Prioritize the consideration of ecological scale and fair distribution over valuing nature

by: Matthias Schröter1, Bas Amelung1, Anne Böhnke-Henrichs1, Alexander P.E. van Oudenhoven1, Klara H. Stumpf2, Jacqueline Loos3

Several authors call for concern about using economic valuation of ecosystem services for biodiversity conservation, such as this recent piece in Science. In today´s blog post, we would like to emphasize that valuation of ecosystem services is only one of the many facets that could be considered for biodiversity conservation and sustainability:

It is important to distinguish between the ecosystem services concept, biophysical or socio-cultural assessment of services, economic valuation, and related policy instruments. Valuing services can contribute to slowing down ecosystem degradation. Unfortunately, economic valuation is often used beyond its reasonable scope.

Costa Rica

Cloudforest restoration project in Costa Rica: Ecological limits need to be set before valuation can be meaningfully applied


We relate the limits and opportunities of ecosystem services assessment and valuation to three hierarchical goals of sustainability, which Herman Daly in a seminal paper has sketched: ecological scale, fair distribution and allocative efficiency. Lacking enforcement of ecological scales in market systems leads to crossing planetary boundaries. Hence, first, the scale of permissible human activities needs to be established within ecological limits. This involves societal choice on the extent of conservation and sustainable ecosystem use. Decision making can benefit from assessments that determine the carrying capacity of ecosystems, but there is no role for economic valuation in determining ecological limits. Second, access to services is often distributed unequally, as the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment has already pointed out. Societies need to determine a fair intra- and intergenerational distribution of natural resources. This could be done by developing social capital, including rules and norms to manage local commons. Policy instruments should establish fair benefit and burden sharing of conservation and sustainable ecosystem use, while ensuring participation of all stakeholders. Ecosystem service assessments can reveal spatial and temporal service flows and assist in establishing policy instruments. In third place only, once scales are established and fair distribution is achieved, resources can be efficiently allocated to their best societal use to prevent wasting scarce resources. This could be assisted by ecosystem service valuation. Ecosystem service assessments, but not necessarily valuation, can thus contribute to achieving sustainability. If conceptual synergies with the ecosystem services concept are recognized, biodiversity conservation can thus be supported, even though not all reasons one may have for conservation are captured by the anthropocentric concept of ecosystem services.


1 Environmental Systems Analysis Group, Wageningen University, 6700AA Wageningen, The Netherlands
2Institute of Sustainability Governance, Leuphana University, Lüneburg, 21335 Lüneburg, Germany
3Institute of Ecology, Leuphana University, Lüneburg, 21335 Lüneburg, Germany

How much survey effort is enough?

New paper by Jacqueline Loos, Jan Hanspach, Henrik von Wehrden, Monica Beldean, Cosmin I. Moga and Joern Fischer: Developing robust field survey protocols in landscape ecology: a case study on birds, plants and butterflies, Biodiversity and Conservation, DOI 10.1007/s10531-014-0786-3.

Alma Vii 14.7 (2)

In order to better understand biodiversity patterns along landscape gradients, powerful data is needed to detect relations to environmental parameters. However, given financial and logistics constraints, ecologists often face a trade-off between the number of sites they can survey and the necessity to repeat surveys in the same site (for example, to cover seasonal variation in species composition). With our recent publication in Biodiversity and Conservation, we present an assessment of the trade-offs between alternative survey strategies for plants, birds and butterflies in Southern Transylvania. This pilot study helped designing surveys on a larger spatial scale, which we conducted as a follow-up.

In this study, we applied different survey techniques, including a so-called “cartwheel approach” for plants, in which we randomly placed ten one square meter plots within a round-shaped one hectare site. In the same sites, we conducted ten-minute point counts for birds and we adapted 200 m Standard Pollard walks for butterflies.

We then reduced the total sampling size for each taxon and investigated whether species richness, species turnover and species composition changed. We correlated the pattern that we achieved from the “full survey effort” with results from randomly “reduced survey effort”.


Correlations between data from reduced survey effort (1 to 9 plots for plants; 1 to 3 repeats for birds and butterflies) and the maximum survey effort (10 plots for plants; 4 repeats for birds and butterflies). Reduced survey effort was simulated by randomly sub-setting the full data set 1,000 times for each level of data reduction.

