Vacaresti Natural Park - nature at your door

We create the first urban natural park (cat. V IUCN) in Romania, 184 ha of protected area in Bucharest and an urban protected areas network.

Photo of Florin Stoican
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Eligibility Criteria

  • I confirm that I am fully aware of the eligibility criteria and terms of the Act for Biodiversity Challenge and that I am eligible to apply.
  • I am 18 years old or older.

Initiative's representative name

Florin Stoican

Initiative's representative date of birth


Initiative's representative gender

  • Man

Headquarters location: country

  • Romania

Headquarters location: city


Where are you making a difference?


Website or social media url(s)

Date Started

May 2011

Project Stage

  • Scaling (expanding impact to many new places or in many new ways)

Yearly Budget : What is your current yearly budget for the initiative?

  • €50k - €100k

Organization Type

  • Nonprofit/NGO

1. Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this project to succeed.

We found in Bucharest, 4 km for city center, an abandoned huge (184 ha) space by communists regime, very rich in biodiversity (especially birds) and after 5 years of studies and campaign we convince Romanian authorities about importance of this place for the nature and the citizens. From 2016 this place is Natural Park (V IUCN category of protected area) by Governmental Decision and now we turn this abandoned space and project in an innovative project for biodiversity conservation at the national level, for ecological education of large number of visitors, especially children and for promotion of the Romanian natural heritage. This came after we established in 2004 the single (from 13) national park of Romania set up by an NGO.

2. The problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Romania is a rather unique country in Europe for its virgin forest and biodiversity. Despite some progress, Romania still have big problems with human activities pressure: forest exploitation, including illegal logging, intensive grazing, uncontrolled tourism, fishing & hunting, agriculture, infrastructure development. Another problem: poor environmental education and lack of interaction and interest for nature of public, including politicians and children and other relevant stakeholders.

3. Your solution: How are you working to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

We believes environment and the conservation of natural heritage is everyone’s responsibility. While the state is not taking conservation seriously, our strategy is to engage citizens to make environment their own cause. When environmental protection becomes a societal value, law implementation through governmental structures will follow naturally. We establish in 2004 with Kogayon Association first and single National Park made by a NGO (Buila-Vanturarita National Park) and we start in 2011 Vacaresti Natural Park project, the first urban Natural Park of Romania, managed now by Vacaresti Natural Park Association. We develop a best practice example of sustainable development of a poor area base on natural and cultural heritage and involvement of local community and by this we conserve also the wilderness of our region. We came with one park in the middle of 15% of Romanian population and we transform this space in an Embassy of protected areas and nature of Romania: Nature at your door. We want to create a national network of urban protected areas and a citizen movement to convince our politicians about importance of our natural heritage for our sustainable development.

4. Innovation: How are you innovating or using unique approaches to solve the problem?

I lead two NGOs responsible with establishment and management of two parks in Romania, one national park in south Carpathian and one natural park in Bucharest, both premiers in Romania. For both we are using these places to develop two concrete examples of how protected areas can be managed together with the local community in an attempt to revive the economic, cultural and civic fabric, leading to an increased level of environmental awareness. We put together scientist and people, authorities, business, civil society and politicians. We have a bottom-up approach: we protect, promote and use natural heritage for prosperity of the regions and in this way we obtain resources for nature conservation and we push politicians to protect nature.

5. Collaboration: How does your initiative seek to bring key players together to preserve biodiversity?

After prototyping this approach in rural and poor Romania, were we work together with all local community stakeholders and visitors, we are now scaling it to Bucharest and using it as an opportunity to coagulate the conservation community. At Vacaresti Natural Park we assembled a truly multi stakeholder platform, engaging more than 50 organisations, among which ministries, national agencies for conservation, universities and schools, research institutes, city halls, police, non-profit organisations, health departments, sports associations, botanical garden, banks, corporations, shopping mall and museums. In addition, we have hundreds of volunteers, high support of public and mass-media. We are part of Wetland Link International, we have common projects with other protected areas from different cities form other countries, we are in contact with relevant international organisations (IUCN, Ramsar, UNESCO, WLI, WWF, etc.).

6. Impact: how has your project made a difference so far — in terms of both business outputs and social impact? How do you plan on measuring progress?

Public is one of our main supporter. We protect in our national park 4500 ha of habitats (1500 ha are virgin forest) for >1200 flora&fauna species, including large carnivores. We protect 184 of habitats, 4 km from Bucharest city center, for 172 bird species, other plants and animals. We have 67.000 followers and our messages already reach more than 5.000.000 people. More than 10.000 kids are participated in 2019 in our educational activities and they learned about the role of nature and how they can be involved in its conservation. The park was visited in 2019 by more than 50.000 visitors. 300 volunteers are registered in our organisation and they support our activities: biodiversity monitoring, park maintenance, planting, gardening, educational activities, events etc.. We already inspired other groups in the country to start similar efforts in other cities and we help already 4 organisation to start similar projects and to create a national network of urban protected areas.

7. Growth strategies: what are your main strategies for scaling your impact?

We propose in 2019 to Romanian Parliament a new Law for urban protected areas and now we focus to lobby and advocacy to apply this low for creation of more urban protected areas in Romania and the national network. In the next years, by dedicating to the consolidation of our approach to conservation, community engagement and development, we aims to structure the know-how and create toolkit and blue prints that can be easily shared with other local groups interested to replicate our work in their own region. Through the Vacaresti Park the exposure of the subject has increase significantly, giving us more ground to act as a true catalyzer in the environment space in Romania.

