"A great experience"

06. April 2023
Luisa Gigler / Nationalpark Schwarzwald

In a citizens' forum, randomly selected citizens from Baden-Württemberg came up with ideas for the future of the Black Forest National Park. In March 2023, the forum had met for the last time and decided on its recommendations to the state government.

The Black Forest National Park was founded on 1 January 2014 and is the first national park in Baden-Württemberg. The state parliament there had voted in favour of its establishment on 28 November 2013. At the time, the establishment was controversial. The 10,062-hectare national park is located on the main ridge of the northern Black Forest, mainly between the Black Forest High Road and the valley of the Murg.

The aim of the citizens' forum was to work out joint ideas for solutions and recommendations for the further development of the national park, reflecting the great diversity of opinions and taking into account as many perspectives as possible.

Important topics discussed

The participants met five times on behalf of the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of the Environment. They contributed different points of view to the further development of the Black Forest National Park. To this end, the citizens' forum discussed topics that are particularly important for the National Park. For example, the traffic situation around the protected area and conflicts that arise when people travel in different ways in the protected forest were discussed.

During the meetings, the national park administration asked the group questions on each topic. In small groups, the members formulated suggestions on how to solve each issue. At the end of the meetings, the citizens' forum voted on which developed suggestions and ideas were particularly important to them.

Answers to questions

Right up to the end, the forum members had been working on suitable answers to questions like these: How can attractive incentives be provided for the use of public transport? How can more awareness be raised about process conservation? How can a constructive dialogue between the national park administration and the region look like?

A selection of recommendations

Respect for nature: The special features of recreational use and the reasons for rules and restrictions (e.g. process protection or forestry work) in the national park should be communicated more strongly. To this end, more (display) images should be used, for example on the information boards in the national park. Restrictions in the national park should be increasingly communicated online or digitally. The National Park should make greater use of media such as television or radio to provide information on how consideration and calming down in the National Park has a positive effect on nature.

Increasing acceptance between users: The National Park should implement a communication campaign to increase awareness in dealing with each other. More rangers should be present in the national park and encourage visitors to the protected area to be more considerate of each other. In pilot projects, individual paths should be designated for specific user groups only, in order to channel the various uses and reduce the potential for conflict.

Create attractive places: To further calm the area of the national park, the national park administration should create attractive paths and places to visit. These could be, for example, vantage points from which the animals and nature can be observed. The national park should offer more guided tours with rangers. Guided tours that are in high demand and booked out more frequently should be offered more often. In particular, the offer for kindergartens should be expanded in order to convey to children at a young age the joy and curiosity for experiencing nature and wilderness.

Use of public transport: Attractive fares and new offers should create incentives to use public transport. Public transport should be made more attractive through the expansion of digital services. The existing public transport offer is to be upgraded through further improvements. In order to support the switch from car to public transport, the existing offers should be better communicated.

Noise reduction: More speed controls and higher penalties can deter loud speeders in the medium and long term. Speed limits should be introduced on stretches of road with particularly high noise pollution. Attention-grabbing information and education campaigns should be implemented in which various target groups are specifically made aware of the issue of noise and thereby sensitised, such as the idea of "silent kilometres".

Mobility offers: In addition to buses, alternatives such as cable cars or mountain railways can be used. By sharing vehicles, the volume of traffic is to be reduced. To this end, the car-sharing offer in the region is to be expanded. Another idea is so-called "Mitfahrbänkle" (ride-sharing benches). More cycle paths are to be created along the roads, which can be used in particular with eBikes.

Increasing acceptance for process and species protection: Information on process and species protection should be provided in a variety of ways. Information boards and supplementary QR codes can provide information along the hiking trails. In addition, the National Park should provide up-to-date map material with accompanying information on process and species protection on site, but also online in hiking apps.

Acceptance of process and species conservation can be increased by holding events that bring the topic closer to people. Social media should be increasingly used to communicate about process and species conservation. The issue of process and species conservation should be communicated more in public relations.

Raising awareness of process and species protection: The National Park should install webcams so that the animals and nature in the core zone can be observed without entering the areas. The National Park should expand process protection in the National Park. To this end, the core zones are to be expanded and access to the core zones restricted by, for example, fewer paths.

In order to ensure process protection in the national park, zoning should be based on visitor priorities. To this end, pathways outside the core zones in particular should be designed in such an attractive way that there is no incentive to enter the specially protected core zones.

Strengthening identification and communication with the region: A better understanding of the goals and tasks of the national park should be achieved through more openness and transparency. For local residents, targeted incentives and activities for visiting the national park should be created. The national park administration should actively seek and build proximity to the region through cooperation with schools and associations, such as the volunteer fire brigades.

In order to be informed about current issues concerning the National Park, important contents and results from the meetings of the National Park Council should be communicated better and more transparently to the region. The national park is to be made more aware through more public relations work in the region.

38 forum participants

38 citizens took part in the citizens' forum. Half of the participants came from the whole of Baden-Württemberg and half from the region. Therefore, there were two different sortition procedures:

  • The citizens from all over Baden-Württemberg were contacted by telephone, and the contacts were randomly selected from the telephone register.
  • Citizens from the region around the National Park (five-kilometre radius) were contacted by post. The draw was made from the population register.

When compiling the citizens' forum, the gender, age and migration background of the respondents were taken into account. The respective quota was based on the respective share of the population in Baden-Württemberg.

In addition, each of the seven legally established national park municipalities and a further twelve municipalities within a five-kilometre radius of the national park were allocated a fixed place in the citizens' forum. The five-kilometre radius was chosen because it can be assumed that these communities could be directly "affected" by an area expansion due to their immediate proximity to the national park and that there is therefore a great interest in participating in the further development.

"Commitment incredibly impressive"

"For me, it was incredibly impressive how much commitment the members of the citizens' forum put into the topics of the national park" reports Luisa Gigler, who supervised the participation together with her colleague Marina Bauer. "We have people of all ages from 16 upwards in the Citizens' Forum, with different backgrounds and life experiences. Nevertheless, the common denominator was found in the discussion that everyone could ultimately agree to - that is not a matter of course and speaks for the recommendations that were worked out."

The forum had been meeting since May 2022 with people from all over Baden-Württemberg and the communities bordering the national park. In small groups, the proposals for recommendations that had been provisionally formulated in November 2022 were again critically examined in the last meeting. The results of a supplementary online participation were also taken into account: Interested citizens had the opportunity from 12 January to 19 February 2023 to make suggestions on the proposed recommendations and thus give the Citizens' Forum feedback on their considerations.

"A great experience"

"The format was a great experience for me personally and I think the approach is important for society and for decision-making processes," was how one member of the forum summed up his experience at the end.

Those in charge of the Black Forest National Park emphasise the advantages of randomly selected mini publics: "As experience and studies show, participants in participation processes with random selection take a more neutral position. It is easier for them to reflect on their position and even change it. They have everyday expertise, know local conditions, have first-hand experience - thus they represent the opinions of residents in an unbiased way and not those of associations, parties or initiatives," reads a press release on the conclusion of the forum.

Recommendations go to the Ministry of the Environment

In a survey, the majority of members indicated that they would like to participate in a citizens' forum again. At the same time, however, there was also a wish to involve more young people in the exchange.

On 21 July 2023, the Citizens' Forum handed over the recommendations in person to Environment Minister Thekla Walker. The National Park Council also handed over its recommendations, developed together with the National Park Advisory Council, on that day. The Ministry of the Environment will take the recommendations received as a basis for further deliberations on the further development of the content of the National Park.

Read more: Black Forest National Park in dialogue