We also conducted a power analysis, which allowed us to estimate the required number of survey sites to being able to detect landscape effects on species richness. Based on the patterns we observed in the correlations, we concluded that it is possible to reduce survey effort without losing the “bigger picture” of species richness distribution. Overall, this study showed us that in the highly heterogeneous farmland of Southern Transylvanian, at least three temporal replicates on at least 100 study sites were required to find landscape scale effects on diversity patterns of birds and butterflies, while for plants, seven one square meter plots in at least 100 sites showed sufficient power to detect trends.


Power analysis with simulated data. Minimum detectable effect (MDE) is plotted as a function of the number of survey sites. MDE was defined as the absolute change in species richness along the observed heterogeneity gradient in arable fields that could be etected in a linear model with given sample size.

We recommend other landscape ecologist to conduct pilot studies in order to test and adapt different sampling schemes before conducting their main study. By doing so, it is possible to identify the most efficient use of available project resources. With the help of our study, we detected that diversity patterns remained relatively stable within certain thresholds.

The full paper is available here:

New paper: Low-Intensity Agricultural Landscapes in Transylvania Support High Butterfly Diversity: Implications for Conservation

By: Jacqueline Loos, Ine Dorresteijn, Jan Hanspach, Pascal Fust, Laszlo Rakosy and Joern Fischer. Plos One 9(7): e103256.

European farmland biodiversity is declining due to land use changes, often involving agricultural intensification (mainly where the land is flat and easily accessible) or abandonment (mainly in rural areas rich in contours). Some Eastern European farming systems have sustained traditional forms of land use, resulting in high levels of biodiversity. However, under the influence of global markets and international policies, these systems are now subject to rapid and major changes. To effectively protect farmland biodiversity, it is important to understand which landscape features underpin species diversity.



Transylvanian landscape with pasture in the background and arable fields in the center (photo: J. Loos)


In our recently published study, we focused on butterfly diversity patterns in response to landscape variables across a cultural-historic landscape in Southern Transylvania, Romania. In order to follow the notion of a natural experiment, we cross-stratified the landscape according to three categories, two of them representing gradients that are likely to change during a process of land use change- the amount of woody vegetation across the landscape and heterogeneity. We measured heterogeneity by the standard deviation of 2.5 m panchromatic SPOT satellite imagery, which we calculated within one hectare circles across the landscape. The third category represented the protection status, and in SCI, SPA and unprotected sites we made sure to cover an equal amount of study sites.We randomly selected 120 survey sites in farmland, 60 each in grassland and arable land. We applied standard butterfly transects to survey abundance and species richness, and repeated the surveys with a regular distance of three weeks at four occasions during summer 2012. We analysed species composition by Detrended Correspondence Analysis. We modelled total species richness, richness of functional groups, and the abundance of selected individual species in response to topography, woody vegetation cover and heterogeneity at three different spatial scales, using generalised linear mixed effects models. Another step in our survey was to predict distribution patterns of butterfly species richness across the agricultural areas of our study region.

Loos et al. Figure 1

Location of the study area with investigated village catchments in Transylvania, Romania. The small letters indicate the village catchments illustrated for predictions in Figure 4 (a= Cincu, b= Granari, c= Viscri).


In total, we counted 19,878 individuals of 112 species of butterflies. In a nutshell, we found that species richness was widely distributed throughout the entire landscape, which is formed by a mosaic of different land use patches. Surprisingly, we found a wide overlap in species composition in grassland and arable land. The main gradients along which composition changed were heterogeneity at the local and the context scale, woody vegetation cover at context and landscape scales. Furthermore, the species richness in arable land and grassland did not differ significantly. We found a positive effect of local heterogeneity on butterfly species richness in arable land, but a negative effect in grassland. Other variables that explained  patterns of total species richness, richness of functional groups and individual species abundances included plant species richness, but also structural and topographic conditions at multiple scales.

Loos et al. Figure 4

Maps of predicted butterfly distributions in three example villages. Left: Land cover map according to CORINE 2006; middle: predicted species richness for arable and grassland areas within each village catchment; right: predicted abundance of the Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina).

Hence, our study revealed high conservation value of both grassland and arable land in extensive Eastern European farmland. Not only grassland, but also extensive, heterogeneous arable land provides important habitat for butterflies. While butterfly diversity in arable land benefits from the heterogeneity provided by small-scale structures, grasslands should be protected from fragmentation to provide sufficiently large areas for butterflies. Conservation management in extensive European farmland systems needs to consider entire landscapes, and implement appropriate measures at multiple spatial scales.

To access the full paper, go here. To read other papers that have been published within the Romania project go here.


