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.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Selling the Bialowieza Forest on Ebay

The ‘Białowieża’ exhibition in Berlin and the artist behind it: Kinga Kielczynska, in an arts-science-conservation talk with Stefan Kreft, of SCB-Europe’s Policy Committee. Before you read, you can learn more about Białowieża Forest from one of our earlier blog posts

Kinga Kielczynska: Białowieża Invite. digital print, 2017.
My first impression is the odour of wood, the aromatic smell of freshly carpentered wood. I am given a shy welcome by Kinga Kielczynska, and that late Saturday afternoon, cold and darkening Berlin outside, we have her exhibition in the EXILE gallery for ourselves. She asks me to take off my shoes and takes me into the first room. It is completely laid with spruce boards. Kinga’s shyness vanishes, she is feeling at home in the exhibition – quite like a scientist feels at home when talking about her or his work at a poster session, perhaps. “The ‘Ebay Meditation Room’”, she explains, with a faint smile, both gracious and cunning at the same time. The spruce boards are from a tree that used to live in the Polish part of the Białowieża Forest. “After coming to Białowieża, I had that intuition and went to the local sawmill.” One year ago, the EuropeSection teamed up with local NGOs, IUCN, UNESCO and the EU Commission againstthe tripling of wood harvest that had been defined in the existing Natura 2000 management plan. The forest administration had declared that the wood cut in the course of the much disputed ‘salvage loggings’ would be for local use as fuelwood. However, the sawmill owners assured Kinga this wood is being auctioned just as any other wood. The artist selected and bought enough boards to lay the floor with it. And then, in a witty twist - put the wood for sale on Ebay. “Selling exceptionally beautiful wooden floor. All the way from Białowieża, Poland”. And clarifies: “Białowieża is the last remaining part of the primeval forest in lowland Europe and it is a UNESCO world heritage site”. Using Ebay for exposing people’s greed – what a wonderful fine irony. 

Kinga Kielczynska: Białowieża Ebay Ad
(ebay.de/itm/262803825139). A4 print, 2017.
In another surprising twist, the sawmill owners accompanied Kinga to Berlin (relatives living over here they had not seen for while) and offered her the favour to lay the floor with the spruce planks she had just bought from them.

I am hearing the artist’s voice twice – the second voice coming from a small MP3 player bedded on a pillow. Kinga’s voice interrogates the visitor with a slowly, but continuously evolving series of questions: “… can you imagine yourself as air … can you imagine yourself as an air conditioner … can air ever be conditioned …”. Although very minimalist, the exhibition room transmits complexity, ambiguities and ambivalences that leave the beholder tentative.

It is like imagining oneself walking through the strange forest that is moving on the computer screen in the other exhibition room. The screensaver is an overlay of a series of pictures taken in the Białowieża Forest. Creepy, I am thinking. And somewhere there walking through the forest, too, one imagines, is the artist with her saw, with half her face missing … I had seen her on the exhibition invite card.

We turn around and sit down in front of a drawing of charcoal on paper covering the entire length of the wall. A distinctly friendly look: women and men, smiling and reaching up their hands, some carrying ball shapes – the Sun? The Earth? She points to a root ball, with a young tree emerging from it. “This is which everything else in the drawing has developed from.” 


Kinga Kielczynska: Białowieża Screensaver.
Composite of all photographs taken by the artist in Białowieża, 2017.
We discover we share the love for nature, and forests in particular. She spent much of her childhood in Poland with her grandparents on the countryside, and I too am from a rural region, three quarters of it covered with forest. 

She explains that, while she doesn’t want to defend the government’s policy in Białowieża, she has the impression that both sides got stuck in yelling at each other. I argue that when it comes to century-old trees, speaking out loudly may be the only option if you want to be heard before they fall. It will take hundreds of years for new trees to grow and replace them, if that’s possible at all.

It would be tragic to see a change in policy when it is already too late for the old trees.

Kinga Kielczynska and her ‘Białowieża Drawing’
(photo: Stefan Kreft)
The exhibition, however, doesn’t take anybody’s side. It asks questions. It is a meditation on the forest, and the people that have lived with it for ages, and their individual understanding of what the forest means to them. 

It has become late. Before Kinga switches off the lights and locks the door, we admire the patterns of lichens on a long piece of bark. “It is from the tree I cut with the saw you see on the picture. A forest guard has explained to me that the bark of a bark-beetle infested tree breaks off differently than that from of other trees.”

I take her to the entrance of the subway, a smile, shy again, and Kinga Kielczynska disappears underground …

… can you imagine yourself as Białowieża Forest … can you imagine yourself as a Białowieża Forest conditioner … can Białowieża Forest ever be conditioned?

