We want you to know what is going on in the BOD, our meetings, our actions, members leaving, the new ones elected,... but text written in this blog cannot be taken an official position or statement of the Society for Conservation Biology. Probably it is not even an official statement of the section... as these need to be approved by the members.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Report from the REFIT conference, Brussels 20.11.2015 by Martin Dieterich

As a part of its Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme (REFIT), the EU commission is currently The European Commission is currently undertaking an evaluation ("Fitness check") of the Birds and habitats Directives. A report on the state and outcome of the fitness check was presented and the opportunity for final inputs was provided during a conference for invited participants in Brussels on November 20th (see link here). The conference was attended by 500 participants representing a broad array of stakeholder groups.
There was basically a unanimous view that the EU Nature Directives should be left untouched. This was expressed by the report itself, the representatives from the EU Commission, European parliament (Environment committee - unanimous statement across party lines), EU Committee of the Regions (the majors!), land users, land owners, the Luxemburg government currently presiding the EU and the Dutch(!) and Slovak governments to follow in the EU presidency. There was no single request during presentations and discussions towards opening the directives!

The main reasons put forward in favor of keeping the directives include:
1. While the Directives’ and the 2010 biodiversity target has not been achieved and the 2020 target will (most likely) not be achieved, there is broad agreement that things would look considerably worse without the directives.

2. Basically all speakers considered lack of implementation as one basic cause for deficiencies in terms of biodiversity targets reached.

3. Lack of cohesion with other policy fields (mainly the CAP) was considered another basic obstacle for the directives to be more successful.

4. About half of the contributions thought that there was a need to change the Annexes without opening the directives - the possibility to open the Annexes while leaving the directives appears to be a quite interesting legal question.

5. There was broad agreement that opening the directives would cause a period of renewed legal and administrative uncertainty and thus should be avoided.

6. There is a need for better financial support of measures connected to the directives - a specific EU conservation fund was proposed by several speakers.

A number of very stimulating contributions - especially Elsa Nickel from the German Environment Ministry almost got standing ovations for her well expressed accusations towards the CAP - request for complete overturn of the CAP (public money for public goods).
In spite of the very positive tone, I have come out of the meeting rather reluctantly. All the high ranking policy contributions praise the need to protect biodiversity and nature because they are our life support systems. At the same time, we know that this has been stated by politicians and administrators alike for the past 20 years and the decline continues. It appears to me that one of the basic causes for failure is that we ask the unrealistic and are happy to swim in the mainstream as long as we do not question the unrealistic. Thus, all these very nice to hear contributions from the environmental NGOs, other stakeholders, policy sector and the commission agreeing that there is a possibility for more biomass production and more nature conservation. More population and more nature conservation. More industry and more urban sprawl and more nature conservation. More economic growth and more nature conservation. "Live well within limits" as the popular proverb, but as soon as it comes to decisions go for more (immediate demand) and forget about the limits.

According to my experiences having lead a local NGO for the past 35 years (urban sprawl as the key topic), working with farmers and doing applied research in agricultural systems (grasslands and arable fields) this assumption that more nature/biodiversity can go with more of everything is pure nonsense - diplomatically speaking not feasible. Thus, we do not resist to a perspective that rationally speaking is unrealistic, but is being put forth jointly by a broad range of stakeholders (conservation allies and conservation I do not really care groups).

The consequence then is, while everybody verbally adheres to the need for protecting nature and biodiversity as a baseline for human well-being, concerns with jobs, material well being, needs of immigrants (refugees) etc. are of course always more immediate. Nature continues to lose out in spite of all these Sunday afternoon speeches and declarations and numerous best practice efforts targeted at reconciliation of the non-reconcilable. Best practice efforts that are never being examined in terms of to what extent they can be generalized (material and social terms) or how long they remain in place after a project has ended, or what side effects they may have elsewhere. Admittedly a very big topic that needs to be addressed!

Martin Dieterich 

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Scientists call for strengthening the EU legal framework for nature conservation

Dear SCB-ES members! The following Europe Section Statement is based on a symposium at the ICCB-ECCB and following discussions within the Policy Committee of SCB-ES. It was completed and signed by Martin Dieterich and Stefan Kreft, (Policy Committee) and Piero Visconti (Section President). We would appreciate your help in further dissemination among colleagues and decision makers.