Melanargia galathea, the Marbled White – one of the most common butterflies in arable fields in Transylvania (photo: Jószef Szabo)

Who we are: Julia Leventon

I’m Julia, and I have been working with Joern’s group at Leuphana since February this year.  I joined as part of a project called MULTAGRI on the governance of multifunctional agricultural landscapes.  In this project I work closely with Joern and with Prof. Jens Newig in the governance working group of the Institute of Sustainability Communication (INFU).  I was asked to introduce myself via the blog, and I thought I would do so by giving 5 facts about myself, loosely related to research:


Julia Leventon

  1. I started out as a natural scientist.  I am now on the more social side of interdisciplinary, but I did my undergraduate degree in Environmental Science at the University of Manchester in the UK.  Its provided me with a great overview of some fundamental concepts in ecology, geology and chemistry.  In every research project since, I have been grateful that I can begin to understand the physical processes that I am dealing with.
  2. I run.  My favourite thing to do with a free day is to spend it running through hills and mountains.  In northern Germany, I have to make do with flat forests, but that’s not really something to complain about.
  3. I like to define my research by concepts rather than by topic.  I am a governance researcher; I examine how diverse interests come together to manage natural resources.  For example, how interests around mineral extraction, climate change mitigation, community development, agriculture and biodiversity compete over the same area of forest for conflicting interests, whose interests are represented (how and why) and what impact this has.  The resources (topics) I have worked on include groundwater, forests, soils and biodiversity.
  4. I’m nomadic (and have a nomadic cat).  After finishing school at 18, I went to Peru for a few months and stayed for a couple of years, and I’ve had ‘itchy feet’ ever since.  After doing my BSc and MSc at Manchester (UK) I went to Budapest for my PhD, including secondments in Greece and Italy. I’ve also lived in the Czech Republic, then time back in the UK working at University of Leeds, with fieldwork in Malawi, Zambia and Tanzania.  Now I’m in Germany.  The cat has been moving around with me since the Czech Republic.
  5. I’m scared of snakes.  I know they aren’t slimy, and I’m sure they are very beautiful, but I would rather never make contact with a snake.  Unfortunately, there have been a few snake close encounters… including an anaconda in the Amazon, a puff adder in Malawi (that I narrowly avoided running over on a mountain bike) and a spitting cobra in Zambia.

Inversely proportional interest in nature and the abundance of nature surviving

(by Jacqueline Loos & Paul Kirkland)

After having visited some nature reserves in the UK, and after having talked to some people active in citizen science projects, I realized that they spend a lot of money in getting people involved, raising awareness and informing people about the state of their wildlife. Ironically, in these countries, much wildlife is in a critical condition many of them are seriously threatened. Another example is the huge interest in butterfly conservation in the Netherlands: This country has the highest proportion of extinct butterflies in Europe, and yet simultaneously, they can attract more than 600 people interested in butterflies at their annual meetings (which is more than any other country in Europe can bring together).

The observation that the interest in trying to preserve what is disappearing is inversely proportional to the amount of wildlife remaining present is of course not new.



The question for conservationists is whether the growth in interest is sufficiently fast enough to lead to conservation measures that will prevent further significant losses in wildlife. Sometimes a conservationist gets the impression that no matter how much faster one tries to empty water from a sinking boat, it will still be sinking!

But perhaps there is an explanation for the sinking boat: Conservationists have long been observing that as each generation proceeds, they reset their idea of what the countryside should look like (the “shifting baseline”). As the youth grows up in conditions that lack wildlife, they don´t know what they are missing and hence have no desire or awareness of what the natural environment should be or how it has been before. Linked to this is an increasing lack of contact with nature, a “nature disorder deficit syndrome”. Conservationists in Western Europe are trying to break this trend, especially with young people, by trying to re-establish the connection with nature and wildlife (although this is not necessarily combined with an explicit conservation message). Here, environmental education combined with good data on species trends is crucial to convince the public to act.

This strategy seems successful in countries like the UK and the Netherlands, where increasing interest in wildlife leads to more available resources to foster public engagement. But did the shifting baseline prevent the increasing interest happening soon enough to save wildlife in these countries? And can we learn from this concept to avoid the same scenario in other countries which are still rich in wildlife?

Witnessing evolution: Fast genetic adaptation to climate change in butterflies

Butterflies are extremely rapid range shifters under global warming climate conditions. Unfortunately, for many species, especially for specialized species and those from mountainous areas, there are not enough areas to shift to. For other species, however, completely new areas can become suitable habitat. Hence, butterflies represent a mixed group of winners and losers in areas affected by climate change.

