Biodiversity experts released into the “wild”

After becoming a force to reckon with regarding the conservation of biodiversity and the protection of essential ecosystem services for sustainable development, 21 experts finished the “77th UNEP/UNESCO/BMU International Short Course on Ecosystem Management – Biodiversity Conservation and Ecosystem Services” and are returning to their respective workplaces to make a difference!

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Saxon Switzerland: A journey through space and time

The SC77 group was on the move again!

This time to the Sächsische Schweiz (Saxon Switzerland) National Park located in the Elbe Mountains, about an hour away from  Dresden. While it wasn’t our first visit to a nature reserve, Saxon Switzerland was going to be our first National Park, one of Germany’s 16, and the only one in Saxony. We were all naturally very excited. This deal was sweetened with news that there was going to be hiking and breathtaking views involved.

So on Friday the 13th, the group (and their packed lunches) boarded the bus and made our way up the meandering Elbe River. We could see the landscape change as we approached the park – urban jungles and sparse agriculture pastures slowly transitioning into more forested areas punctuated by hills. And as we neared the park gates, we were greeted by several towering sandstone structures; a landscape unfamiliar to the most of us.

At Bad Schandau, the foothill town, we were welcomed by a one-storey mural of the Lynx (Lynx lynx) – no doubt the most charismatic species of the national park. Images of this felid species also adorned the walls of the national park center (that we later visited) and many park promotional brochures. It made me reflect on the many identities of large cats.

Not unlike the Malayan tiger (Panthera tigris jacksoni), an endemic of my home country, the Lynx represents wilderness in the eyes of the public – a flagship species that people could rally around. More importantly though, the Lynx has a role to play in the nature. Occupying the highest echelon of the food chain, they regulate prey population numbers – a keystone species in ensuring activities like grazing is under control.

Upon arrival at the national park centre, we were taken on a journey back in time. The interactive exhibits explained that the mountains we see today was actually the sea floor and that the sandstone was a result of 100 million years of compaction. It is the crumbling of such structures that have made the landscape so iconic. We are indeed lucky to be living in the space and time where its beauty can be fully appreciated. The center also featured various plant and animal species that could be found in the park.

As interesting as the national park center was, it was not what we were there for. Our restless souls were uplifted when we were allowed to enter the park, chaperoned by our very able guide Johanna. With over 400km of trails in the entire park, we were spoiled for choice. In this regard, I felt Johanna did an amazing job choosing a trail that we could all summit but at the same time keeping track of time (an admirable trait of the Germans).

In the short time we had with her, she explained that the porous nature of sandstone provided for diverse ecosystems. Dry, desert like conditions at the peak and wet, humid conditions at the base. And in this ecosystem diversity sprouted ample biodiversity. Though we did not manage to spot any large vertebrates, there were many macro-life living on the sides of the sandstone, which included various beetle, moss, liverwort and fungi species.

The ascent to the peak was undeniably easy on the eyes. However as we reached the midpoint, most of us noticed dying Spruce trees in the vicinity. Johanna stopped to explain to us that these were trees infested by European spruce bark beetles (Ips typographus). In the past, park management would chop down such trees to stop the infestation. However, Saxon Switzerland today has decided to adopt a laissez-faire management approach to core zones within the park. This is because studies have shown that native Beech trees will eventually replace the planted Spruce trees, reverting the park into its past state.

I found this counter-intuitive to existing conservation practices (i.e. encourage a pest within core zones). But it just goes to show that for positive conservation outcomes to be achieved, one must have an open mind for creative solutions and most importantly trust of the science behind them.

We finally reached the peak at about 3.00pm. A good 20 minutes later, rainclouds signaled that it was time for us to return to Dresden. We duly obliged.

As we journeyed through the prehistory of Germany in Nationalpark Sächsische Schweiz, I’m heartened to know that the park is on its own voyage to a more natural state; thanks to the conservation and minimal management models of the park managers. May the force be with them.

by Mr. Yew Aun Quek, Malaysia

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at the summit

Inside CIPSEM – a look behind the scenes …

… of the ongoing 77th UNEP/UNESCO/BMU International Short Course on Ecosystem Management – Biodiversity Conservation and Ecosystem Services

Well, the course already started August 29th and a lot happened inside and outside the classroom. Here are some insights …

by Ms. Moselantja Rahlao, Lesotho:

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Hello I am Moselantja Rahlao and I work for the Department of Range Resources Management, Ministry of Forestry and Soil Conservation, Lesotho. Welcome to the Kingdom in the Sky in Germany. Lesotho is a tiny country enclaved by another in Southern Africa.

