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)

A little bit about the Research Centers in Germany…

Energy from biomass?

Yes, it is possible!

On the morning Monday of May 20th, EM42 fellows headed to the central station of Dresden, bound for the beautiful city of Leipzig. After a short trip and a small break, at 1 pm they arrived at the “German Centre for Biomass Research (DBFZ)”.

During the visit to DBFZ, they learned about the different processes to produce energy from biomass; and after a short explanation about the organization with international colleagues from China, Spain, Canada, Brazil, and Italy and the vision of sustainable resource basis, smart bioenergy – innovations for a sustainable future, they proceeded to visit its installations and laboratories that are divided into five departments: biogas, refinery, hydrothermal carbonization, heating technologies, and wood combustion.

Additionally, they had the opportunity to meet some of the researchers of the institution, as they explained to them; DBFZ with approximately 250 employees researches how to generate energy from biomass resources. In this regard, DBFZ works in joint collaboration with public and private institutions around the world.

Something that 30 years ago seemed impossible, now is a reality thanks to institutions like DBFZ that bet on studies based on the applied researches that develop practical solutions to current problems related to the integrated bioenergy provision.

The second day in Leipzig at 09:30am, EM42 fellows arrived at the “Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ)”, they were welcomed by Mr. Andreas Staak who introduced the visitors the UFZ installations, along the day some researchers explained in more detail the projects that UFZ is developing; as is the case of the “Center for Advanced Water Research (CAWR)” presented by Prof. Olaf Kolditz and Mr. Lars Bilke from the Visualization Laboratory; whom explained some projects developed for Asia (China and Jordan) related to water sustainability, at that time, the 3D animation developed by UFZ for the spatial planning was one of the most incredible experience that the fellows tried that day.

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After the lunch at UFZ canteen, Prof. Martin Volk presented the topic “Assessing and governing synergies between food production, biodiversity, and ecosystem services”; Additionally the Department of Urban and Environmental Sociology and the Department of Ecological Modelling presented some of the projects that UFZ is developing related to food-waste-energy sustainable environment; and impacts of the new policy instruments, technologies and change processes on pastoral land use as a social-ecological modeling approach.

Finally, the fellows had the opportunity to enjoy the game “NomaSed” developed by the Department of Ecological Modelling in order to create awareness to the stakeholders about the land use in agriculture activities. Of course, there were winners in this game!

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Time was relative short those days, however, the fellows tried to spend time together with a big Vietnamese dinner in the beautiful city of Leipzig during their free time.

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See you soon beautiful Leipzig!

by Ms. Magaly Beltran (Bolivia) and Ms. Tam Thanh (Vietnam)

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)

CIPSEM at the International Transport Forum

Having an exciting week in the beautiful Island of Vilm –BFN, CIPSEM (EM42) group was back to Dresden on 19th of May 2019. A bit tired after long travel and the expectation of the upcoming excursion to Leipzig was not too big at this point.However, then comes Sunday, a very good day to rest and get ready for travel to Leipzig arguably our second home in Germany. It was not so long when CIPSEM group arrived in Leipzig on Monday morning 20th of May 2019. The afternoon was a very intensive excursion to the German Biomass Research Center. Tuesday, the group convened for intensive classes at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research.

On the following three days from Wednesday 22nd to Friday 24th, the CIPSEM (EM42) group joined the International Transport Forum 2019 in Leipzig, Germany. The Annual Summit of the International Transport Forum is the premier global transport policy event started in 2008. More than 1000 participants from more than 70 countries including ministers from around the globe, heads of international organizations, civil society leaders, academia, business associations and the media come together to share policy perspectives and to discuss the future of transport. The summit addresses strategies, policies and challenges of all transport mods where participants can engage in intense discussion through variety of session formats. The 2019 ITF summit offered a rich of important programme from 22 to 24 of May. The policy discussions with ministers, networking opportunities, demonstrations, technical tours and an exciting exhibition were major parts of the program. Side events by ITF partners, evening receptions, cultural tours, cycling event and Gala dinner complemented the summit.

Each year, the international transport forum honors exceptional initiatives in the transport sector with its annual transport awards. The emphasis for the 2019 summit was transport connectivity for regional integration which explores how transport links work and how to improve connectivity. There were two awards-the transport achievement award and the young researcher of the year award.