Interestingly, Camille Parmesan showed in her research that butterflies do not only change their range of occurrence, but also change their built-in migratory behavior. At the butterfly symposium she gave an example of Euphydras editha, which is an endangered species in America and a species one would consider a classical loser. One of its subspecies, Euphydryas editha quino, declined drastically due to climate change and habitat loss, from thousands over thousands of individuals that have been observed in the 1940s to two remaining population nowadays. Ongoing human construction activities, air pollution and fire events led to the assumption that this species is effectively extinct, and assisted migration has not even been considered due to lack of suitable habitat containing the host plant of the species, Plantago erecta.


source: wikipedia

Surprisingly, a few years after this sad cognition, new populations of species could be found in locations at higher altitudes in areas where its host plant was not present. The Quino checkerspot butterfly did not only manage to extend its occurrence range upwards, but also shifted its diet onto a different host plant, Collinsia parviflora. And even more exciting, this shift is associated with genetic changes in the butterfly.

This is a very positive example for rapid evolutionary changes in invertebrates, and a representation of how quickly they are able to inherent traits to become an integral part of new ecosystems. However, this showpiece was only possible because the butterfly was able to disperse to new “quasi-habitats”. Unfortunately, we must to counteract the massive pressure of anthropogenic development to provide enough corridors and areas for wildlife to disperse to allow them adapting to the changing conditions. This is presumably not new to any of you, but I think it shows again how important it is to consider not only one species or one habitat in conservation management, but also allow space for the dynamics in nature.



Who we are: Marta Nieto Romero

(by Marta Nieto Romero)

Hi readers! I am Marta, a new member of this group of research.

I arrived in Germany in November to start my Master thesis in the framework of the Master on “Integrated Planning for Rural Development and Environmental Management” of the Agronomic Mediterranean Institute of Zaragoza (Spain). After a few drawbacks, I am now happily doing a project titled “Controversial views and actions within local organizations: opportunities for collective action of Southern Transylvania”.


Before starting talking about this current project, I want first to introduce myself. In 2006, I started a bachelor called something like “medical biology” in France, being persuaded that I wanted to become a researcher on neurobiology. Fortunately, after two years of Bachelor I realized that even if I enjoyed the laboratory work I wanted to get professionally involved in sustainability issues. From then, I strongly tried to change my curricula. On my third year of Bachelor I made an Erasmus in Portugal where I started learning Ecology related courses, and of course, this beautiful and melodic language. I finally came back to my home town (Madrid) the following year, where I continued a Master on Ecology. There, I discovered the Social-Ecological System framework and I finally felt that something made sense for me. I started to be interested in the social side of sustainability which I am now convinced that is the main factor of the success or failure of projects aiming to preserve ecosystem’s values. Working with the Socio-ecosystems Laboratory of Madrid I started reading (a lot!) about the resilience thinking, the ecosystem service framework, the environmental and ecological economy and the main socio-cultural methods for assessing ecosystems values. That opened me a huge and exciting field(s) of knowledge that made me start a second Master (the one I am now doing now) about the management of human-shaped ecosystems in a holistic and inter-disciplinary way.

Now, I can say that my expertise is on territorial planning of rural areas and I am particularly interested in institutional schemes and social aspects for the design of successful and sustainable plans for rural areas.

My project within the Sustainable Landscapes group aims to explore which future do local actors engaged in organizations related to regional development prefer, which actions they think should be done in order to achieve this future and which trade-offs they are willing to accept if necessary. For that purpose, I have done 24 interviews to a diverse set of local organizations (mainly NGOs and associations) in Southern Transylvania in which I showed them the four scenarios for the year 2043 developed in previous research and ask them which one they preferred and other questions related to my objectives. In the following paragraphs I will explain the first insights that I had after my field-work, trying to answer the main questions that initially drove my research: (1) Have local actors in the region contradictory goals? (2) What are the barriers towards the creation of a shared vision between them? (3) What are the opportunities to create a shared vision?

