Disclaimer...

We want you to know what is going on in the BOD, our meetings, our actions, members leaving, the new ones elected,... but text written in this blog cannot be taken an official position or statement of the Society for Conservation Biology. Probably it is not even an official statement of the section... as these need to be approved by the members.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Capercaillie, Banya and hot discussions: The Board goes north-east.


Lake Ladoga, Russia: Leaving from the big city of St. Petersburg, it takes only 5 hours (including 2 hours traffic jams) to reach the taiga and the largest lake in Europe, holding 1% of the world’s freshwater. Few wooden huts, simple-style toilet and a small Russian sauna („Banya“) served the perfect settings for our board meeting. The Board has now covered its most significant proportion of geographic Europe, from Portugal (Francisco) to St. Petersburg (Rustam, hosting  the meeting) – an aerial distance of 3600 km. It also included Edina, our new coordinator (who will introduce herself officially in the next blog entry).


Following the tradition, our meeting opened with a symposium at the University of St. Petersburg, jointly organised by the university, the regional NGO Baltic Fund for Nature, and SCB. It comprised  two presentations by Russian conservationists, and several introductory contributions by the Europe Section on how SCB works, what it does and a collection of main issues on our agenda at the regional, national, and international levels (e.g. CAP, IPBES, roadless areas). The venue – a spectacular Rococo-style room within a 400m-long corridor, added a particular historical aura to the event: A man-size golden clock took the elegant, luxurious Tsar way of reminding the speakers to keep to their time slots.

Having our Board meeting in Russia is indeed a historical event for the Society: An important strategic aim was to strengthen the links between East and West, improve the integration of Russian researchers and students in the SCB community, and, overall, draw greater attention to the Greater Europe in the Section’s agenda.
To experience wilderness and near-roadless areas, we travelled into the taiga and visited the beaches of Lake Ladoga and a bird-ringing station in the strictly protected, Nizhne-Svirsky Nature Reserve, encompassing an area of 41,000 ha. A travel on a narrow road (video taken by Francisco will come soon, to demonstrate how shaky it was ;-)) gave us the opportunity to watch several capercaillies, millions of mushrooms, and several spots of beaver activity. Finally, at the sandy shores of the (sadly over-fished and still-too-polluted) lake, we came to a crossroads: Where a small stream ends at the waters, animals have to pass as well. There we found the footsteps of elks, wild boars, wolves, raccoon dog and a bear. A crossroads also for us: here we shared a glass of champagne (actually plastic cups) with our András to commemorate 12 years of service to the SCB on his last board meeting.

 
Back at the beautifully simple venue, an attentive crew allowed us to maximise the time allocated for intense discussions. Issues of particular importance in our Board meeting involved membership and involvement: how can we improve participation of students, and better serve their wishes and needs? Can we facilitate the creation of new, vivid Chapters that would support local themes? And how can we improve communication – especially toward ICCB-ECCB? Other thematically important issues were wilderness, roadless areas and EU policy (e.g. the CAP).

We are indebted to Rustam (Board member and Director of the Baltic Fund for Nature), his assistant Tanya and the team at the reserve for making the visit of the Society in “true” eastern Europe so smooth.

For more information on issues such as the ICCB-ECCB, Šumava and the Common Agricultural Policy, and to know more about our Edina, our new coordinator, please await the next blog entries over the coming days.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Submit your proposal and present your topic at the most important Conference in Conservation Biology!

The 27th International Congress for Conservation Biology (ICCB) and the 4th European Congress for Conservation Biology (ECCB) take place in August 2-6 2015, in Montpellier, France.
It is time to submit your proposal for Symposia, Thematic Poster Exhibitions, Workshops, Round Table Discussions or Training Course. 

The central theme of the congress will be “Mission biodiversity: choosing new paths for conservation”. Accordingly, we envision ICCB-ECCB 2015 to be a truly interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary meeting, where delegates and students attend from as broad a range of professions and sectors as possible.

So, please feel free to distribute the call for Symposia, Workshops, Thematic Poster Exhibitions, Round Table Discussions and Training Course to colleagues and friends – including non-biologists e.g. Social scientists, Environmental Psychologists and Economics, Educators, members of interested NGOs – let’s make the upcoming ICCB-ECCB a place for a true dialogue.

We are also building a team to organize a range of exciting social events at the conference – parties, art, open spaces for a dialogue. Are you in? If so, click on ICCB-ECCB-social and write to us!

Deadline for submission is 31st October 2014. Notification of the results will be given prior to December 1st 2014. 

Click here for more information about the submission and ICCB-ECCB 2015. 


Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Bialowieza: Far East or the centre of Europe? The Policy Committee checks in person.


