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 (FYROM), Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia and the United Kingdom and planned in other countries - see List of contacts These provide a focus for exchange and activity in each country, to benefit its rural communities and rural heritage.
Here we set about introducing the process and outlining the background to developing the West Midlands Rural Delivery Framework. This has been a very thorough and extensive exercise to date and many of you will already have had opportunities to comment and help gather the information for the drafting process.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 organisations , and are members of the European Countryside Movement. . 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; rural architecture; and rural development. Our Baltic 21 Working Group includes ECOVAST members from 8 Baltic countries. 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 have taken 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 new Accession States of central and eastern Europe, and those which are future candidates to join the European Union.