to foster the economic, social and cultural vitality and the administrative identity of rural communities throughout Europe; and
to safeguard, and to promote the sensitive and imaginative renewal of, the built and natural environments of such communities.
ECOVAST's membership has grown rapidly, to over 500 members in 20 countries in East and West Europe. The membership is widely drawn, to include individuals, government and non-government bodies, from local to international level. ECOVAST can thus act as bridge between decision-makers and those who are active at local level, between experts and practitioners. It operates mainly as a network, to assist mutual support among its membership in pursuit of their activity in rural areas. It has national sections in Austria, Croatia, Germany, Hungary, Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, and the United Kingdom, and planned in other countries - see our List of contacts. These provide a focus for exchange and activity in each country, to benefit its rural communities and rural heritage.
ECOVAST's policy approach for rural Europe is set out in our "Strategy for Rural Europe", published in 1994 : this has been translated into many European languages, and widely distributed. We have published policy documents on "Traditional Rural Buildings", and on "Agriculture and Forestry - sustaining their future in Europe", plus a Manual on creation of Heritage Trails and a Manual on “Integrated Rural Community Development” (see Publications). Our Internet Website was opened in January 1999.
ECOVAST has consultative status with the Council of Europe; and also with the European Commission, including a seat on the EC Advisory Committee on Rural Development. We have good working relations with many other European organizations. We played an active part in the European Countryside Campaign 1987-88; have taken a strong stand on certain crucial issues, notably the protest against the now discontinued systematisation programme in Romania and the review of Brown coal mining in Central Europe; and contributed to the Council of Europe Campaign, ‘Europe : a common heritage’, in 1999-2000.
ECOVAST has active working groups on landscape and rural architecture. We organise conferences, seminars and other events, including training programmes in integrated rural development; and we send technical missions to advise on rural development and heritage protection. We take part in major practical projects, such as the Heritage Trails project in Slovenia and Bulgaria, the Wine Traditions Network (WITRANET) project, the Transnational Woodland Industries Group (TWIG) project, and the Euracademy project, all part-funded by the European Commission.
With Forum Synergies and other non-government organisations, we have launched the PREPARE programme - Pre-Accession Partnerships for Rural Europe - to strengthen civil society and to promote multi-national exchange in rural development. This programme has a strong a focus on the 10 countries of central Europe which recently joined the European Union, and on those hoping to do so shortly.