Białowieża.
Dead wood in a living forest
(left to right: Adam, Nuria, Stefan, Anna, Francisco, Willem.
Picture: Guy)
At the sound of the name, naturalists’ minds reverberate with pictures of temperate European jungle, roamed by bison, wolves, and other representatives of what “wilderness” is. Last week (26-30 Aug), the Policy Committee of SCB’s Europe Section had the chance to check imagination against reality, right at the border between Poland and Belarus. Five of us were welcomed by our charming colleague Nuria Selva, long-standing PC member and a former PC chair, as well as a resident of Białowieża for over 15 years. Nuria is a specialist on large carnivores and carcasses, and both Nuria and her partner Adam (naturalist, journalist) have an excellent knowledge of “their” forest. Adam and Nuria took us for three hikes into the forest, including the core zone of Białowieża National Park that was recently expanded to more than 5,000 hectares: It is by far the largest remnant of primeval temperate forest in European lowlands. Together, we could see in our eyes how a fully-functioning forest looks like, with hardly any management. We found wolf tracks, and were brought by Adam at fresh bison droppings (of impressive size) - even before the dung beetles had found them! All in all, we were happy to learn that Białowieża is, finally, at quite a good conservation status. At the moment no immediate action seems needed for its protection, but we need to remain alert, active and proactive.
 

Białowieża serves an excellent case study for many issues that are at the core conservation agenda in Europe and elsewhere: Wilderness versus management and forestry; strictly protected areas in a matrix of land use; large predators versus hunting; and the blessings and curses of EU policy – Białowieża surely provided inspiration for the true mission of our 2014 PC meeting.
Two days of intensive work were just enough to discuss consider a range of activities and questions which the Policy Committee deals with:

-          Activities around the Common Agricultural Policy with a recent Science article led by SCB-ES members – successfully echoing among decision makers but requiring further actions at the European Parliament;

-         the Roadless Areas Initiative, which started in our committee and is now going global – with a variety of activities including an upcoming plenary talk, session, and a concluding declaration at the upcoming Infra Eco Network Europe (IENE) Congress  2014 in Malmö, Sweden; and´

The Policy Committee at work
(Left to right: Francisco, Nuria, Willem, Guy, Martin.
Picture (and an empty Chair on the left): Stefan)
-         the status of other activities that the PC has engaged with, such as "conservation for peace", the state of Šumava National Park, etc.

One of the most important topics we discussed was the next ICCB-ECCB (International and European Congress for Conservation Biology), which will take place in August 2015 in Montpellier, France. We made various observations, among others, on the preparation process (website, cooperation with the City of Montpellier etc.) and the schedule (e.g. on plenary talks and side events), and brought up numerous ideas (to be reported soon), and we are confident that our work will contribute to the success of the congress.

 
Final note: if you think we travelled to the “Far East” of Europe for that meeting, check the map again. Our continent is tiny, but not THAT tiny. While our respected colleague Francisco made a huge distance from Portugal (by plane, train and taxi), he merely covered half the continent – to reach the very centre of Europe, geographically speaking. Did you know the European part of Russia has about the same size as the rest of the continent? Our trip to the eastern border of the EU should thus serve an important reminder for SCB’s “Europe Section” (not EU!) that we should continue ‘discovering’ the ‘other half’ of Europe. The forthcoming meeting of the Section Board of Directors will take place in two weeks in St. Petersburg and Lake Ladoga, Russia – to further remind us of our whole-European duties.

 
Stay tuned!
 

Stefan Kreft* and Guy Pe’er

Policy Committee of the Society for Conservation Biology - Europe Section (*Chair)

Thursday, 10 July 2014

SCB summer school: excursion to Greek mountains in Papingo



It was Sunday morning; all of us were energetic and excited. We were dressed up for hiking and ready to go. After a week of intensive classes, every student was looking forward to a long day hiking. Our instructors John, Gabor, Martin and Thanassios looked at roads on the map while having breakfast.  We were 11 students, two lab assistants and four instructors going for an excursion to Papigo. It started 8.00 in the morning from Ano Pedina. Winding roads surrounded by green forest, the excursion to Papingo started with extra-ordinary landscape from early morning. As we drove higher, views of mountains, roads, valleys and village patches got outstanding. 

After 30 minutes of driving we reached Papingo, a small beautiful village in the slopes of a mountain. Beautiful houses and narrow streets built from stones made the trip worthy from the beginning. Everything gave new impressions to us and there seemed to be much to explore. John took us to the small shop where we bought water, ice cream, chocolates and cookies for the 3-hour climb.  We started to walk towards Mikro Papingo, a village nearby Papingo at around 9 and reached there in 15 minutes.  We found Mikro Papingo as a unique village, sitting smiling on slopes of huge mountains as if mountains stand there proudly and high giving a spectacular natural view. Although we were getting late for the climb, we couldn’t stop taking pictures. 