It takes courage and passion to write application essays for the 77th UNEP/UNESCO/BMU International short course on Ecosystem management- Biodiversity Conservation and Ecosystem Services. Biophysical assessments are energy demanding. I do that on horseback, yes I am a rider. During data collection, I find myself staying uncomfortably in poky shelters of Lesotho. However, streams of passion to learn and be exposed never run dry. Usually after a completion of a hectic day, one wants only a good bath, food and sleep or entertainment at least. When everyone else prioritized the aforementioned and took a well-deserved break, I chose to sacrifice and compromise to achieve. However, my inquisitive nature coupled with thirst for knowledge sets me apart and makes me competent. I thrived because I dreamed, planned and acted “If you want to live your dreams, deny yourself any type of excuse”. I always apply effort and energy in things that I believe in for my growth. Then I work to proof myself to myself not anyone.

It was a heap of applications received (off course I knew this on arrival at CIPSEM) with very slim chances of being selected. This is a challenge of survival of the fittest measured by how logical one is, relevant content matters and what CIPSEM decides. Once this phase is passed, one can celebrate yippee. It was a moment of excitement and boosted confidence.

Logistically ready and hip-hip hooray! I landed in Dresden. The first day was tiresome after about 20hours flight (including layovers). A brief orientation done blah-blah-blah… and my heart began to palpitate faster. Next day, as the sun rose, I smiled and patted myself as I whispered “well done you are finally here”. Now ready to meet my fellow participants and the CIPSEM team. I take pride in my achievement to represent the Mountain Kingdom in Germany and interact with international fellows on the short course. It is exactly twenty (20) countries represented, namely: Indonesia, Cameroon, Guatemala, Mexico, Vietnam, Georgia, Turkmenistan, Ghana, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Rwanda, Haiti, Argentina, Brazil, Bhutan, El Salvador, Malaysia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Armenia and of course Lesotho. Wow! What a diversity of culture, experience and knowledge.

Now anxiety and enthusiasm knocks daily to learn, network, exchange knowledge through participation throughout the course. We are here, stood out to be counted. Thinking individually but together towards conservation of biological diversity for enhancement of human wellbeing. The program runs from lecture hall with various experts to field excursion to get in depth knowledge. It is impossible to walk in nature and be in a bad mood. My best highlight was the stay on Isle of Vilm. The simulation on CBD-COP negotiation was eye opening to all participants. It went from just a practice to real emotional involvement, very defensive and argumentative. It takes the trophy. It was also a pleasure to celebrate my birthday at Baltic Sea Island. Surely, the course objectives will be accomplished by end of September, 2019. Yes, the course will end but never the memories with a good company. Never! We will go back to our countries and apply the knowledge, skills and experience gained. Lastly, “in a changing environment one either adapts, moves or die”. What an honor to be swimming in this pool of knowledge. A well-organized course and great gratitude to the sponsors. It would not be possible without them. Salute!

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Nature Talks – Experiencing the International “Nature” of Negotiations

by Ms. Fitria Rinawati, Indonesia et.al.:

“You cannot negotiate with people who say what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is negotiable” – John F. Kennedy

One among many highlights of the CIPSEM 77th UNEP/UNESCO/BMU International Short Course on Ecosystem Management – Biodiversity Conservation and Ecosystem Services is how we can experience such negotiations related to biodiversity conservation in international events. This time we had the opportunity to do a negotiation simulation “CBD-COP decision on biofuels”. What a topic! It is so current that most countries are paying attention to it. Including small – fragile – island countries which are not necessarily able to produce it but might be impacted from it.
The simulation was set to get an agreement of the drafted decision text. Participants were grouped as delegations into 6 countries that have the right to vote: Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, European Union, Ethiopia and Tuvalu, and 2 observers consisting in the United States and Greenpeace. One can imagine the dynamic of such a simulation when biofuels talk is involving the main producer countries like Indonesia and Brazil, the opposer of biofuels production – Saudi Arabia (main fossil fuels producer) and free riders such as the United States and Tuvalu – a very-very small island country that might face sinking due to climate change as a result of biofuels production practices.
Negotiation skills, wording the talks, emotional statements, creative compromises, building up pressure…were among the things we practiced and learned. Another main thing we learned was that every country has its interests and the delegations try to defend them – as it is well said in JFK above quote.
Further, we watched the movie “Guardians of the Earth”, a movie on UNFCCC – COP21 (Paris Agreement) which pictured clearly the above described negotiation processes. An interesting point, raised from a Bahrain young woman negotiator in the movie, was that all the international nature talks and negotiations were not about nature but but on economic interests of each country. Above all, we understand the great responsibility of the delegates to defend their country’s interests as well as the chairman – the president – the secretariat to come to such consensus and agreements. Last but not least, the importance of NGOs and other parties that influence these talks is also something that we can’t diminish.
I believe that among us the participants of CIPSEM 77th International Short Course, – there are possible future leaders of our countries. Thus, with the skills we learned, the knowledge we gained and the senses we built up through this course, we would be empowered to negotiate more reasonable in an international event and manage the ecosystem and the earth in a better way.
“Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate” – John F. Kennedy