Stefan Kreft, February 23, 2017
  
You can still visit the exhibition (closed on February 11) at: http://exilegallery.org/exhibitions/bialowieza/

*Images copyright and courtesy of the artist and EXILE, Berlin, unless noted otherwise.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

The Marketing of Research

An inspirational experience at SCCS Hungary - guest post by Nora Thieme

Enthralling how vast conservation biology topics can be. Mind-opening plenaries, practical workshops, energetic presentations: learned some simple, but practical ways, how to make a good presentation, new for me, only finished the bachelor degree. Ten minutes talk, need to convince the audience – a very short time, can’t tell everything…  Stressful… Of course every topic is important… but yours is the most important for you! Why else are you there for? To learn of course, widen your mentality, networking, but still… And you only get ten minutes..! So you overcome your emotions from public speech and your antisocial behavior, and motivate yourself: “Why am I here, why did I come? Why is social approach in conservation of Carpathian brown bear so important in a developing country? I’d like to see the sparkle in this people’s eyes – they got the message!” Need to find the shorter way to make “a hook”, and make a point. No need to tell everything, to present the circumstantial methodology and full particulars… If people gain interest, they will ask anyway… you’re not at school anymore! But a powerful message is needed, presented in scientific language – great experience! Feels good to be in brainstorming environment!

Post written by Nora Thieme, a M.Sc. Candidate at the University of Babe -Bolyai in Romania. You can contact Nora  by email: thiemenora(at)gmail(dot)com. 


Sunday, 22 January 2017

Potential for a Greener and Simpler EU Common Agricultural Policy


Guest Post 

The European Union (EU) introduced new “greening” instruments into the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in 2015, with the intention to slow the rapid loss of farmland biodiversity. The idea is quite simple: in return to the subsidies they receive, farmers must now implement at least one of three “greening measures”: protect permanent pastures, maintain crop diversity, or set aside Ecological Focus Areas (EFAs). The EFA measure, which was declared as the flagship measure among the three, requires farms with > 15 hectares of arable land to dedicate at least 5% of it to biodiversity-friendly options. Practically, the EU registered 19 different EFA options including setting the land fallow, maintaining buffer strips without agricultural production, or maintaining landscape elements like hedges, traditional stone walls or ponds. Yet production options were listed as well, such as ‘nitrogen-fixing’ crops (e.g. peas, beans or lupine) or ‘catch crops’ like mustard or rape-seed that cover the soil surface over the autumn and winter to prevent soil erosion.

Groups of Trees between fields can serve as important refugia for many animals. Photo by: Sebastian Lakner.

In a paper recently accepted in the journal Conservation Letters, Pe’er et al. evaluated the performance of EFAs in the EU. To inspect the impacts on biodiversity, they collected responses from 88 ecological experts in 17 European countries – who scored the potential effects of the different EFA options from plus 5 (very positive) to minus 5 (very negative). Results from the surveys of experts indicated highest scores for buffer strip, fallow land, and landscape elements. Other EFA options listed in the survey were judged by experts to be rather ineffective, and that benefits to biodiversity are marginal if pesticides are allowed to be used.

Pe’er et al. also assessed the implementation of EFAs by farmers by inspecting uptake in eight EU member states and at the entire EU level, and found that nitrogen-fixing crops, catch crops and fallow land were the most popular – roughly 45%, 27% and 21% of farmers adopted these projects, respectively. On the contrary, Pe’er et al. determined that few farmers had chosen buffer strips or landscape elements for their farms, meaning that around three quarters of all EFA in the EU are managed in a way that brings little or no benefit for biodiversity.

Fallow land and buffer strips, planted with flowering seed mixtures, can be highly beneficial for biodiversity
Photo by: Rainer Oppermann

Pe’er et al. further evaluated why farmers made the decisions about EFAs that they did. They found that farmers are making the most economically rational decision and trying to minimise the risks to them or their land. For example, cultivating catch crops and nitrogen-fixing plants is very attractive because they are simple and cheap to manage. In contract, buffer strips and certain landscape elements are more expensive and even time-consuming to maintain. In some cases, Pe’er et al. found that there are also administrative barriers that farmers face (e.g., if a hedge row belongs to two different farmers). Perhaps most importantly, Pe’er et al. found that EFA options are made unattractive by the complexity of EU regulations attached to them. For example, farmers must register the exact width of a flowering strip, and mis-measurements could cause sanctions on famers who make an error when calculating the width of a strip.

How could “greening” be improved?

