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
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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)

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)

Humans, Economy and Biodiversity Conservation – Sustainability in the Centre

Tales from the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve “Upper Lusatian Heath- and Pond Landscape” – EM-41 excursion, June 6, 2018

As challenging and complex as it might seem, the heath- and pond Landscape of Upper Lusatia has managed to embrace both, biodiversity conservation and human well-being, yet no doubt anyone can be convinced the project is sustainable, the secret being including people in the scheme: “by the people for the people”.

It started about 800 years ago when the Slavic people first arrived in the area which was almost 20% swampy landscape. Due to scarcity of land for cultivation, the monks tried to drain the area to suit cultivation. As a result there was influx of German people in the area. Due to the agricultural activities over the last 8 centuries most of the indigenous plant species were lost. To date only 1% of the plants are endemic in the natural habitat.

The success story begins with zonation to cater for the conservation, residency and economic activity in harmonious manner.  ‘Designation as a UNESCO biosphere reserve means much more than protection of the natural landscape, because it also envisions sustainable development of the region. Economic development should be promoted whilst the cultural value of the landscape should be preserved.’ Walter Hirche, President of the German Commission for UNESCO

(i) Nature/Biodiversity Conservation

Although the heath- and pond landscape of Upper Lusatia has a long history; it was until 1992 when it was formally set aside as a conservation area with 30.102 hectares.  In 1996 the area was recognized and approved as UNESCO biosphere reserve. The aim is the protection of natural ecosystems and their long-term productivity and functional capacity.

Today the area is a home to 1.100 plant and 3.600 animal species. This reserve is important for conservation in Germany; for example it is the only place where Bog Violet (Viola uliginosa) is found, furthermore it hosts more than 50% of Moss Grass (Coleanthus subtilis). Regarding fauna, the site hosts 20% of Saxony’s (about 5% of Germany’s) wolf population (Canis lupus)  and an estimate of 5-10% of European otter (Lutra lutra) just to mention a few. In addition to this, the presence of 350 ponds in the biosphere reserve covering 125 hectares host 1000 breeding pairs of over 90 bird species making the site incredibly important and uniquely beautiful attracting lots of local and international tourists.

(ii) Economic Sustainability

Support should be targeted towards sustainable development options in the various sectors of the economy, e.g. organic farming, ecologically adapted forest management, and environmentally and socially compatible tourism. Fish farming, crop cultivation, cattle keeping and tree plantations are some of the viable economic activities in the Biosphere reserve.

Carp is one of the fish species farmed in 12 of 305 ponds at “Gutter Teiche” fishery ponds. Carp farming goes hand in hand with reeds management giving best scenic views to tourists who visit the area while bringing income to farmers and healthy meal to consumers. The whole view of ponds with associated species, e.g. reeds, ducks and other water birds are breathtaking!

 

(iii) Heritage Crop and Variety Project

With increasing healthy eating and lifestyle, the village Kreba-Neudorf has been keen and ventured to engage in crop cultivation. The project only grows old and seriously threatened grains of rye, wheat, oats and spelt. The cultivation follows the organic farming standards with no external agricultural inputs, the yield are said to be a rich source of vitamins, minerals and taste better. Rye bread is particularly good for people allergic to gluten.  Furthermore products diversification and value addition chain has been in place by installing grinding mills, bakeries and specialty local brew brand.

(iv) Research and Sustainable Development

For sure this projects would not be successful without investing and collaboration between researchers with an interdisciplinary outlook aiming at hands-on sustainable development through constructive participation.

Acknowledgement

IPicture7t is said seeing is believing. We would like to thank CIPSEM team, especially Tamara Karp, Susanne Barisch and Dirk Weis from the Biosphere Reserve, and the Ladusch family for facilitating this field training to EM41 participants on 6 June 2018 which convinced us that it is possible to embrace conservation also at the same time it is possible to practice other economic activities in a compatible manner while restoring the degraded area. At the end of the day environment is conserved, better income, healthy and happy living.

 

by Francisca J. Malembeka (Tanzania) & Dr. Liu Zhao (China)

Excursion to the National Park of Saxon Switzerland (Bad Schandau) and the Museum of Natural History of Görlitz

by Ms. Alexandra Pedro (Brazil) and Mr. Emmanuel Suka (Cameroon)

On arrival at Bad Schandau, participants of the 41st International Post Graduate Course on Environmental Management were warmly received by the authority of the National Park Center run by the Saxonian Foundation for Nature and the Environment. The Center’s history, organization and up to date work was presented, highlighting interalia, concept of the foundation, information and exhibition in the center, nature conservation fund, visitors and education center, establishment of the academy in 1994, the volunteer, environmental education and academy programmes, and outreach to the local community, networking and partnership with over 240 members including neighboring nations like Poland and Czech Republic. Thereafter, participants were given a guided tour of the center, projection of a documentary and video of the National Park, and then a visit of the center’s garden where participants had their lunch.