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The “CBD-COP decisions on biofuels” negotiations – simulation chaired by Dr. Axel Paulsch (photo by Mr. Yew Aun Quek)

Isle of Vilm: An iconic conservation hub to visit

by Mr. Ngawang Dorji, Forestry Officer, Jigme Khesar Strict Nature Reserve, Bhutan

participant of the 77th UNEP/UNESCO/BMU International Short Course on Ecosystem Management – Biodiversity Conservation and Ecosystem Services

I have visited numerous conserved and protected areas in different parts of the world. The best place I have ever visited till date, to say, is the Isle of Vilm where the International Academy for Nature Conservation is housed. It is located about 250 km from Berlin, Germany in the Southern belts of Baltic Sea.

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Encompassing an area of about 94 hectares is truly a conservation jewel in Northern Germany consisting all types of coasts and coastal vegetation that is purely untouched to human interference. Vilm island is positioned in such a majestic location which is accessible by train till the coasts of the Island of Rügen and then with ferries giving an amazing point to enjoy the beauty of nature, especially during the hours of sunset and sunrise.

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It isn’t just the sights that makes the visit enthralling, but also the lush of winds combined with the songs of birds bidding farewell and welcome to the setting and the rising sun, though hidden in the buds of giant Oak and Beech trees.
Vilm Island is not just for nature lovers. The peace and tranquil night with cool winds blowing from the sea around makes it so special to the times spend there. It is the place where the water meets the land and forms a beautiful shore that will interests any artists to draw on the paper and cherish forever. Photographers will never regret visiting this Island and the best landscape photo of nature can be captured in this area. Oh! The meals served are diverse and purely German origin. The staffs working there are so friendly with good manners and personalities. One can easily become friends. So, anyone wishing to try German cuisines and make friends can plan a visit there.
However, our four days of visit only felt like a fraction of seconds and we had to retrace our path back to CIPSEM. But it was certainly an experience that I would never forget. If you are in Germany, you should definitely visit the Vilm Island and make a memory in your life. It’s a unique experience with full of fun, enjoyment and satisfaction.

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The SC77-course with Ms. Kathrin Bockmühl (BfN, front, 2nd from left) and Prof. Dr. Dudel (TUD, front, center)

Human and Nature in Harmony

The term “Biosphere Reserve” (BR) has always fascinated us. Particularly because to an optimist of conservation and sustainable development, it is a realizable model striking a balance between fulfilling the requirements for nature conservation while meeting the needs of human. BR are the model region of sustainable development where the conservation and human development goes hand in hand, benefiting both. This excursion to the Upper Lusatian Biosphere Reserve (BR) epitomizes this idea. The Upper Lusatian heath and pond region between the Upper Lusatian plains in the south and the Upper Lusatian mining region in the north is a part of the Saxon lowland region with an altitude 80–180 m above sea level. The region has evolved over many centuries as a result of human use, with the first documented evidence of the building of fish ponds dating as far back as 1248.The region, with an area of about 30,102 ha was recognized as a BR in 1996. Every BR represents a mosaic of landscapes – in this case, it was primarily forests (50%), agriculture (40%) and ponds (8%)

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The forests of the Upper Lusatian heath used to be mainly mixed forests of oak, pine, birch and hornbeam. In the Biosphere Reserve, we also still find them as pine and oak forests, which were once characteristic of the Upper Lusatian Heath, as berry bush and pine forests. The major pine forests are gradually being transformed into mixed forests suitable for the area. Management is now aiming at the development of wild forests. Along with the forests, the meadows and the ponds form important components of the mosaic. Meadows containing streams and rivers, fast-flowing and slow running water, fordable places and deep scour pools and steep and flat banks form ideal living conditions for many animals and plants in the BR. The flat ponds with their wild banks, silted areas and strips of reeds with their gradual transition to meadows and forests, provide a home for plants and animals which have long disappeared in other areas.