All the interviewees preferred the scenario 3 – “Balance brings beauty”. That is quite normal, since on this scenario there is a wealthy and diverse economic development combined with a sustainable use of their natural and cultural heritage. But what I think was surprising was that 52% of them think that this same scenario is the most likely. I believe that in order manage something you have first to deeply believe on it, so for me it was really hopeful and inspiring that those people were so sure and convinced that it could happen. Moreover, when discussing further the type of development they would like to achieve, many common points aroused between all the respondents- e.g. they all want to maintain small-scale farming practices, and they are extremely aware of the danger of foreign investment on the area if it doesn’t involve local population. Nevertheless, when respondents had to deal with compromises – e.g. water is polluted but people have a higher monetary well-being- two main profiles of responses aroused. On the one hand, some people think that the conservation of natural resources must be a priority and should not be sacrifice in order to improve the local’s standard of living. This group of people is characterized by statements as the following “people can change their behavior if one day they change their mind, but if we destroy nature, it can’t never come back”. On the other hand, another group of respondents think is worthy to destroy the environment if people are better off: “if people are better off, the educational system can improve, and naturally, they will start to appreciate their natural environment and try to preserve it”. While these two profiles largely prefer a scenario where the improvement of local’s standard of living and the resource exploitation is balanced (scenario 3), the trade-offs they are willing to accept are completely different- i.e. the first profile could accept a nature lose – locals win paradigm while the second group would rather accept a nature win- locals lose one.

In conclusion, my first impression is that, first, the sample of local organizations interviewed is generally working for a common goal: achieving the scenario 3. Second, there are many common points on what do they like and don’t like which could help to mainstream future collaborations. And finally, differences exist on the trade-offs they are willing to accept – i.e. nature lose – locals win vs. nature win- locals lose– if compromises have to be made in the future.

Finally, my impression was that some “collaboration” between organizations exist but it is on its early stage. Some organizations have recently started partnerships or periodical meetings, but still, these frequently do not end up with activities in common or projects looking for synergistic effects. The non-collaborative attitude is not only (neither mainly) driven by differences in scopes and aims, and other financial, political, historical factors are involved. Nevertheless, if collaboration starts, a threat exist that those organizations with an environmental focus and those with a community focus will follow different paths of actions, diluting their power to make lobby and act in common against what they ALL don’t want: a nature lose – locals lose future (scenario 2). From here, I send them all my best to continue this difficult but passionately driven task, hoping that they will manage to conserve the main features of this beautiful part of the planet.

Butterflies in prison. Mass murderer concerned about tagging monarch

Don´t worry, the title is the probably the most shocking part of today´s post 🙂

I am currently at the Butterfly Conservation Symposium in Southhampton, England. Here, “butterfly-ers” and “moth-ers” from all over the world meet, and many of them present astonishing projects, which they conduct with the stamina that only passion can endow.

David James from Washington State University was puzzled with the question why the famous Monarch butterfly isn´t as abundant in western part of the USA as it is in the eastern part, even though the hostplant of that species (the Common milkweed) was abundant. He suspected that the alarmingly increasing use of the pesticide roundup, genetically modified crops and use of neonicotinoids might have a deteriorating effect on the Monarch. To find out more about the whereabouts of that butterfly, he started tagging of individuals. With monarchs occurring in huge flocks, he needed to release a large number of tagged butterflies to eventually enlarge the change of reflux from citizen reporting. But where to get all those butterflies? Mass rearing! However, the caterpillars of the monarch are very sensitive and need high hygienic standards to survive. This all being an enourmous effort, David looked for help – and found it in Penitentiary Offenders!



The project “Sustainable Prisons” allows prisoners to participate in Citizen Science projects. Some of his helpers were accused of mass murderers and had life imprisonment. David reported that some of the offenders might have never seen nature at all! And here, they contribute to a large and interesting research project. With their pedantic cleanliness, the offenders achieved a survival rate of the larvae of 80-90 percent, whereas in nature these rates are much much lower (~ 2 percent). However, when placin a tag on the underwing of the butterfly, David had to convince the men that it won´t hurt or affect the butterfly too much. What I found wonderful about his project  was that unintentionally, David had brought hope into prison. “Watching the metamorphosis of butterflies”, so said one of the prisoners, “shows us what we are trying to do, too: To change and become something else, something better”.



You can find more information about the project here:

Care for little, Loss of less? (Or: a comparison between a British nature reserve and a typical Romanian landscape)

(by Jacqueline Loos and Laurie Jackson)

Having once been to Romania, perception of species richness gets spoiled. We realized this yesterday, when we went out on a bird walk with Michael Blencowe from Sussex Wildlife Trust – a local non-governmental organization into a lovely nature reserve Grazing traditional cattle and sheep breeds keep the grassland free of scrub, skylarks and stonechats breed in this area and wheatears stop here on their migration route. The people on this walk enjoyed seeing the Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, Brimstone, Orange tip and Small White butterflies passing by, observed toadpoles in ancient dews, and buzzards and raves wheeling overhead. The grassland was said to comprise up to 40 plant species per square metre. That was all very nice.