The congresses of the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) are among the most important platforms for exchange within the global biodiversity conservation community. The International and European Congress for Conservation Biology (ICCB‐ECCB 2015), held from August 2‐6 in Montpellier, France, was attended by 2,100 scientists and conservation professionals from over 100 countries. One of the topics discussed at the congress was the Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme (REFIT), which the EU is currently conducting to evaluate the impacts and relevance of the Habitats and Birds Directives (“Fitness Check”). The Fitness Check of the EU Nature Directives involves a comprehensive policy evaluation based on stakeholder and public involvement.

There was a general consensus across a series of ICCB‐ECCB 2015 events that the Nature Directives have made a difference for nature conservation in Europe. Among a wide range of major achievements, the Nature Directives have managed to:

- build Natura 2000, a new network of protected sites of unprecedented size in Europe, providing connectivity for ecosystems and species across the European landscapes;
- slow down the degradation of European biodiversity, by reducing the pace of decline of a number of species from European landscapes, or even achieve their comeback;
- slow down or revert land use changes threatening biodiversity;
- strengthen nature conservation administrations in EU countries, by facilitating key components of an effective on‐site conservation management, such as implementing biodiversity‐sound land use schemes, carrying out impact assessments and standardised biodiversity monitoring.

However, concerns raised at the congress addressed the relatively sparse interaction with the scientific community in both the implementation of the directives and the REFIT. A peer review by relevant conservation scientists and academics specializing in legal affairs would have been appropriate for the REFIT process and could have added more relevant knowledge.

Discussions at the ICCB‐ECCB 2015 indicated that in many countries and geographic regions in and beyond Europe, the EU Nature Directives are considered models for effective design of nature conservation legislation. Participating scientists highlighted the value of the Nature Directives for achieving the targets outlined in the 2020 biodiversity strategies both at the global (Aichi Targets) and EU levels. Deficiencies in the implementation of the Nature Directives and the apparent lack of integration of conservation objectives in other major policy areas, such as the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) were identified. Looking at the conclusions from the EU Commission's evaluation of the 6th Environment Action Programme (6EAP), insufficient implementation and integration apparently is a more general problem in environmental policy. Scientists attending the ICCB‐ECCB stressed the need for the REFIT to focus on strengthening the implementation of the EU Nature Directives across all levels of governance in both the EU, the EU Member States, and locally within the Member States.

Criticism of the Habitats and Birds Directives stems from perceived inflexibilities in updating provisions to allow for adaptation to climate change. In addition, it is argued that there has been a perceived lack of action by the EU Commission to implement the Habitats Directive’s Article 19
(amending the annexes listing habitats and species of conservation concern). Much research is needed to assure and promote functional connectivity and coherence of Natura 2000 sites at local and landscape scales (Habitats Directive’s Article 10). The potential consequences of land use change and related infrastructure for energy and transport also need close scrutiny by administrations and science. By defining favorable conservation status as a basic target, the Habitats Directive leaves room for flexibility, which includes the consideration of ecological processes. Scientists at the congress remarked that more attention should be given to restoring natural processes through non‐intervention management in the network, following the EU Guidance on the management of wilderness and wild areas in Natura 2000. Presently, there is no explicit reference to non‐intervention areas in the directive itself which can be considered a weakness in the legal document.
Scientists have found there is inadequate implementation of Habitats Directive Article 18 (scientific research) by both the EU Commission and most Member States. Scientists and scientific methods have not been adequately used to support more effective conservation planning and management. Specification of favorable conservation status for species and habitat types, best management practices, monitoring programs and the quality of impact assessments require more and continued scrutiny from the scientific community.

The Habitats and Birds Directives have delivered demonstrable improvements for target habitats and species in the EU, although the results were and remain insufficient to attain the agreed international and environmental policy targets for 2010 and 2020. Insufficient implementation cannot be remedied by rephrasing the directives in a lengthy and complex political process. Demonstrable improvements must be developed through analysis of the processes used to implement conservation programmes, effective monitoring of implementation and subsequent intervention by competent legal entities in the Member States and by the EU Commission. In conclusion, scientists attending the ICCB‐ECCB in Montpellier perceive a need to significantly improve the implementation of the Habitats and Birds Directives at all levels. More input from conservation science is also required so that the agreed upon environmental and biodiversity targets can be achieved. Political discourse which diminishes responsibilities and weakens the EU regulatory systems would contradict the global responsibilities adopted by the EU and its Member States.

