Mountains have gained a tenuous foothold on the multifarious agenda of the European Union, with just a little help from the Alpine Club. The mighty Aletsch glacier - one of the last places where permanent ice will linger as global warming strips the Alps. (Photo: Stephen Goodwin.)
Stephen Goodwin represented the AC at a meeting in Brussels on 25 November where experts, regional policy makers and, for the first time, mountaineers came together to learn from each other and try and find common ground on the elusive goal of “sustainable mountain development”.
The people who actually live and work in the Alps, Carpathians and Pyrenees undoubtedly have a greater stake in the wellbeing of mountain areas than climbers visiting from distant parts. But mountaineers have an interest nonetheless, being drawn particularly to those landscapes that still have a raw edge, where nature is relatively undisturbed and where valley communities still retain a sense of cultural integrity.
Mountaineers, climbers, hikers and ski-tourers are both witnesses of change in the mountains and tailor-made for the kind of low impact, “green” tourism that is being advocated for the quieter parts of the Alps and other ranges.
Much of the workshop - well attended despite the sense of threat and unease then hanging over Brussels - focused on strategies for the Carpathians and the Danube Basin, vast overlapping regions with much more wild and mountainous country than most might think. The Carpathians cover more than 450,000 sq.km, twisting from the Tatra in the north, right down to Romania; black bears and lynx still roam its forests. And the Danube catchment includes the whole northern flank of the Alps.
Present, along with the AC, were mountaineering representatives from France, Spain and the Czech Republic. We are, in Euro-speak, “stakeholders from civil society”. And for the first time our views on proposals concerning mountains are being sought. “The voice of the mountains needs to be louder and more organised,” Marco Onida, co-ordinator of the EU Strategy for the Danube Region said. If his initiative bears fruit then the AC and other participating associations should get a chance to comment, ideally in a co-ordinated way, on proposals affecting the Alps and other ranges before final decisions are taken.