Soil matters!

The 78th UNEP/UNESCO/BMU International Short Course on Soil and Land Resources for Sustainable Development just commenced at CIPSEM.

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Soils and land form the basis for agricultural development, essential ecosystem functions, food security and hence are vital to terrestrial life on Earth. Soil is, in the time scale of a human lifespan, a non-renewable natural resource. This short course addresses the main concepts of land resources and soil management and their importance for securing the provision of goods and services for people and ecosystems. The training addresses concepts for sustainable land management, taking the water, energy and food security nexus into consideration.

Experience, Participation & Action: UN Youth Summit 2019

The recently concluded UN Climate Action Summit 2019 and UN Youth Climate Summit in New York were proof that youth are increasingly becoming a catalyst to progressing climate change action. The Youth Summit which was the first ever of its kind provided an opportunity for young leaders who are spearheading climate action in their respective countries to showcase creative solutions contributing towards climate action at the United Nations. I was privileged to participate at the UN Youth Summit as part of the UNESCO Man and Biosphere (MAB) Youth Delegation, representing the youth, my initiative TLC4Environment, my country Kenya, the MAB programme and other institutions that have propelled me towards this commitment such as the Centre for International Postgraduate Studies of Environmental Management (CIPSEM) and the Youth Encounter on Sustainability (YES).

Alongside the MAB delegates, youth from various parts of the globe thronged the streets of New York and other towns in several countries on 20th September 2019 for the #GlobalClimateStrike in support of the urgent climate action call to world leaders. In New York the strike was led by Greta Thunberg; who also went ahead to address the youth and the Secretary-General of the United Nations during the opening of the Youth Summit the following day, including giving a worldwide impactful but emotional speech condemning world leaders for failing to address climate change and for stealing the youth’s dreams and childhood.

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Attending the Summit positioned me on the global stage for a historic moment which allowed me to give my voice and discuss efforts in addressing climate change including an opportunity to actively engage and contribute to further climate action. The Summit also fostered youth ownership of the dire need to #ActNow in order to secure their future as cities all over the world realize they are facing increased impacts from climate-related disasters. Notably, as a MAB delegate, it is important to highlight the importance of nature-based solutions in addressing the climate crises. Nature Based Solutions jointly address not only climate change but also biodiversity loss impacts and therefore their implementation both within and outside of protected areas is crucial as a holistic transformational action. In our participation, we ensured to give our voices rooted in the reality of the role of biosphere reserves in climate change adaptation, mitigation and resilience, such as implementing widespread ecosystem restoration and enhancing resilience of nature’s benefits to people. Also, we actively participated in the session on the role of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) towards combating climate change and the importance of education as an effective tool in addressing climate change. Overall, I enjoyed the Summit and found it of value especially in current and future plans in addressing climate change.

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Ms. Louisa Chinyavu Mwenda, Kenya, SC68 CIPSEM Alumna

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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Singing Strain for the Saxon Switzerland

Wir tanzen labada labada labada (2x) – Durch den ganzen Wald. Hey!

This is a flintstone song according to Mr. Armin Zenker, the jolly forest ranger who served as guide to the CIPSEM EM-42 participants during the hiking tour at the Saxon-Bohemian Switzerland National Park, on 7 May 2019. The participants may forget the name of Armin but not the action song that had everyone clinched to each other’s arms as they dance and sing in circle.

The journey started with the participants taking off from CIPSEM at 8:00 in the morning via a chartered bus with the outside weather recorded at 4 degrees. After an hour, the group reached the National Park Information Center in Bad Schandau and made a stopover for a short briefing and lecture about the preservation and conservation activities being undertaken in the national park by the Saxonian Foundation for Nature and Environment. The center was bustling, with kids having fun playing with interactive facilities showcasing the flora and fauna around the park. This is a proof that the foundation, an independent agency tasked for the park‘s nature conservation and environmental protection, is serious in its environmental education by targeting the school children and youths as heirs of the future. (We will avoid spoilers as much as possible in this blog for the future Environmental Management Course participants to experience on their own, but one must not miss the lynx at the exhibit.)