Monday, 17 August 2015

After ICCB-ECCB 2015

Back home from Montpellier, where I attended the ICCB-ECCB. Wow... what a meeting. An extreme abundance of experiences, of which I would share only a few. Unavoidable is the headache on which parallel section to attend, but finally I managed to attend a couple of great talks. I liked the plenaries, although they varied in the approach to the audience - and the success. Although some colleagues think that plenaries are boring, too general, lacking science etc., I do not agree. Plenaries are to give insights, lessons or even visions on the main directions of conservation, including even philosophical debates. And we got that in Montpellier.

The strong emphasis in IPBES (Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) is an important step. If our community want to take a role in this intergovernmental process, we need to know it and be involved. SCB is an active stakeholder from the beginning of IPBES (see also editorials in Conservation Biology) and now it was spread to the 2000+ audience.

I liked the large free space at the Antigone level, which provided a quite place for rest, discussion or checking e-mails. It is vital in a meeting of this size to provide such relaxing spaces. Indeed. During one poster session I leaved this level and descended to the first floor, and the voice of thousands of people from the zero level lobby was simply frightening, I almost ran back!

Although SCB meetings usually great for the social programs and funs, I would like to highlight a new intervention at this meeting, and this was the jam session on Wednesday evening. Organised by European Section board member, Francisco Moreira, it turned to be a great evening. Fans of instruments from guitar to flute and drums, and singers slowly showed up, and entertained us at a more or less professional level. Considering that these guys met first time to play music together, I have to say I had serious reservations on whether it will be something good to attend, but I thought I have to be in the audience to support Francisco :-).  And indeed it was worth to attend and enjoy the evening including singing several songs together with the ad hoc SCB band.

As I was involved into the organisation for a while, I know what extreme difficulties were behind the scene, including the rather complex organisational structure, a result of being both global and European conservation congress (thus the global board, the European board, the executive office and the SCB conference committee had responsibilities), and some unexpected changes in key persons. The result of such a huge meeting, with a smooth running, however is a great success of the organisers, led by Piero Visconti (Europe Section president), Raphael Mathevet from Montpellier (Europe Section board member), and Geri Unger SCB executive director.

Now, after a busy day in the field in the central Camargue wetland bird paradise, I have one day to recover, then back to the office. But the week behind was a great time for me.

András Báldi

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

GSS 2015 - From a student's point of view

During the Greek Summer School in Conservation Biology we attended an excursion to Papingo. After a short stop for a group picture under the huge plane tree near the church of Mikro Papigo (980 m a.s.l.), we started the hiking towards the Astraka Refuge (1950 m). At the beginning we were surrounded by dense oak forest, house for unexpected wonders: ancient buildings and beautiful orchids. However, very soon we left the shadow of the forest for the light of a wide open pasture. Step by step the track became harder but an amazing view opened up for us. From the top of the mountain pass we could see all the surrounding peaks and valleys, villages and unspoiled nature.

The discovery of new ecosystem types and unseen species along the latitudinal gradient gave us the chance to increase our knowledge as well as to gain a new and more complete perspective  about biodiversity patterns and distribution.
During the climb twelve people from different countries and cultures had the opportunity to share their own point of view on biodiversity conservation. Each one could talk about their experiences and issues, discovering other opinions, answers and advices.
But most of all, the direct contact with nature and returning to the basics offered us a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, real motivation to face the oncoming challenges.

The 2015 class of the SCB Greek Summer School on the terrace of the Astraka Refuge, Timfi Mountains. From left to right: Edy Fantinato, Alessandro Chiarucci, Giancarlo Torre, Martin Wiemers, John Halley, Gabor Lovei, Konstantinos Anestis, Nihal Kenar, Frank Weiser, Esther Bauman, Zoltan Elek (missing: Athanasios Kallimanis, Natasha Zorzaki)

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Notes from the Rainy Greek Summer School, part 1

Gabor Lövei

The 2015 Greek Summer School in Conservation Biology started with a pre-course refresher in the R program, held by a new trainer, Zoltan Elek from Hungary. Four participants chose to arrive early, and take two days, Saturday and Sunday, to look at the basics of the now prominent (and free) statistical program, R.

