24. July 2012
UNESCO volunteer project
WachauVolunteer – Youth for Nature
WachauVolunteer is a three-year international volunteer project for young people (programme period 2010-2012) promoting nature conservation and landscape preservation. 200 Austrian helpers and 40 young people from all over the world are actively involved in preserving the natural wealth of Wachau. In 2011 WachauVolunteer became the first Austrian volunteer project to win recognition by UNESCO and to become part of the World Heritage Volunteers Campaign.
To mark the 40th anniversary of the UNESCO World Heritage Convention, forty volunteer projects promoting the preservation of the world cultural and natural heritage were selected as World Heritage Volunteers in 2012. The only Austrian project included in this list is WachauVolunteer – Youth for Nature. It is managed mainly by the Alpine Youth Association (Alpenvereinsjugend) and the Service Civil International – Austria.
A riverine landscape extending over more than 30 kilometresWachau is a stretch of the Danube valley between Melk and Krems (in Lower Austria), at a distance of about 80 kilometres from Vienna. In 2000 the cultural landscape Wachau – with architectural gems such as the Abbeys of Melk and Göttweig as well as the historic centre of Krems – was added to the UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage List. The Venus of Willendorf, the most important archaeological find of the Upper Palaeolithic Period in Austria, and other finds of the Willendorf II site prove that this region has been settled for about 50,000 years.
Gabriele Eschig, secretary-general of the Austrian UNESCO Commission highlighted the UNESCO World Heritage Convention adopted in 1972 by the international community of nations: “The objective is to preserve the world heritage (i.e. the entire world heritage of all states) for future generations. To make sure that we will meet this objective, we do not only have to convey knowledge but also values. WachauVolunteer makes this goal tangible – also through contacts with the local population.”
The World Heritage List currently includes 962 natural and cultural heritage sites all over the world. Austria is represented on this list with nine world heritage sites.
Thousands of working hoursThe project promoter Wachau Working Community (Arbeitskreis Wachau) was supported by its project partners Austrian Alpine Youth Association and Austrian UNESCO Commission as well as young people from 16 nations and 200 volunteers from the Wachau region. Together they provided services worth about 80,000 euros. Volunteers do not replace paid workers but provide services that would otherwise not be available. The huge number of hours worked in summer provide input for follow-up projects. A small volunteer centre is being developed in Wachau.
From feather grass to wine brandsOne of the most characteristic elements of the landscape of Wachau is the important and extensive dry grassland. The rare feather grass (Federgras) is grown in the natural environment. The local wine brand “Steinfeder” has been named after it.
In the framework of this nature conservation project, about eight to ten hectares of dry grassland and old pastures are maintained per year. To protect the endangered flora and fauna, the young project participants mow the dry grassland, clear it of scrubs and renovate the traditional stone terraces. The volunteers do hard work on mostly quite steep slopes exposed to the sun.
This year UNESCO’s only intern has been active for the project of this world heritage site. As a Young Documentalist, Metta Dian Setyaningsih from Indonesia evaluates European World Heritage Volunteer projects and reports to UNESCO and CCIVS (Coordinating Committee for International Voluntary Services). Metta is highly motivated and looking forward to her presentation of the project documentation (photos, videos, written records) in Kyoto (Japan) in September as well as to her final report in Mexico in December.
Mario Lang, Gregor Semrad