Climbing till the refuge
We headed for a 3-hour climb towards the refuge. The hiking way and directions were well marked all
On the top
along the way. Few springs and shelters helped us for taking rest on the uphill. A clear day throughout the afternoon allowed us to enjoy the scenic views. Martin was looking at butterflies using his net, and presented us with several colorful and new species during the whole trip. We were fortunate to see some snow patches along the slopes on top of the mountain, not melted, being in the shade. Once we reached the refuge at the pass, the view on the other side of the mountain was magnificent. Although we were tired from the steep climb, the beautiful view from the top refreshed all of us. Our eyes extended far towards the horizon,it was full of mountains and scenic view. The landscape, narrow ridge of the mountain and clouds seen nearby will always be reminiscing to us. We took lots of photographs and had some toast and sandwiches at the refuge.

After half an hour, with our heads full of adventure, we went slowly downhill to Mikro Papingo. Dinner was organized in the village Papingo by the summer school. Gabor had already brought some wine from the village and all of us got the opportunity to taste it. Before returning to Ano Pedina, we had some time to buy souvenirs and “tsipouro”, a unique drink of Greece. All of us really enjoyed the excursion and will always remember the wilderness view from the top of the hill.

Rumakanta Sapkota

Friday, 4 July 2014

Theory week at the Greek Summer School



After the return from the Sunday excursion to Papigo, the week started somewhat sluggishly.
The second week had more theory than field work. The topics covered included phylogenetic methods and their interpretations, given by Martin Wiemers (UWZ Halle, Germany), general database structure and querying databases using a biodiversity database of Greek plants (Stephanos Sgardelis, Aristotle University, Thessaloniki), and further details on biodiversity theory by John Halley (Univ. Ioannina). An evening lecture by Despoina Vokou (Aristotle University, Thessaloniki) introduced the participants to the world of policy and legal biodiversity protection tools. 

On Tuesday, the document transferring ownership of the station from the Labriadeio Foundation to the University of Ioannina, something that John Halley has worked for over some years, was ceremmonially signed. We hope this opens more possibilities to use this splendid location for more international courses. In the evening, the Rector of the University of Ioannina, Triantaphyllos Albanis visited the course, and greeted the students.

The weather continued to be sunny and warm, but many of the days were actually spent inside, and the participants’ attention gradually turned to the evaluation of their project data. On the lighter side, I gave an evening slide show on the biodiversity of Madagascar, based on my experience at another field school, that of the Tropical Biology Association. The ping-pong table was put into use, and the smile on the owner of the cafe/restaurant frequented by the course participants in the evenings is wider and wider as time goes by. The bird song slowly subsides – the nightingale sings shorter, and the scops owl sparsely announces its residence now. There are still fireflies, but their number is also decreasing. Later today is the exam and tomorrow, on the last day, we will have the student presentations.

Ano Pedina, 3 July 2014

Gabor Lovei

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

From the Greek Mountains - GSS 5th day



Again a day with field work. Alessandro continued the theoretical component of the course by talking about rarefaction. Then all headed to the field – except the bird group, Elitsa, Wissam and Irina, who started their day very early, with their first bird census. The European nightingale is an easy tick, as several birds are singing nearly continuously, day and night, around the building, in the village, and up the forested slope. Red-rumped swallows also breed under the eves, and the first clutch of the jay must have fledged, because we see individuals in unlikely places, eating cherries, exploring gates in the middle of the village, etc. – obviously inexperienced birds in the process of learning how a proper Jay should behave.
We continued with a computer exercise of biodiversity partitioning, which took up much of the afternoon. After dinner, we had a night walk. There are still a lot of fireflies dancing around over the meadows, the forest and in the gardens of the village. We heard several nightjars, the melodious whistle of the scops owl, and of course, the nightingales. The wind and a small afternoon shower decreased arthropod activity: only a few moths and three scorpions were seen. We ended the evening in one of the village pub-restaurants, that is becoming the regular watering hole for the course participants. The village being nearly empty of tourists, the owners are always very happy to see us.

From the Greek Mountains - Impressions of the SCB Summer School in Conservation Biology



26 June 2014, Thursday, Day 4
 
The morning session continued with Alessandro (Chiaurcci)’s talk about biodiversity partitioning. By lunchtime, the teams were formed and their project titles established, and they started to develop experimental protocols. Two groups will be analysing bird data, one will work on butterflies, and one on plant communities. Although only small datasets can be collected in such a short time, this is still a useful opportunity to hone skills in experimental design, and start practicing in this difficult ”art of compromise”. The afternoon was spent in the field; the weather continues to be warm and sunny. After dinner, I gave a talk on ecosystem services, including the recent update on the global valuation, published ca. two weeks ago, that upped the global value of ecosystem services to about 200 trillion US$/year.This is much higher than the 1997 estimate, and a multiple of the global GDP calculated in the usual way. There followed a lively debate about the usefulness and acceptability of economic valuation of ESs that flowed onto a discussion about monetising various human activities and values, and our attitude towards nature. Apparently, field work did not tire out the participants’ thirst for discussions. We have also learned that the University of Ioannina will formally take over the school as their field station, and the handover will be signed next Tuesday. As there are not many field stations in the Mediterranean, this site could be an attractive location for field-based courses for European universities.
Gabor Lovei