Why rhetorics matters in nature conservation

8th July 2020, Ljubljana Slovenia

UNESCO inscribed beech forest reserves in Slovenia have been protected  by generations of foresters and are still conserved under forestry legislation. Thus, their management remains in the hands of the forestry sector. A clear manager is not apparent, however the responsibilities are shared between Slovenia Forest Service, Slovenia State Forests, and Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food, under the national legislation. Ministry of the Environment and Spatial Planning has been closely involved since the inscription, as responsible body for UNESCO natural World Heritage. This complex and often unclear governance model is further complicated when one descends to the regional and local levels, when the number of stakeholders and interested parties multiplicates. The complexities both in the stakeholder structure, as well as in the protection statuse and regimes can easily lead to conflicts.

Short project presentation to the assembled participants at the start (Photo credit: Andreja Nève Repe, Slovenia Forest Service)

Currently, both Slovenian UNESCO forest reserves are managed through relevant forest management plans, which require that no interventions are made within their boundaries and transpose the Governmental Decree on Protective Forests and Forests with Special Purpose on the ground. Forest management plans for all forests in Slovenia, regardless of ownership or protection status are prepared and their implementation overseen by Slovenia Forest Service. The forest management plans are prepared on three different levels, at least every 10 years, with public being invited to participate in their development in various stages. The public participation opportunities are a perfect arena for airing any disagreements that the local communities might have about the forests in their environs with public authorities. As such, the forest management planners need to be well versed in handling the public unveilings and being able to succintly and clearly relay the relevant information, as well as engage with the locals and other stakeholders. 

Demonstrating the “fight for attention” by dr. Zdravko Zupančič (Photo credit: Sašo Gorjanc, Slovenia Forest Service)

Within BEECH POWER project we have recognised this challenge and already begun addressing it late last year by organising local workshops on conflict management, with which we aimed to educate a wide variety of stakeholders, including foresters, on the ways of conduct which will allow for smoother and more constructive discussions. Now, following the lifting of restrictions due to the epidemic of COVID-19, the Slovenia Forest Service BEECH POWER project team joined forces with BIOGOV project and with Slovenian Forestry Institute to organise a training event for Slovenian forest management planners and project personnel on rhetorics, effective public speaking and managing conflicts. Particular emphasis was on forest management planners from the Slovenia Forest Service Regional Units that are managing the UNESCO component parts, however the training was open to all Regional Units and was subsequently well attended. This training provided the participants with knowledge and skills on how to prepare effective and engaging public presentations and worked specifically on weak points identified among foresters and their presentations. 

Prof. Gubenšek explaining some basic rules of the use of one’s voice, before switching to more hands-on teaching (Photo credit: Sašo Gorjanc, Slovenia Forest Service)

The training School of Rhetorics (Šola retorike), which brough several experts to train the assembled participants, including prof. Iztok Fajfar, an expert in PowerPoint presentation from Faculty of Electrical Engineering of University of Ljubljana, prof. Tomaž Gubenšek, chancellor of the Academy of Theatre, Radio, Film and Television of the University of Ljubljana, as well as two recognised speakers Zdravko and Ana Aleksandra Zupančič from the School itself. The training started in a plenary with basics of the public speaking and how to gain and keep the avid interest of your listeners. The session was followed by another lecture and practical demonstration of effective PowerPoint presentations, which to a large extent reworked the classic presentations that were usually prepared for the public events uptil now. The group separated into two smaller groups after lunch, one that worked on the variety of techniques of speaking and forced participants to learn how to command the room with their voice, as well as gave the students a number of methods for perfecting their pronounciation and clarity of speaking, while masking any possible nervousness. The other group focussed on how to establish a presence while speaking, how to avoid falling into unnatural speech patterns, and how to deal with potentially difficult or charged situations. 

Ana Aleksandra Zupančič emphasising the importance of body language and addressing charged situations (Photo credit: Sašo Gorjanc, Slovenia Forest Service)

The day was quite intensive for everyone involved, as a vast array of topics were covered. Yet, in spite of that the forest planners were elated and grateful for the opportunity, which greatly increased their toolbox and hopefully made a small but tangible step to improve the public engagement processes related to all kinds of forests, and particularly UNESCO recognised forest reserves, and minimise possible conflicts. This will form a sound foundation for long-term sustainable and nature-friendly development, that we all should strive towards. 

Assembled participants analysing a series of videos of the EU leaders and their code of conduct to establish which are acceptable and which are not (Photo credit: Sašo Gorjanc, Slovenia Forest Service)