Three more participants and the other lecturers arrived on Sunday to a rainy, cloudy Ioannina – which was a very strange experience. On all previous years of the GSS, raincoats have hardly been used at all – now it was heavy rain, with dark grey clouds and temperatures resembling northern Germany rather than northern Greece.

This year we have 7 participants, three Italian (Giancarlo, Eddy, Marlene), one Greek (Kostas), one Turkish (Nihal), and two German (Esther, Frank) students. We have had a high number of last-minute cancellations, and we were wondering if this was anything to do with the political and financial uncertainty in Greece. Opinions are divided; and Greeks themselves seem also divided on how to progress.

However, this has no consequences for the Summer School, and we got off to a start on Monday. The lectures were opened by a talk on ecosystem services (by Gabor), followed by an introduction by Kalliope Stara on the sacred groves and veteran trees of the region. After lunch, we set off on a walk to the nearby village of Monodendri. As a change from last year when a false turn lead the participants into the thicket of prickly oak (Quercus coccifera), we decided to walk the other way, from Ano Pedina to Monodendri. We set off in light rain, tasting the fruit of the mulberry and cherry trees along the steep slope of the main street of Ano Pedina. We saw that a bear must have visited the village, and eating mulberries and cherries, leaving behind a scat full of seeds. 

Platanus orientalis tree planted near the village church – the huge tree was planted in 1819, and its trunk engulfed the memorial plaque commemorating the date – which is just visible now through a ”window” (see photo in the left). From here we climbed the hillside up to the St. Paraskevi monastery – miraculously saved when the whole forest above the village burned in 2000. We have found a few late orchids (Himantoglossum caprinum, Cephalanthera rubra), and mushrooms. 

From here, the path lead up to the top of the mountain, providing us with splendid views of the giant dolinas that form the valley between Ano Pedina and Kato Pedina, two villages on the two opposing hillsides. Kalliope lead us to see the abandoned monastery of Prophet Elias, in Vitza near Monodendri, with some old maple trees, but we got an ugly shock when we went around, to see the oldest oak tree of the Zagori mountains. The soil from around the veteran oak was removed, the surrounding trees cut to allow the passing of a bulldozer that then flattened an area around a small church building, pouring a lot of cement and a paved terrace around a group of hornbeam trees. So, welcome to conservation reality – Kalliope immediately got out her phone, and a campaign started. Apparently, no one had authorisation to do this work, and the forest service knew nothing about it. Now they do, and hopefully some action can be taken to save the old oak and lessen the damage to the landscape.
A little dispirited and no little disturbed, we walked to the village, and to the lookout over the majestic Vikos Gorge, the breeding site of the last vultures in the mountains. The view was fantastic, even in the hazy drizzle. Then it started to really rain, and we went back to Ano Pedina by car, and harvested some sourcherries – Gabor promised to prepare a sourcherry soup, a Hungarian specialty. The soup is waiting in the fridge for better weather – when we can taste it. The first evening is too cold to do that...

Stay tuned – we shall try to send updates as the course progresses.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Student Conference on Conservation Science SCCS Hungary, 2015

SCCS Hungary – Connecting Eastern and Western Europe in conservation biology
Tihany (Lake Balaton), Hungary
1 – 5 September, 2015

Not too much time is left to register for one of the greatest student
conference in conservation biology in Europe. Renowned plenary
speakers, trainings and workshops designed for young conservationists, field trips and fun at the largest lake in Central-Europe, Balaton, Hungary, for a student-friendly low all-inclusive fee. 

Don’t miss out, register on-line:

During the three conference days and the two excursions we aim to connect conservation biology students from all over Europe and beyond. We offer them an exciting opportunity to gain a deeper insight into the different conservation science projects and topics of the attending countries, focusing particularly on their regional unique natural values, conservation problems, methods, and solutions. 

We are proudly advertise our prominent keynote speakers, including Julia Marton-Lefevre, former executive director to IUCN, profs William Sutherland, Rhys Green and Rosie Trelevyan from the „mother” Cambridge SCCS team, Tibor Hartel from Romania and Ferenc Jordán from Hungary.

For the preliminary program visit: http://sccs.okologia.mta.hu/program,

The all-inclusive conference fee is only 270 Euro - including the
conference registration, accomodation and catering (three meals per day) during the conference and a half-day trip to the Tihany
Peninsula, a World Heritage site of UNESCO (4th of September).

