The goal of our Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) Europe Section Blog is to share stories and relevant information about activities going on within our section and more broadly in the conservation community. Stories and articles shared on our blog should not be taken as an official position or statement of SCB or SCB Europe Section. Thank you for reading!

Wednesday 3 September 2014

Bialowieza: Far East or the centre of Europe? The Policy Committee checks in person.

Dead wood in a living forest
(left to right: Adam, Nuria, Stefan, Anna, Francisco, Willem.
Picture: Guy)
At the sound of the name, naturalists’ minds reverberate with pictures of temperate European jungle, roamed by bison, wolves, and other representatives of what “wilderness” is. Last week (26-30 Aug), the Policy Committee of SCB’s Europe Section had the chance to check imagination against reality, right at the border between Poland and Belarus. Five of us were welcomed by our charming colleague Nuria Selva, long-standing PC member and a former PC chair, as well as a resident of Białowieża for over 15 years. Nuria is a specialist on large carnivores and carcasses, and both Nuria and her partner Adam (naturalist, journalist) have an excellent knowledge of “their” forest. Adam and Nuria took us for three hikes into the forest, including the core zone of Białowieża National Park that was recently expanded to more than 5,000 hectares: It is by far the largest remnant of primeval temperate forest in European lowlands. Together, we could see in our eyes how a fully-functioning forest looks like, with hardly any management. We found wolf tracks, and were brought by Adam at fresh bison droppings (of impressive size) - even before the dung beetles had found them! All in all, we were happy to learn that Białowieża is, finally, at quite a good conservation status. At the moment no immediate action seems needed for its protection, but we need to remain alert, active and proactive.

Białowieża serves an excellent case study for many issues that are at the core conservation agenda in Europe and elsewhere: Wilderness versus management and forestry; strictly protected areas in a matrix of land use; large predators versus hunting; and the blessings and curses of EU policy – Białowieża surely provided inspiration for the true mission of our 2014 PC meeting.
Two days of intensive work were just enough to discuss consider a range of activities and questions which the Policy Committee deals with:

-          Activities around the Common Agricultural Policy with a recent Science article led by SCB-ES members – successfully echoing among decision makers but requiring further actions at the European Parliament;

-         the Roadless Areas Initiative, which started in our committee and is now going global – with a variety of activities including an upcoming plenary talk, session, and a concluding declaration at the upcoming Infra Eco Network Europe (IENE) Congress  2014 in Malmö, Sweden; and´

The Policy Committee at work
(Left to right: Francisco, Nuria, Willem, Guy, Martin.
Picture (and an empty Chair on the left): Stefan)
-         the status of other activities that the PC has engaged with, such as "conservation for peace", the state of Šumava National Park, etc.

One of the most important topics we discussed was the next ICCB-ECCB (International and European Congress for Conservation Biology), which will take place in August 2015 in Montpellier, France. We made various observations, among others, on the preparation process (website, cooperation with the City of Montpellier etc.) and the schedule (e.g. on plenary talks and side events), and brought up numerous ideas (to be reported soon), and we are confident that our work will contribute to the success of the congress.

Final note: if you think we travelled to the “Far East” of Europe for that meeting, check the map again. Our continent is tiny, but not THAT tiny. While our respected colleague Francisco made a huge distance from Portugal (by plane, train and taxi), he merely covered half the continent – to reach the very centre of Europe, geographically speaking. Did you know the European part of Russia has about the same size as the rest of the continent? Our trip to the eastern border of the EU should thus serve an important reminder for SCB’s “Europe Section” (not EU!) that we should continue ‘discovering’ the ‘other half’ of Europe. The forthcoming meeting of the Section Board of Directors will take place in two weeks in St. Petersburg and Lake Ladoga, Russia – to further remind us of our whole-European duties.

Stay tuned!

Stefan Kreft* and Guy Pe’er

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

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