Vacaresti Natural Park - nature at your door

We create the first urban natural park in Romania (cat. V IUCN) , 184 ha of protected area , situated at 4 km from Bucharest city center.

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.

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.

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 first and single National Park made by a NGO (Buila-Vanturarita National Park) and in 2011 Vacaresti Natural Park, the first urban Natural Park of Romania. We are using these 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 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?

We establish in 2004 first and single National Park made by a NGO (Buila-Vanturarita National Park) and in 2011 Vacaresti Natural Park, the first urban Natural Park of 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 our 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, police, city halls, universities, non-profit organisations, health departments, hotels, sports associations, botanical garden, schools, 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 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 the park was visited by more than 50.000 visitors. 300 volunteers are registered in our organisation and they support our activities: biodiversity and visitors monitoring, park infrastructure 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 National Embassy of the protected area in Vacaresti Park the exposure will 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

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