The World Heritage Committee, in Decision 32 COM 7B.42, requested the State Party of France to take the necessary steps to relocate the Gavarnie Festival in line with its previous commitments and past decisions of the World Heritage Committee, it also requested the two States Parties to provide a report on the World Heritage property, to enhance the coordination of the management of the transboundary property, and to raise the profile of the agropastoralism and its role in sustaining the cultural landscape. The States Parties were urged to request inscription of the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger.
The State Party of France submitted a state of conservation report for its part of the property on 30 January 2009, addressing points raised in the Decision, and including some discussion of cross-border structures. A round table was held at the initiative of a local association on 30 January 2009 and details of its discussion were also supplied to the World Heritage Centre.
The State Party of Spain submitted its state of conservation report on 25 March 2009 laying out its viewpoints on the Gavarnie Festival, support given to agropastoralism, transboundary management coordination as well as the finalization and implementation of the preliminary management plan. It further emphasizes its readiness to implement the recommendations made by the joint mission and the requests by the World Heritage Committee.
The key issue raised by the World Heritage Committee related to the continued decision to not relocate the Gavarnie Festival has not occurred, despite the commitment from the State Party of France at the time of the inscription of the property. The report of the State Party of France, disputes the past conclusions of the World Heritage Committee and Advisory Bodies regarding the Festival. It restates the position of local communities, which consider the festival essential to their economic needs, that a relocation of the Festival would spell the demise of the event, that the impacts are temporary and limited to the aesthetics of the property and not its physical or biological environment. The report also argues that the proposal to relocate the property is attracting increasing opposition from the communities within the property. It suggests that the committee for management and monitoring reviews the issue of the Festival including its content, as well as its organization and impacts.
The State Party of Spain underlines in its report that it shares the concern of the World Heritage Committee regarding the impact of the Gavarnie Festival. The State Party of Spain however points out that it is not in a position to take any decision on the issue given that the Festival is located on French territory and thus under the sovereignty of the State Party of France.
The World Heritage Centre, and the Advisory Bodies however note that the position of the World Heritage Committee is very clear regarding the Festival, in that its sensitivity of its location, the duration of disturbance in addition to the event itself, the presence of alternative locations, and the previous undertakings of the State Party of France lead clearly to the conclusion that the Gavarnie Festival is incompatible with the Outstanding Universal Value of the property, and notably criterion (vii). This was recognized in the most recent decision of the World Heritage Committee that urged the States Parties to request inclusion of the property of the List of World Heritage in Danger. The State Party of France has not made that request, but notes in its report that it considers that the World Heritage Committee’s request should be considered in the light of the other progress within the property, and taking account of the particular local circumstances.
The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies consider that the location of the Gavarnie Festival remains unsatisfactory, noting that its incompatibility with the Outstanding Universal Value and integrity of the property has been recognized by the World Heritage Committee. Whilst every property has to be considered in relation to the particular situation it faces, there is also a need to retain a high and consistent standard in relation to the expectations as set out in the Operational Guidelines. It is also noted that, as the Festival receives a subvention from public funds, then the public authorities could make a clear commitment to fund the Festival in an alternative location, and thereby remove some of the stated risk to its viability if it were to be moved. In a this situation, there is a clash of objectives between the priorities of the State Party and the inscription of the property on the World Heritage List, in relation to the requirements set out in the Operational Guidelines and the past decisions of the World Heritage Committee.
Management and transboundary cooperation
The State Party of France also reported on the establishment of a 21-person World Heritage management and monitoring committee for the French part of the property, and with the intention to enlarge this through invitation to representatives of the Spanish part of the property. In relation to the wider transboundary cooperation, the report of the State Party of France sets out a number of the different areas of cooperation with Spanish authorities. It also emphasizes that local communities, are seen as the foundation for future cooperation regarding the property, and notes the economic challenges faced by these communities, and notes a number of cooperative projects that have and are in place. It notes there is a specific budget of 15,000 Euros allocated to a training programme on World Heritage for the local population. While modestly funded, this initiative should be welcome. The most significant development in relation to the request of the World Heritage Committee appears to be the establishment, for the first time, of a management committee under the aegis of the Conseil Général des Hautes Pyrénées to which it is noted Spanish authorities will be invited. It is also noted that this committee will be charged to develop the Statement of Outstanding Universal Value for the property requested in Decision 32 COM 7B.42.