8. Creating shared value: How does your initiative create value for society? Or different stakeholders?

Through our work in Buila-Vanturarita National Park, we proved that 300 thousand euro invested in holistic community engagement for development and conservation generated a value added of 30 Million euro. The number of tourists increased in just few years, reaching over 25.000 per year. Most importantly, the local community is now convinced about the role nature plays and actively promotes conservation. We protected 4.500 hectares of which 1.500 ha of virgin forests were saved from exploitation. Vacaresti Natural Park given it’s unique story and location, the founding of the park triggered an enormous public debate which increased awareness on the role of conservation.

9. Financial sustainability plan: can you tell us about your plan to fund your project and how that plan will be sustainable in the short, medium, and long term?

We have a new 10 years strategy for our organisation, including financial strategy. Our activity was base 100% by private money from companies and donations from public. Now we already apply with 3 projects for public money under some public call for biodiversity projects. We have financial resources for 2020 and we already work for budget for 2021 and 2022. The aim is that in the next three years the team will sustain itself via projects and services, while resources from private companies and individual donations could leverage big infrastructure investments, enabling us to reconstruct the ecological habitat, create a visitors centers and wildlife observation center as well as provide educational opportunities and events.

10. Team: what is the current composition of your current team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?

The Board of the Association include 4 founding members, including Executive Director, in charge of the administration of the Park itself. The Association has also an Advisory Board. The Association has 10 paid staff members: Executive Director (conservation expert), biodiversity expert, ecological education expert, project manager, landscape expert, infrastructure responsible, communication and PR specialist and 3 rangers reintegrated among the homeless who lived in the area before the park.

11. How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Ashoka page or contact

12. Connection to Biodiversity: How does your project directly contributes to preserving and/or restoring biodiversity? Please share data to support your answer.

The project contributes to preserving biodiversity by setting up long term measures for the protection of key species and habitats, as well as through education and community engagement into nature protection. The direct impact is protection of habitats for 172 bird species (almost 50% of the entire number of species in the country), 135 species of insects, 6 species of amphibians, 5 species of reptiles, especially waterfowls, and 13 species of mammals, including otters, most of them protected by national and international conventions. By creating the national network of urban natural protected areas, starting to more 5 in Bucharest and 10 in other big Romanian cities, we provide the framework for the protection of biodiversity. By creating close to the people, Embassies of nature, we promote the natural heritage and we educate citizens in the way to protect one of the last virgin forests of Europe, half of EU population of large carnivores and our biodiversity hot spots.

13. Example: Please walk us through one or two concrete examples that show how your solution will solve the problem you’re trying to address.

Both our concrete examples – creation of Buila-Vînturarița National Park and of Văcărești Natural Park – are civic initiatives that succeeded to obtain legal protection status for biodiversity rich areas both in rural and urban environment. VNP is unique through the fact that is the largest compact green space in Bucharest and, being in the middle of 15% of Romania’s population, it has a huge potential for education, thus for igniting the attachment of people to nature and for engaging city residents in conservation efforts. In order to achieve greater impact, we have initiated a legislative project that will allow the creation of urban protected areas in all large cities in the country. The project obtained support from all Parliament parties and it is being now under evaluation process. When adopted, the law will empower citizens to change for better the fate of nature patches in their cities. Also, our expertise is already share to other initiative groups which took actions.

14. Marketplace: Who else is addressing this problem in your environment? How does your proposed project differ from these other approaches?

There are several NGOs that work to protect nature either through watchdog programs or through voluntary programs or partnerships in education and conservation projects. We realized that we cannot protect nature without the involvement of the local communities. Thus, through our projects we work to bring people closer to nature so that they will make the environment protection their very own cause, which is worth advocating for, and to protect the natural patrimony for prosperity and well-being of the local communities. We set up the first urban natural park of Romania but we already work with other 4 organisations in 4 cities to create more urban protected areas and a national network of urban protected areas and civil society involved in this.

15. Awards & Recognitions: What awards or recognitions, if any, has the project received so far?

In 2004, Kogayon has been awarded the 1st place for the best environmental project at the Civil Society Award (CSA) for the establishment of Buila-Vânturarița National Park. In 2009, Kogayon has been awarded the great prize and other three 1st places for a project with result of stop hunting in national parks. In 2017, VNPA has been awarded the 1st place at the CSA for the project of establishment of the 1st urban natural park in Romania.

16. Financial Sustainability – funding breakdown: Please list a quick breakdown of your funding, indicating an estimated percentage that comes from each source.

Kogayon Association: 35% public grants, 30% direct support of volunteers, 15% foundation or NGO grants, 10% individual donations, 10% corporate contributions. Vacaresti Natural Park Association: 85% corporate contributions, 5 % individual donations, 5% public grants, 5% foundation or NGO grants.

17. How do you plan to influence your field of work if you are a winner of the Act for Biodiversity Challenge? How would you invest the prize money to leverage your work?

We start this year the project "Urban natural protected areas – nature at your door!". The objectives of the project for 2021-2022 are creation of another 5 new urban protected areas in Bucharest and another 10 urban protected areas in 10 major cities in the country, together with our partners, creation of a national network of urban protected areas, ecological education program for journalists and lobby campaign for urban protected areas law. We want to invest the prize in activities of this project.

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