After lunch, participants were guided into the National Park by Mr. Zenker. The forest walk in the park was very engaging and interesting thanks to the enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide. Mr. Zenker gave a vivid account of the park’s history, local culture and management of the park. He equally showed interesting sites in the park like the core-zone and its importance, an artificial cave, a historic European brown bear trap, sharp stone gorge with more than 30 species of ferns, identification of further forest and plant species in the park, conduction of a practical activity of building a human sand stone, hiking to the top of the Elbe sand stone mountain, teaching of traditional German conservation songs and dancing by the participants. Finally, to beat farewell to the participants he sang a German folklore song using a musical instrument “mouth organ”.

After breathing the forest air, hiking in the National Park of Saxon Switzerland, in the following day CIPSEM fellows visited the Senckenberg Museum of Natural History of Görlitz.

The meeting started with an introduction of the museum and the Senckenberg Society, by Prof. Dr. Willi Xylander. The museum has three research departments: Soil zoology, Zoology and Botany, where around 60 scientists work. We had the opportunity to talk to part of this team of experts about the museum collection and their current research.

In the Zoology department, the first meeting was in the Mammalogy sector. The mammal collection have been built up since 1980 and nowadays it is incremented by the research demands (e.g the Mongolia project) In the Geology sector we could see the ancient and the modern collection, containing from volcanic rocks to precious fossil plants. The Insects sector preserves a collection of around 18,500 species, from which we could observe some beautiful butterflies from all over the world and the diverse ants and beetles. We also learned about their current research on ant populations and taxonomy. Finally in the botany department, we appreciated a collection of species (some dated from 19th century) carefully maintained and their research about the land use effects on vegetation.

After lunch, we visited the library and afterwards the museum exhibition, through the enthusiastic guidance of Prof. Xylander. Starting with the geology exhibition of Upper Lusatia, with different colorful types of soil on the ground according to the cities in the region, we learned not only about the local geology, but also its biodiversity and history. Animals and plants from the tropical forests and the African savannas could be appreciated in another exhibition. We also could interact with a full size bear and painted walls for funny photos. To complete the visit, in the vivarium some fellows could direct interact with animals, feeding the fishes and having some species in hands.

The participants wish to thank all facilitators for their support and warm reception.

Excursion to the Botanical Garden of TU Dresden

As a part of the programme of the 71st UNEP/UNESCO/BMUB International Short Course on Ecosystem Management – Biodiversity Conservation and Ecosystem Services, our diverse group from 21 countries (mainly from the tropics and subtropical areas) had the experience to visit an important place for tourists, scientists and environmentalists alike: The Botanical Garden of TU Dresden. With an extension of three hectares, the garden is home of around 10,000 species of native and exotic plants, that had been well preserved and managed by specialized gardeners, volunteers and dedicated scientists since 1822. Today the scientific head of the Botanical Garden is Dr. Barbara Ditsch, a woman with great knowledge and passion regarding plant conservation and management and to whom we are deeply grateful for sharing her knowledge and warm hospitality.

During this pleasant excursion, we could find a variety of native and endangered plants included in the red list of Saxony as Arnica montana; medicinal and toxic herbs as Colchium autumnale, tropical and subtropical aquatic, carnivorous or ornamental plants as Victoria cruziana, Nepenthes sp. and orchids respectively, as well as perennial plants and deciduous trees from Europe, temperate Asia, North America and the Mediterranean region. Also our excursion was warmed up with the visit into three wonderful and well managed greenhouses showing the tropical and subtropical regions, and even the humid weather of the Amazon or the warm and dry weather of Madagascar desert.

New concepts of conservation and plant management have been provided to our pool of knowledge, where we could learn that The Botanical Garden of TU Dresden is working with the aim to integrate several innovative proposals towards an important topic in this decade: “Ecosystem services”. In which it is relevant for the ex-situ plant conservation and for the local animal diversity (e.g. providing habitat for 120 bees that have been recorded here and in its surroundings), but also providing a harmonic space for tourism, education and research (estimated 100,000 guests/year), highlighting the multiple roles of botanical gardens within urban areas. This experience had contributed both in our cultural enrichment and also in our professional knowledge, in which the majority of us will be very glad to bring this innovative and multidisciplinary idea of conservation for our countries.

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by Vanessa Wätzold Ospina (Colombia)