Bursaries are available for a limited number of foreign students, 135 Euro (all-inclusive). For a special offer for Hungarian students
please contact sccs@okologia.mta.hu.

Registration deadline is 15 July 2015.

SCCS Hungary organisers

Tihany (Lake Balaton), Conference venue 

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Conservation science as an antidote to EU conservation politics (mis-) guided by interests

Bonn, Nairobi, New York, Washington, Gland, Paris - the geography of decision-making in international conservation policy is complex, and one of the most influential hubs is Brussels. It is the birthplace of the EU Birds and the Habitats Directives that underlie Natura 2000, the world’s most ambitious site-based conservation project. Their implementation, however, has been accompanied by a background noise of political struggles. And this ado is currently growing. With his rise to power in 2014, the new Commission President Juncker programmed a “Fitness Check” for the two EU conservation directives. Among conservation advocates, this assessment is feared to serve as an excuse for softening the directives and reversing important achievements made under considerable efforts. The Policy Committee (PC) of the Society for Conservation Biology’s Europe Section thinks scientific information is badly needed in the ongoing battle of interests and opinions. Thus, we decided this year’s PC meeting should make the Society visible on the spot as a unique stakeholder that can feed tested “top runner” scientific evidence into this and other important debates.

On 26 and 27 May, facilitated by Belgian PC member Willem Laermans’ brilliant logistical coordination, we met with delegates of the European Parliament, Commission representatives as well as Brussels-based conservation advocates from the NGO sphere. As we had hoped, Micheal O’Briain, Deputy Head of the Nature Unit at Directorate-General Environment, was willing to give us a comprehensive overview of the “Fitness Check” and its uses and misuses. We agreed the Society’s Europe Section should participate in the ongoing public consultation, possibly including an in-depth comment on the different Fitness Check questions under scrutiny. The value of such a contribution was confirmed by a delegation of BirdLife International, led by its Head of EU Policy, Ariel Brunner. With BirdLife, we also discussed cornerstones of a possible strategic collaboration between our institutions. We are glad Trees Robijns, Birdlife’s Senior EU Agriculture and Bioenergy Policy Officer, will be able to attend the upcoming ICCB-ECCB 2015 in August this year.

Agriculture was also in the focus of our meeting with the German Members of Parliament Maria Heubuch (Greens), Susanne Melior and Maria Noichl (both Socialists & Democrats). Our exchange addressed the failed “greening” reform of the EU Common Agricultural Policy. The exchange proved so fruitful that this can certainly be considered the start of a continued dialogue in the future. We are also deeply grateful to Maria Heubuch for hosting us and helping us to make our Brussels trip a success.

Another meeting brought us together with Karin Zaunberger and Nicholas Hanley (both DG Environment) as well as Arnold Jacques de Dixmude (DG International Cooperation and Development). They are involved in efforts directed at a better conservation and sustainable development in the EU’s Overseas Territories and Outermost Regions, a conglomerate of small to large territories that cover the same area as the “core” EU, but which are spread across the globe. We explored options how the Society and its worldwide expert network may add value to these European activities. Mrs Zaunberger confirmed she will take part in a round-table discussion on EU Overseas Territories at the ICCB-ECCB 2015.

The Roadless Areas Initiative, initiated by our Policy Committee in 2007, was another important item of our agenda in Brussels. While the Roadless Areas Initiative has flourished into an activity across SCB sections since then, we think it is also time to reach out beyond the scientific community to policy-makers. Our Brussels visit thus marked the onset of a dialogue with DG Mobility and Transport. With Judit Bertrand, who is involved in coordination of the Trans-European Transport Networks TEN-T, we had a promising brainstorming exercise how transport planning in the EU may start to take into account the remaining roadless areas.

We are looking forward to our next meeting at the ICCB-ECCB 2015 in two months in Montpellier. Symposia organised by the Policy Committee of SCB’s Europe Section will follow up on Natura 2000, the Common Agriculture Policy, roadless areas and more. Be there and check them out!

Stefan Kreft
(Chair of the Policy Committee of the Society for Conservation Biology - Europe Section)

The Policy Committee at the main entrance to the European Parliament in Brussels, 26 May 2015. From right to left: Willem Laermans, Martin Dieterich, Zdenka Křenova, Per Sjögren-Gulve, Guy Pe’er, Stefan Kreft
Photo:Guy Pe’er