The report of the State Party of France does not provide any clear information on the status of the interim management plan.
The State Party of Spain underlines that the statutes of the National Park of Ordesa y Monte Perdido, which forms the Spanish part of the transboundary property, clearly stipulate the transboundary cooperation with the French National Park as a priority. This regulation is complemented by the Chart on the cooperation of the two National Parks in Spain and France, which will be renewed shortly. The State Party of Spain reports that these two documents constitute the basis for regular meetings and several activities that have been jointly implemented by the partners such as interpretation and signage of the property, exchange of best practices in visitor management and information exchange of scientific data. The State Party of Spain further reports that it foresees participating as an observer in the forthcoming session of the above-mentioned French management and monitoring committee.
In view of the finalization and implementation of the preliminary management plan, the State Party of Spain informs that the management of the Spanish part of the property is ensured through the Master Plan on Use and Management of the National Park of Ordesa and Monte Perdido (PRUG: Plan Rector de Uso y Gestion), and that in addition a coordination committee of all authorities involved in the province of Aragon (Spain) will be put in place shortly to enhance the outreach of the activities carried out so far.
The assessment of the World Heritage Centre and Advisory Bodies is that this represents little progress in relation to transboundary cooperation. The initiative of the French authority, to which the State Party of Spain is invited, does not necessarily mean that this is a proposal that has been developed jointly and set up on an “equal partners basis”. With Spanish participation not yet fully agreed there is a need to wait to confirm that the proposal becomes fully operational, however in principle it would be better that this proposal is reconsidered and instead a joint transboundary management body established, under independent or rotating chairpersonship, and with a membership that is designed by both French and Spanish authorities. Such a structure would also enable the preparation of a Statement of Outstanding Universal Value reflecting the interests of both States Parties.
The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies emphasize that a key concern with the property has been the lack of clear cooperative arrangements for the management of the property as a whole, as noted above.
The State Party of France notes a range of measures in place. They refer to the introduction in 2007 of a plan supporting the mountain economy, with a substantial budget of 29.8 million Euros over 5 years for the region, including the property. 90 applications were financed throughout the region during 2008, including support for restoration of mountain refuges for shepherds, costs of shepherding and the management of mountain pastures. Although the report does not report specifically on the property, nor elaborate on the strategy and its conservation objectives, it appears likely that this initiative is benefiting the property. However, it is not possible to reach a firm conclusion on this. The report also notes that in October 2008, a regional recognition (AOC - Appelation d’Origine Contrôlée) was approved for sheep reared in Barèges-Gavarnie, reported as having already resulting in an increase in market price of 50% over the price of non-AOC meet.
The State Party of Spain reports that support to the agropastoral sector in the Spanish part of the property has been significantly increased over the last years, as foreseen in the PRUG. Activities such as the rehabilitation of shelters, research on the impact of visitor behaviour in the Park and on agropastoral traditions have been carried out. It is further reported that the subsidies attributed by the Spanish State to the National Park of Ordesa y Monte Perdido represent 21.6% of the annual subsidies to the agropastoral sector.
The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies consider that there has been a positive response on the request of the World Heritage Committee in relation to initiatives in France, but there remains no clear evidence of an overall strategy in this regard for the property as a whole.
In relation to other recommendations of the 2007 reactive monitoring mission to the property, it is also noted that no further action is reported on the removal of impacts from the Troumouse road, or on an anticipated workshop that was to be organized by the States Parties. A tunnel across the Pyrénées is reported as a joint project in the report although this has no seeming function in relation to the conservation of the property and its relationship and impacts are not noted.
In conclusion, the World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies note that it is essential that the World Heritage Committee adopt a position that is credible and consistent with the Operational Guidelines, and that also enables the management of this property. Considering the situation of this transboundary property an alternative strategy to the inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger could be to request a further period of cooperation between the two States Parties, in particular to (a) set in place the required joint management and (b) to assess the means by which the Festival could be relocated in such a way to retain the property on the World Heritage List, and (c) to jointly report progress made to a future session of the World Heritage Committee. If this process does not resolve the issue of the Festival, the World Heritage Committee could consider other options to address the incompatibility between its management, its Outstanding Universal Value and integrity, as well as appropriate sustainable use linked to the values of the site.