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Dr. Rafael Pereira wins the 2019 Young Researcher Award

Transport connectivity is a major contributor to economic development, social inclusion and increasing potential for growth by connecting people to opportunities and business markets. Improved connectivity also leads to better access to employment, education, health and public services. The 2030 agenda for sustainable development by United Nations (2015) “transforming our world” defines the goals to achieve sustainable development in three dimensions; economic, social and environmental-a better transport connectivity holds key for achieving these goals by acting as a catalyst for integration between communities, cities, regions and countries contributing to peace and stability. Connectivity is also vital for reducing trade costs and boosting economic growth. So far, the progress towards sustainable development is impressive however, there remain significant discrepancies in levels of progress between and within regions. Improved transport connectivity can help to reduce the gap and necessary actions need to be implemented to improve transport connectivity in all dimensions; physical, digital, modal, operational, individual, institutional. Therefore the ministers responsible for transport in the member countries of ITF assembled in Leipzig under presidency of Korea to pursue mutual understanding and frame response to challenges. Finally the minsters agreed on the following key issues:

  • Improving connectivity of transport infrastructure and operations
  • Enhancing development of sustainable transport
  • Improving governance to enhance connectivity

The 2020 ITF summit will be hosted by Ireland from 27 to 29 May in Leipzig with the theme of transport innovation for sustainable development. A final word from the CIPSEM participants: “Thank you Leipzig, and thank you Korea.”

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by Nyein Nyein (Myanmar) and Fiseha Bekele Teshome (Ethiopia)

Self-sufficiency in Energy – the village of Feldheim

If a zombie apocalypse would happen and all the institutions eventually fail, there is only one place that I would go for a sanctuary. That is the village of Feldheim. Why? For obvious reason. The town is energy self-sufficient, running their own grid, and even supply energy to the national grid. Plus, they have a huge field to grow crops and a farm to raise livestock. Good enough to survive, right?

Now, back to reality.

The CIPSEM EM-42 participants recently had an excursion to the village of Feldheim, City of Treuenbrietzen, in the Brandenburg region. The village of 130 residents is about 60 kilometers southwest of Berlin. The villagers are proud to claim that they are the first energy-independent and the only energy self-sufficient community in Germany and a pioneer in the field of bio energy. This pride was reverberated by Feldheim’s official tour officer, Kathleen Thompson, who enthusiastically presented the facts and figures about the renewable energy undertaking of Feldheim in her powerpoint presentations at the Neue Energien Forum building.

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This pride and success was made possible by the visionary entrepreneur and now Managing Director of his own multi-million company Energiequelle GmbH, Dipl. -Ing. Michael Raschemann. When he was still an engineering student in 1993, Engr. Raschemann approached the Mayoress of Feldheim to erect some wind turbines. It gained the approval and support of the city council and in 1995, 4 initial wind turbines began to produce electricity. Today, 55 wind turbines with a total installed capacity of 122.6 MW are sustaining more than enough the electricity need of Feldheim. It is for this reason that the local energy cooperative Feldheim Energie GmbH & Co. KG runned by the Feldheim village representatives, the municipality of Treuenbrietzen, local industry, and Energiequelle GmbH, supply its excess energy to the national grid, thereby helping Germany achieve energy sufficiency, too.

 

But self-sufficiency is clearly not enough for Feldheim as they have also built additional renewable energy sources from solar, biogas, and biomass in their portfolio. A total of 9,844 solar panels mounted on 284 trackers at the Solar Farm Selterhof produce a total power capacity of 2.25 MWp. A biogas plant with an installed electric power capacity of 526 kW and a biomass heating plant with installed capacities of 300 to 20,000 kW, on the other hand, are also installed within the village compound alongside the fancy painted battery storage building. This battery storage uses the lithium-ion battery with a capacity of 10 MW at an efficiency rate of >85% in storing the energy generated from the wind farm.

The success of Feldheim in achieving energy self-sufficiency is far from being perfect in the beginning, of course. Financial constraints proved to be an obstacle. But with the combined enabling policies of the Federal State of Brandenburg, the Federal Government of Germany, and the European Union, they have surpassed the trials and achieved what they have envisioned for their community… “a Feldheim that took a step into the future with courage, optimism, and readiness to engage in dialogue. A future not only for Feldheim, but for all. A future without nuclear power, coal, and oil. A future which is not at the cost of later generations”.

If you are curious about how much CO² reduction was made from all these renewable energies, Feldheim estimated a yearly reduction of around 208,000 tons of CO².

by Mr. Jun Piong (Philippines)