Pe’er et al. found that EU farmers already set aside more than 5% of their land to EFAs. Therefore, Pe’er et al. argue that extending the area of EFA from five to seven percent of arable land, as currently being discussed by the EU Commission, will not be enough to significantly improve the situation. Instead they offer 10 recommendations, 5 for the mid-term review (which is to be completed in 2017) and 5 for the CAP beyond 2020. Pe’er et al.‘s key recommendations include: 1) promoting EFA options that bring the greatest benefit for biodiversity, such as buffer strips and landscape elements, while removing or at least limiting the extent of less beneficial options like catch crops; 2) ensuring that buffer strips are included in the list of eligible options in all member states, which is not the case at the moment; and 3) defining clear management criteria, including a ban on pesticides to ensure that EFAs fulfil their official role.

In the longer term, the researchers also question if “greening” is, in fact, the best approach to stop farmland biodiversity loss. Despite long-term debate on the effectiveness of agri-environment measures (AEMs), evidence does show that they have a high potential to support biodiversity if they are well-designed and implemented. Furthermore, since AEMs are based on positive incentives rather than on limitations and regulations, these measures could offer a much better instrument for establishing cooperation and acceptance by farmers. In the long run, the Pe’er et al. recommend either to improve the greening measures using the knowledge acquired through AEM, or preferably, expand the budgets for targeted agri-environment programmes.

Given the heated debate over the mid-term review of the CAP, Pe’er et al. hope that their recommendations will be noted in Brussels, and by the Members States.

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Post written by Guy Pe’erDepartment of Conservation Biology, UFZ – Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, Permoserstr. 15 04318 Leipzig, Germany. Member of the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig. You can contact Guy by e-mail: Guy (dot) peer (at) ufz (dot) de. 

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Reflections on Human-Bear Conflicts

Guest post by Lacramioara-Mihaela Maghiar

It was a beamful cold day in October when a brown bear cub crossed my path in the subalpine area. Bewildered, he was probably wondering about its mother’s whereabouts. I was wondering about the same thing too. I always ask myself where the mother bear is when I encounter a cub. Meeting a mother bear with cubs or a wounded bear is one of the most dangerous situations for humans. This experience reminded me that in different parts of the world, we are afraid in the wild of different circumstances: for instance in some eastern European forests we are afraid of encountering bears or wolves, in South Africa you might be afraid of a lion roaring in the bushes, and in the Arctic you might feel safer floating away from a polar bear on an ice sheet.

I am aware of the fear I have when I am trekking through the Romanian Carpathians. It taught me how to behave and respect the animals and their territory. But when it comes to a bear’s territory and the resources it offers, some conflicts naturally arise. By talking about conflicts, I am not referring to the understory plants competing for light. It is about a common conflict nowadays: between human beings and bears. This conflict is common on other continents too, but I will concentrate on Romania as the country has the largest population of brown bears in Europe after Russia, estimated at 5,000-6,000.

Făgăraș Mountains, Romanian Carpathians, Romania. Photo by Lacramioara-Mihaela Maghiar.

In Romania, bears are blamed for damaging crops, attacking livestock and orchards, for wandering towards garbage bins in search of food, and sometimes they are blamed for attacks on humans. Concurrently, bears face several threats, including habitat fragmentation. Human beings are increasingly protruding into bear territories and thus humans are interfering with the bears’ habitat and resources. The close presence to human settlements is uncomfortable for many inhabitants, a situation that often leads to conflict. Therefore, the positive or negative attitude towards brown bear is developed based on experiences.

Is a brown bear attacking your crop? You could just as easily blame a beech or an oak tree! There are years when these trees do not bear fruit, so bears have to search for nourishment in other areas. Of course, we shouldn't blame the trees for these scenarios, but we should rather concentrate on finding solutions for these cases. Protection systems for sheepfolds, orchards and crops are already reducing human-bear related conflicts in some areas of the Romanian Carpathians. Electric fences have also proven useful and stop bears from damaging villagers' crops. Electric fences are also used to protect the sheepfolds from attacks. These are just a few steps toward effectively managing these conflicts. There is a need for sustaining and spreading these good practices.

Another measure which could improve the situation is correctly estimating the bear population, as hunting organizations often exaggerate population estimates of over 10,000 brown bears. Due to unrealistic numbers, the Ministry of Environment, Waters and Forests establishes high annual harvest quotas for bears. Fortunately, Romania banned all trophy hunting of brown bears in 2016. Drawing more awareness among citizens, a responsible management of garbage in bear-populated areas, corridors connecting the fragmented habitat and reducing poaching are also measures with long-term effects.

