The aim of the Junior Ranger Programme is to increase awareness of environmental issues and the natural world among young people and to establish and develop a network for youth co-operation in protected areas. The courses offered are primarily intended for young people who are interested in nature and have a connection to the relevant protected area, for example, due to living within or close to the area.
Under the programme, youth meetings are held in Estonian national parks at least three times a year. In the summer, a 3- to 5-day course is organised, as well as a number of 2-day seminars. The summer course is mainly aimed at students in grades 6 to 12, while the seminars are also open to youth who have previously participated in the programme, regardless of age.
The Junior Ranger Programme helps young people to acquire practical skills in nature conservation work. For example, experts lead youth in wildlife censuses, habitat mapping, nature conservation work, etc. Additionally, young people are given the chance to explore both their material and spiritual cultural heritage, learn about the regional flora and fauna, discuss both global and national environmental issues, and think about sustainable development. And, of course, survival, rescue, and first aid skills are also taught.
Participants in the programme have the opportunity to represent Estonia at the International Junior Ranger Camp, which is held every year in a different European country. In 2019, the honour of organising the International Junior Ranger Camp was given to Estonia. The 7-day camp held in Lahemaa National Park was attended by 40 Junior Rangers and instructors from nine countries.
In Estonia, the activities of the programme are co-ordinated by the Estonian Environmental Board in collaboration with research institutions, state agencies, and the local communities.
In 2002, the Europarc Federation launched the Junior Ranger Programme to find and bring together active youth who are interested in the natural world and wish to contribute to its preservation.
Estonia joined the Junior Ranger Programme in 2004, when the first Junior Ranger camps were held in Lahemaa National Park. To date, six Estonian national parks have joined the programme, and nearly five hundred young people have participated in the programme’s activities.
In 2019, the Youth+ Programme, aimed at young people aged 16+, was launched in Estonia. This programme is open to young people who are interested in nature conservation and who have previously participated in the Junior Ranger Programme. The youth of the Youth+ Programme operate all over Estonia. This includes meetings held in various Estonian national parks, where participants introduce their protected areas to others, volunteer work, and other nature conservation activities. In addition, participants are given the opportunity to develop their leadership and communication skills by helping national parks carry out a range of projects, participating in various nature conservation working groups, and communicating with other young people from the Youth+ Programme across Europe.