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The governance and administration of the BR is guided by three objectives- a) use of natural resources in alignment with environmental protection, (b) target oriented research and development and (c) environmental education for tourists, visitors and the youth. Environmental education is at the heart of the BR philosophy and management. More than 700 events are organized each year for the public. Concepts of ecological, economic, social and cultural integration into planning sustainable development is the foundation of the message delivered. Each of these programs are customized to cater to different target groups.  We could see some kids attend a workshop near the pond landscape and being thrilled to be in this landscape. Seeing them rejoice being in the lap of nature is always a good reminder of how much man has to transform its practices to leave behind healthy ecosystems to secure their futures.

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It was also interesting to note how the BR administration works closely with local farmers in promoting sustainable agriculture as well as promoting education on agriculture and farming. The local farmers in the region grow local varieties of crops which is supported by BR office (provision of seeds) and farmers in turn extend support on conserving birds and their habitat. Significant weightage is given to the re-introduction of crops that are local and representative to this area, for instance winter Rye, which is used both for the feed and food, has also the benefit of requiring less fertilizer and crop protection measures.

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Around 80% of the local farmers are participating in the Saxony government are being supported with projects to eliminate non-environmental friendly agricultural practices. Farmers are incentivized with financial compensation to discourage the use of chemicals and pesticides. Similarly, partnerships of local tourism providers and farmhouse owners with the BR authorities was working successfully to reap benefits for the reserve. Witnessing these practices form important impressions that our group members hope to translate into action back home (with support of partners and authorities).

One of the most unforgettable moments of the excursion was undeniably the stop at the Eco-farm for lunch. The farm produced vegetables, meat, oils and seeds along with a range of other products were up for sale. Being in that farm and eating that locally grown food cooked with tones of love and compassion for nature, we felt a deeper sense of gratitude for just how much the earth has borne to cater to needs of humankind. It surely is time to give back.

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by Urvana Menon (India) and Kamal Thapa (Nepal)

The Natural Paradise of Vilm

If Helen of Troy is the beauty that lands a thousand ships, the Island of Vilm is the charming  paradise that captivates the generations of Europeans.

This 94 hectares island in the Baltic Sea was estimated to be inhabited by humans in the early Stone Age. Then the Slavic people built a temple there for spiritual purposes and in the Middle Ages it became a place of pilgrimage for Christians. In 1959 and until the dissolution of the GDR, the Council of Ministers of the German Democratic Republic made the island exclusive, with its eleven (11) guesthouses, administrative and farm buildings used as private retreat for high functionaries, including the GDR heads of state Walter Ulbricht and Erich Honecker. Today, the island is known as former summer residence for aristocrats.

The beauty of this island has also charmed the CIPSEM EM-42 participants during their excursion to the Vilm Island on 13th-18th May 2019. But rather than feeling the hype of the past aristocrats and experience the paradise as vacationers, the participants were also there to attend the module on international nature conservation. The trip from Dresden to Vilm took 8 hours but the participants were not tired because of the island’s healing landscape and warm welcoming  breeze of the wind. Around 6:20Pm, the participants were briefed with a short introduction of the Insel Vilm by Dr. André Lindner (CIPSEM) and Ms. Kathrin Bockmuhl (International Academy for Nature Conservation) followed by a joint dinner which captured the attention of participants. They appreciated how environmental friendly the International Academy for Nature Conservation is. The food was vegetarian from day one and a special fish which can be found only in that region and solar energy is used as a source of energy in Vilm Island. Most of the participants were amazed by watching the sunrise and sunsets in this part of the Biosphere Reserve South-East Rügen.

Vilm Island was a nature reserve since 1936 and it is a core area of the Biosphere Reserve since 1990. During its guided tour around the allowed perimeters of the island, Ms. Kathrin explained that the area is a special reserve, because since 1812 the protection against forest logging in this Island started and since then there was no logging in the area which means this island has  special old beech trees which barely can be found elsewhere.

