East meets West – notes from a workshop

I was just attending a workshop on the topic „East meets West – Transferring conservation approaches between Eastern and Western European landscapes“ in Göttingen, Germany. This workshop was initiated by Laura Sutcliffe, Péter Batáry, Urs Kormann and Teja Tscharntke. Approximately 45 scientists, majorly conservation biologists and ecologist from several parts of Europe contributed to interesting discussions and presented their research topics and findings.

Logo from the East-West workshop (© Sutcliffe, Batary, Kormann & Tscharntke)

To summarize the outcome of this meeting, I will sketch shortly which of our findings and opinions were concordant:

Most parts of Europe experience severe land use changes due to a polarisation of agricultural landscape into abandonment and intensification. Farmland biodiversity, which is especially high in low intensity or “environmentally friendly” managed farms drops inexorably in Western European countries, as shown by the declining Farmland Bird Index. Due to the socialist past of Eastern Europe and the EU accession of some Eastern European countries, abandonment of grasslands and farms threatens biodiversity in unprecedented rates. However, evidence from research and monitoring programmes, especially from Eastern European Countries is widely lacking or unavailable for the scientific community. The good news is that research investigations are increasing in Eastern European countries, and during the workshop we heard already of some positive examples of long term monitoring activities and research programmes.

It was getting clear that Agri-Environmental schemes can be helpful for protecting nature in the human dominated landscapes. However, these schemes will not be target-oriented simply by blind-copying it from Western European practice to Eastern European systems. They have to be adapted to the respective region, to the specific landscape and targeted at certain species.

Overall, we agreed that farmers are crucial actors for the conservation of biodiversity and therefore the implementation of AES should incorporate compulsory training for farmers. The schemes should be simplified to make administration effort easier and to support farmers to apply for the schemes. Another discussion point was the role of money as incentive for environmentally friendly practises. Though it is definitely neccessary to value endeveaours to protect biodiversity and ecosystem functions, it might be dangerous to use this as an exclusive reward. In the long term, a holistic approach is crucial for the future development of a more sustainable development in Eastern Europe.

Thanks to the organizers of this workshop for three very inspiring days with many opportunities to share perspectives on the recent situation between Eastern and Western Europe.

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