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

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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.

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)

Into the wild: trip to Saxon Switzerland National Park

The National Park Saxon Switzerland is located virtually right at our doorstep, so the EM38 course headed out on a sunny Friday to pay a visit to this scenic landscape with its bizarre sandstone rock formations.

The tour started at the National Park Centre which was – after being hit by the Elbe river floods in June 2013 – newly renovated and reopened just three weeks before our visit. An exhibition with seven thematic stages illustrated the special characteristics of the local nature and gave a good example of methods in environmental education.

We finished the day with a walk at the Schloßberg to the Schomburg ruin.

(Photos: A. Lindner)