vision for the selected area.
With the local lead Confirm the area and the quality of information available. Agree the focus of the process (biodiversity or wider) and therefore who should be invited to participate. Decide on a single or multiple workshops. Identify what else this initiative could help inform and add value too. Set a date for the workshop.
The workshop format The local initiative was set in context (Nature Map and SNAs). The selected area was described (what was known). The benefits to the group have to be clear. They had to take responsibility for the process and emerging vision. The group to decide what the outcome should be (no pre-conceived outcome).
What did we learn Don’t put maps and information (pictures) in front of people when you want them to listen and participate. Keep the workshop to under 20 people and offer more opportunities if you need to engage with a wider group. Don’t let the participants get absorbed in detail or volume of data. Conservationists are basically conservative in their outlook.
and Each group will work at its own speed (and it is difficult to change it). There is a reluctance to think into the future (caution over big issues – climate change). The process is as important as the outcome. You need the right people there – especially those with local knowledge. You need to capture something to show they have not wasted a day.
The outcomes Capturing the vision for an area onto a map is largely successful. Agreement on a set of guiding principles for an area can be a useful step towards a vision. If the process can be seen to be informing or helping another project or opportunity then it will help. Such opportunities may guide the final outcome.
In-conclusion There is an enthusiasm for thinking at a large scale and for engaging with a wider community. You need time. The process encourages partnerships. It should be the start of a long term process that continues to develop and widen its credibility. It’s worth the pain.