The European Charter for Sustainable Tourism (ECST) is a scheme that sets out to foster sustainable tourism development in protected areas. In the case of the Priorat, the protected area is the Montsant nature park, which together with other bodies, organisations and businesses in the area undertakes to implement a local strategy to foster sustainable tourism that cares for the environment.
The Montsant nature park was visited by about 80,000 people in 2015. Neus Miró, director of the park, believes that “ECST is part of the potential of a nature park, and in an area like the Priorat, where work is going on to preserve the landscape and foster sustainability, accreditation would mean further recognition of a job well done.” Priorat Enoturisme is one of the bodies that form part of the ECST work group and has made this commitment to sustainable tourist development.
When the Montsant nature park started to work on the ECST, it was decided that “Bearing in mind the situation in the county, creating a charter for the nine municipalities that form part of the park did not make sense, as different bodies were working at county level for shared goals in the areas of sustainability and conservation, like the Priorat Landscape Charter or the PRIORITAT bid for World Heritage status, and this is why we proposed to include all twenty-three municipalities in the county,” explains the coordinator of the park authority.
To earn ECST accreditation a process has to be followed, and this is divided into different phases. “We needed finance, institutional support to pursue the project and set up a work group to start working together,” states Neus Miró. The work group was created taking into account the bodies working for the county, including the county council, the DOQ Priorat, the DO Montsant, the association of municipalities in the Montsant nature park, the local olive oil producers’ association, Prioritat, Priorat Enoturisme, the Catalan cultural heritage agency, the Leader Priorat-Baix Camp consortium, the Serra de Llaberia consortium, the Tarragona provincial authority and the Rovira i Virgili University.
“Sustainability in the Priorat has to be approached as a condition founded on environmental factors and under no circumstances must economic development have a negative impact on environmental and social issues. It is a matter of appreciating and taking pride in what we have and not looking for things that are not realistic in our area. Making sustainability compatible with development means understanding that we can do lots of things but we have to look at how we go about them,” explains Neus Miró. The Montsant nature park is and aims to be “a factor in development in the area and over the years we have tried to work in all areas: sports, spirituality and mysticism and culture, as well as striving to conserve our flora and fauna.”
“We have to see ECST as a tool for ongoing work, which goes beyond the tourist sector because it also adds value to local produce and therefore for farmers. With the studies of biodiversity, flora and fauna we have at the park, what we are sure of is that in areas where there is agriculture, the increase in biodiversity is much greater, which is why it’s important to protect the farming community and also the diverse agro-forestry mosaic, which includes hazelnut and almond trees, vegetable plots, vineyards, olive groves and so on,” explains Neus Miró.