Owing to its international geographical boundaries, the foundation itself has an interesting structure. With the park lying in both sides of the border between Saxony, Germany and the Czech Republic, the conservation and protection strategies are also shared by both the governments through the foundation. Saxon Switzerland is also known as Bohemian Switzerland or Saxon-Bohemian Switzerland. That is why both countries are represented in the operation of the Saxonian Foundation for Nature and Environment.

Fast forward to the hike, the group entered the park through the crossing point at Sebnitz. At the beginning of the journey, everything was fine walking along the familiar rough road that seemed leading up to the gorges. Until Armin gestured the group to segway in a rustic pathway that criss-crosses the naturally-fallen pine and beech trees caused by strong winds in the past weeks. That was where the struggles began. But the adventure just hyped up because of the not-so-difficult obstacles. In the middle of the journey, the group stopped for lunch. Armin offered a delicious loaf of bread and butter. Ingenious as he is, Armin instructed everyone to unveil twenty pieces of young beech leaves that the participants gathered early on in the journey because it will be used to make a healthy sandwich. Alas! The young beech leaves are edible! Not only that, the young tip of the pine tree leaves are edible, and delicious too.

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After lunch and after making sure that everyone recovered from a slight exhaustion, the group then moved up. Armin showed to the group the popular yet unusual hike destinations such as the „Cathedral“. (This is one of the perks with CIPSEM organizing the hike with a special guide.) And then the never ending poses and picture taking. Up in the gorges, one will not miss being reminded of the familiar scenery from the Lion King movie showing the Pride Rock. The feeling was also the same: pride of conquering the journey and the amazing view.

At the end of the hike, everyone was so thankful for the opportunity of sharing the moment together that they gave their last ounce of energy for another action song in spite the tiresome walk. And so everyone sang and danced again to the tune of:

Für die Erde singen wir, Steine, Pflanzen, Mensch und Tier (2x) – Tiki taka tikata tikata tikata!

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by Mr. Jun Piong (Philippines) and Mr. Marcio Alvarenga (Brazil), EM-42

Looking back and moving ahead

Happy_New_YearWe celebrate a successful anniversary year 2017 for CIPSEM and moving forward into 2018, continuing our course programme in sustainable environmental management for developing countries; starting on January 10th with the 41st UNEP/UNESCO/BMUB International Postgraduate Course on Environmental Management for Developing Countries with another 21 participants from 21 countries.

CIPSEM was also contributing to an article recently published in Scientific Reports (Nature Publishing Group), highlighting the importance of natural pollination services for sustainable agricultural systems in Burkina Faso, West Africa. Of course the results of this study (and much more) are already included in our course programme.

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Again, a happy and healthy new year 2018 from the CIPSEM team to all our alumni, facilitators, contributors, partners and friends!

On the road and into nature … “in situ” and “in vitro”

The SC71-course hit the road and visited the National Park “Saxon Switzerland” as well as the Museum of Natural History in the city of Görlitz.

In the surroundings of the National Park and its visitor center the group experienced the stunning sandstone rock formations and the associated unique ecosystem on the one hand, but also learned about the environmental education work by the Saxony State Foundation for Nature and the Environment on the other.

Further east and pretty close to the border to Poland in the city of Görlitz, the director of the Museum of Natural History, Prof. Xylander, opened the doors not only to the public exhibition of the museum, but also provided insights “behind the scenes” into the research and conservation work. Course participant Mr. Sonam Tashi (Bhutan) describes his experience as follows: “The experience of the enormous collection of flora and fauna and diverse work carried out by the museum is commendable. It’s incredible actually. From tiny invertebrates to big vertebrates, the collection and all the texidermy work were highlights which shall remain as a ‘wow!’ factor for some of us. To see such work in search for scientific truth is not only a contributing factor in learning life sciences in general, but also works as an approach towards a sustainable earth; which we as citizen of earth needs more than ever. Coming from so called developing country, I am completely marveled and inspired to boost my work for biodiversity, perhaps to emulate the determination of this institution. Although, the tour in the museum  and various departments was brief, however the knowledge and exposure were gigantic.”

(photos by Tamara Karp, Sonam Tashi & André Lindner)

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)