The week-long excursion was also full of energy-boosting indoor activities, with a constant and fruitful exchange of knowledge and experiences from the German specialists, CIPSEM EM-42 fellows, and four (4) German colleagues from the Master on Biotechnology and Applied Ecology. As one of the focus of the International Academy for Nature Conservation, we had an introduction to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), how the CBD Conference of Parties works and which are the subsidiary bodies. This led us to a simulation game about negotiations on the CBD, when we could know firsthand how difficult, exhausting, and rewarding (all feelings at the same time) negotiations can be. As a complement, during the first night the participants watched and exchanged thoughts on  the movie “Guardians of the Earth”, about negotiations that led to the Paris Agreement in 2015. During this first day, a special reference was done to the IPBES’ 2019 Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, whose findings (e.g. one million species are facing extinction) compelled the participants to take urgent actions.

The second and fourth day brought the participants to very important topics. First was the exploration on how benefits from the use of biological diversity could be shared. In this regard, Dr. Ute Feit and Ms. Gisela Stolpe described The Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit-sharing as a mechanism of the CBD to promote fairer distribution of benefits, taking into account local knowledge. For this, the conflict on Teff (Eragrostis tef) between Ethiopia (where this grain has been adapted and produced for centuries) and a Dutch company that tried to patent teff processing allowed us to discuss fairness, local knowledge, market development, among other key issues for our countries. Later, we became owners of fishery companies to explore our own behavior on the use of natural resources, fish in this case. After ups and downs, we realized how individual and mercantilistic decisions can lead us to ecological catastrophes, which was the situation for cases such as the anchovy in Peru during the decade of 1970. We also had lectures on the IUCN Red List, marine nature conservation and the approach of Integrated Conservation and Development Projects.

On May 16th (fourth day) the participants had the privilege to visit the Conference Centre of Naturerbe Zentrum Rügen, walk through a canopy walkway and explore the National Park Jasmund. A great surprise was seeing how the infrastructure in the canopy walkway was inclusive and provided enough accessibility for people in wheelchairs. The participants also enjoyed how interactive several elements in the canopy walkway and information centre are, making the experience more fun and complementing explanations for the specialists who kindly explained the history, current state and governance system around these areas, which led to discussions and comparisons with the reality in our countries.

Days in Vilm Island were so fast for the CIPSEM EM-42 participants. The proof was their feedbacks of the module, stating that they enjoyed their stay in this Nature Reserve where they used to have parties and karaoke after classes which made the stay more fun and exciting. A special thanks to Ms. Kathrin and the whole team of Vilm for making the stay so good and in a special way. They cared for the Muslim participants who were observing Ramadan by making sure that they got what to eat in their favorable time. That was so much appreciated and the kindness of Kathrin was so touching from day one till the last minute to the boat, saying goodbye to her brought tears of joy to the group. On their way back, the group had lots of reflections and lots of photos from the nature paradise.

by Ms. Liliane Umukunzi (Rwanda) and Mr. Juan del Castillo (Peru), with contributions of Mr. Jun Piong (Philippines), EM-42

photos by Ms. Haili Zhou (China), Ms. Sreymoch Bun (Cambodia), Ms. Hasmik Barseghyan (Armenia), Ms. Thanh Tam (Vietnam), Mr. Juan del Castillo (Peru), and the International Academy for Nature Conservation (INA)

From Dresden to Wisconsin – an alumni story

I joined the 71st International Short Course on Ecosystem Management – Biodiversity Conservation and Ecosystem Services (SC71) as a coordinator of conservation projects at a local NGO in Azerbaijan – IDEA (International Dialogue for Environmental Action). I managed projects on the Caucasian leopard (Panthera pardus ciscaucasica), European bison (Bison bonasus), as well as anadromous fish species.
The course helped me broaden my network, I got to know a number of young conservationists from around the world, each very influential in their countries or regions. It helped me share my skills and more importantly, learn from their experiences in their countries, as well as field realities. Additionally, I was happy to find out about alternative and new conservation strategies that others have implemented, which helped them to eliminate or reduce problems in their countries/regions. Learning from experienced speakers with different backgrounds helped me understand what a human being is capable of doing, which affected my view of the world around me and I returned home with even higher ambitions. My participation in the course helped me develop professionally towards my goal of becoming a leader in the field of conservation in my home country.

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The SC71 course in the Botanical Garden of TU Dresden.

In August 2018, I was proud to join the SILVIS Lab as a Doctoral Research Assistant at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the US. I am currently working on a project funded by NASA – studying land cover and land use changes that have happened in the Caucasus region over the last half century. I am using remote sensing to evaluate how land use change has affected habitats and distribution of wild mammal species in Azerbaijan. You can now contact me through: rizayeva@wisc.edu

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by Ms. Afag Rizayeva (SC71 alumna)