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Release peace: the magazine

Analysis & Background Stories on International Affairs

Denmark and its fascinating Nature Parks: The example of Lillebælt

Article by: Livia Berti

Denmark: Defined by its waters

Being surrounded by the sea, it is perhaps no surprise that Denmark has an impressive 8,740 kilometres of coastline. In fact, you are never more than 67 kilometres away from the coast anywhere in the country. During the summer evenings, with its seemingly never-ending twilight, the coasts and beaches are tranquil havens where one can sit down and enjoy nature’s beauty.

One of those picturesque coastlines is alongside the Lillebælt, a strait between the Jutland peninsula and the island of Funen. Spanning an incredible 36,950 hectares, Lillebælt is Denmark’s largest Nature Park. It attracts many visitors looking to get a glimpse of the strait’s beauty and the unique and diverse offerings of the flora and fauna residing here. But to offer such sights, the region needs to protect and conserve its precious waters and landscape. We will explore how Lillebælt acts as an example of the Danish concept of ‘Naturpark’ and how  it has paved the way for a collaborative approach between local governments, residents, local businesses and academia.

The Danish ‘Naturpark’ title

It is important to underpin what is meant by a ‘Naturpark’ in Denmark. To receive such title an area must conform to the guidelines set out by the Danish Outdoor Council (DOC). The DOC aims to promote outdoor recreation for the general public, while taking into account the need for nature conservation. It is in charge of reviewing a region’s adequacy for the Naturpark title. A key criterion is that at least 50% of an area must be protected nature. Further, the guidelines stipulate the involvement of local residents and their compliance with laws that respect and protect biodiversity, such as laws on sustainable fishing. Different from the concept of a National Park in Denmark the involvement and the bottom-up approach is critical: A Naturpark is not imposed by the central government in Copenhagen, but created by created through the efforts of local municipalities, other public bodies, businesses, and residents themselves.

The Naturpark label does not only differ from concepts in other countries, but is also distinct from the designation of National Parks in Denmark: With Naturparks municipalities must fund the conservation efforts themselves, whereas National Parks receive finances directly from the central government. This makes the Naturparks more of a local initiative, not a top-down project steered from Copenhagen. In regards to the Lillebælt an impressive 54 % of the area is protected nature. It therefore serves as a great example of this Danish concept.

Collaboration is Key

Founded as recently as 2017, Naturpark Lillebælt has since launched an array of projects and initiatives created through collaborations between locals, universities, businesses, tourism organisations, associations and foundations. This also involved the three municipalities within the park: Middelfart, Kolding and Fredericia. What the park is certainly most known for is the impressive number of 3,000 porpoises populating its waters. Porpoises are a species of smalll whales, measuring on average merely 1.5m in length for adult males and weighing just 53kg. The large number of porpoises in Lillebælt makes it one of the world’s most dense populations. In addition to porpoises the waters of the region occasionally receive visits from other important sea mammals too, such as seals, dolphins, and even Northern Bottlenose whales. The latter are significantly larger than porpoises, weighing usually over 3 tons each, with a length of over 5 metres.

Local Residents, Local Impact

To make a corner of Northern Europe pleasant for such wonderful and rare sea creatures one challenge many countries can relate to is that of waste produced by our 21st century societies. While Danes are generally known for their conscious relationship with the environment there will always be waste where there are people. Lillebælt, together with its partners, is undertaking regular campaigns to keep the belt pristine for visitors and safe for animals. Volunteers, including residents and visitors, have managed to remove over 3,032 kilograms of rubbish from the strait and the surrounding landscape in 2021, making it safer and more habitable for sea mammals such as the porpoises. What other projects around the world might be able to learn from this is that those efforts went hand-in-hand with educational and awareness raising campaigns to improve people’s knowledge of the local area. Over its still short existence, the park has succeeded in improving the underwater habitat for a breadth species while creating a pleasant environment for wild animals, the local population, and its visitors from across Denmark and overseas.

Technology for a Global Audience

In collaboration with Aarhus University an online listening station was installed to gain a better understanding of life below sea. It is made possible via a 200-metre cable laid on the seafloor. The hydrophone offers an opportunity for anyone in the world to hear the sounds of life from deep in the sea. And for people craving for an even livelier experience, there are two underwater cameras to watch the marine landscape and wildlife in real-time. 21st century technology therefore makes diving into Lillebælt’s nature protection and conservation efforts accessible to millions of people. And perhaps a global audience can learn from such experiences, to strive towards achieving conservation elsewhere.

Sustainability and Conservation Through Tourism

As the stars of the strait are the aforementioned porpoises the park offers water safaris to experience these incredibly rare animals first-hand. While doing so, visitors cannot only enjoy a refreshing breeze of sea air and unmind from their daily hassles, but also take on board new knowledge on how marine conservation works and share it at home, perhaps to the benefit of their own communities. To keep in line with its marine conservation and duty to preserve nature both at sea and at land, Lillebælt emphasises slow and sustainable tourism. Even though 70% of the park is at sea, there is a network of hiking trails, bike paths, camp sites, and other opportunities to explore the area and its wonderful nature. Lillebælt might be the way to combine tourism with sustainability in the 21st century.

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