There are many cases where measures have been taken, but bears are still perceived negatively in some areas because of the continuous conflicts which have been happening for decades. At the same time, Romania's bear population could dwindle while we are debating about the best solutions to counteract said conflicts. Therefore, this sensible issue has to be handled in a timely manner and rather effectively. We as humans have to realize that we are part of problem because we have contributed to this scenario by activities that lead to habitat loss or destruction. Finally, we should remind ourselves that in unfragmented forests we have a chance to listen to the background sounds like the bears growling, deer grunting or capercaillie males singing during courting season, and many other animal noises. These are the sounds of biodiversity which highlight the power of ecosystems to ensure the well-being of its inhabitants, not conflicts.

Some information included in this post came from the following online resources: (1) http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/species/problems/human_animal_conflict/human_bears_wolves_conflict.cfm. Last accesssed: 12th December 2016; (2) http://www.wwf.ro/?206227/WWF-Romania-isi-gestioneaza-populatia-de-urs-in-mod-iresponsabil. Last accesssed: 12th December 2016; (3) http://milvus.ro/Mammal_Conservation/ro/large-carnivores/faq-about-wolves-and-bears-in-romania. Last accesssed: 24th October 2016

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Post written by Lacramioara-Mihaela Maghiar

Lacramioara-Mihaela Maghiar is currently completing a master's degree in geomatics at Babeș-Bolyai University from Cluj-Napoca. She has a bachelor's degree in geography and a master's degree in ecology and conservation. Her research focuses on the impact of climate change on alpine plants. She's also interested in the analysis of stable isotopes of carbon from soil and their relation with the climate. Moreover, she is always working at her personal development by attending trainings such the Summer School on Alpine Plant Life from Switzerland (2015) or participating in WWF projects. You can reach Lacramioara on Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/convi.convallaria


Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Whats up! Some words from the new President of SCB Europe Section




Bengt Gunnar (Bege) Jonsson

It is exciting to step in as President of the Europe Section. Being one in the line of prominent and successful past Presidents also comes with a bit of pressure and I can only promise to try to do my best. However, managing and developing the Europe Section is fortunately not a single person effort or responsibility and I feel confident that the newly elected Board is highly capable to serve the interest of the Sections members. At the very start of my term I would like to highlight a set of items that I consider as especially important.

-              ECCB2018. As a single issue, this is clearly our main task for the coming 1.5 year. ECCB is our major brand and potentially more known among European conservation scientists than SCB itself. Our conference has to be a scientific, social and economic success. I am optimistic since our host in Jyväskylä, Finland are reliable and devoted.

-              Outreach to and communication with our members. During the last years we have made significant progress in establishing an active social media presence which I am sure has taken our visibility to a new level. We need to keep this good work up. The engagement in student conferences and courses as well as the Awards we have given, represent other important parts of the interaction with our members. Supporting the next generation of conservation scientist is a strategic target for the section. Perhaps more difficult, but not less important is to promote the establishment of Chapters. This can only happen by identification of individuals that have a strong motivation for this. We need to keep our eyes and ears open to make sure that we see these potential enthusiasts and give them our support.

-              We should try to reach out to East Europe. This is something that Barbara Mihok stressed repeatedly and I do fully agree! There is a special challenge that relates to language and resources that limits the potential for East European researchers to fully engage within European conservation. Compared to Western Europe (wherever the exact border is can be discussed), our East European colleagues, although highly skilled, works with much limited funding and the use of English as a working language is not as wide spread. This represent concrete obstacles and although I do not have any solution or identified activity at this stage, I do feel that we should make a stronger effort to transform SCB-ES a truly Pan-European organization.

-              SCB-ES should make its voice heard on European conservation policy. Being a scientific organization gives us a special position and if managed well an opportunity to influence. However, there is a main challenge in selecting the right topics for engagement. By no mean do I criticize the work done by our Policy Committee so far, but clearly a major task for the PC is to scan relevant topics and being pro-active rather than re-active.

-              There is an ongoing process within SCB that relates to the degree of independence of the Sections. This may be a small issue if we decide to retain the current status, but may be a major issue if we decide to seek a higher level of independence

-              I list the budget last, not because it is less important than other issue, but because it represent our ability to achieve goals rather than a goal in itself. For 2017 the budget is slim since the resources provided by SCB global has been strongly cut. It suggest that we need to ensure profit from ECCB and also preferably to identify some European sponsor for our work. It seems like we cannot rely on the global to feed us in the future, regardless of our status as a Section.

Any one of you members are more than welcome to contact me, or someone else on the Board of Directors, for comments and reflections on how you would like to see the Section develop during the coming years.