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