In the UK, chalk grassland is recognised  as one of the most species-diverse habitats – even though a site such as Southerham would represent a rather poor landscape by Romanian standards. When we see buzzards in Romania, we often say: “Oh that is JUST a buzzard”. Peacocks are “everywhere” and skylarks are “only skylarks”. And “rich” in Romania” means 60 or more species per square metre… Of course, climate conditions are different, land use history is different, so the comparison might not be fair. However, what struck me is that people in Western Europe are spending millions on restoring habitats, are re-seeding wild flowers, protecting a few hecatres from being further destroyed- whereas in Romania, this is all still for free!


In the UK there are people that care passionately about the natural environment and will willingly give up their time to volunteer and record species as you note. BUT there are lots of people who are growingly disconnected from the environment – and when coming from England – this is the saddest thing about travelling to Romania – seeing the inhabitants of a country strongly entwined with its natural environment, but at the same time this connection is fading away. Perhaps this is reminiscent of how the UK and other Western European countries would have been only decades ago. Let´s hope the mistakes that have been done in Western Europe can be avoided in other places!

Hay: ho!

Romania’s hay meadows belong to the world’s hotspots of species richness (Wilson et al. 2012).  Their flower densities, the amount of butterflies, crickets and grasshoppers are stunning when you visit these places. Most of these hay meadows are listed in Annex 1 of the Habitats Directive. Therefore, Romania has a duty under EU law to protect its 1.5 million hectares of semi-natural hay meadows (Paulini et al. 2013). However, many hay meadows these days are under threat from globalization by land use change, including the decline of dairy farming and land abandonment, because young people increasingly move away from rural areas (Knowles 2011). Therefore, trees and shrubs invade the meadows, and a loss of species richness is the long-term consequence (Baur et al. 2006).   

I just joined an international hay making festival that the farmer Áttila Sarig and his family organized in the mountains of Ghimes, Romania. “Many people talk about nature conservation – we farmers practice it with our every-day activities.” The idea of this festival, supported by the Págony Havasc association and Barbara Knowles, was to promote local traditions and to support smallholder farmers in their sustainable way of living.

During this week, I learnt about the self-sustaining farming practices of farmers in the mountains. Attila Sarig and his family have 4 cows, for which they need hay in winter. These cows provide enough milk for the family, which produces its own cheese from the raw milk using its own rennet. Attila and his family use as little technology as possible, and therefore they produce most of their products by hand, and cut the hay by hand using scythes. During the festival, we also watched the production of traditional tools such as handles and rakes – completely without using electricity. Victor Baci, the local toolmaker said: “If I used electricity, I will have to pay the bill. Therefore, I will need to produce more rakes and sell them for higher prices. In the end, I will earn the same, so I’d rather do it the way I have done it for 60 years.” This, to me, sounds truly sustainable. 

Victor Baci

Victor Baci


Willy Schuster, the “Michael Jackson of organic farmers in Romania”, is convinced that low intensity farming and manual work is the farming of the future – because resources are limited and because we head for sustainable lifestyles.

This festival and Willy Schuster’s organic farm in Mosna are very interesting elements of a movement of farmers in Romania that aims to preserve the high nature value farming practices that support high biodiversity. And it is a lot of work! After one day of helping out and several blisters on our hands, we had managed to cut 0.8 ha with the help of 15 people. This amount would be enough to feed half a cow through the winter. We took another half a day to gather the hay (with the handmade wooden rakes) and to produce four nice hay stacks, carefully arranged on a nest of branches. On these branches, the stacks could be transported to the barn with the help of a horse.


Volunteers cutting hay in Aldómas valley


Áttila Sarig has a lot more ideas how to promote and support the self-sustaining lifestyle of farmers: He is planning an education center in his village, Aldomas, and is in exchange with farmers throughout Europe to learn and teach techniques for low-intensity farming and cheese-making. In my opinion, this movement is important to offer farmers a perspective to remain independent from large companies and allow their own ways of trading and accessing local products. If you want to read more about this, see this nice article in National geographic, or visit and Barbara Knowles’ website:



Baur B, et al. (2006) Effects of abandonment of subalpine hay meadows on plant and invertebrate diversity in Transylvania, Romania. Biol Conserv 132(2):261-273.

Knowles B (2011) Mountain Hay Meadows: the Romanian Context and the Effects of Policy on High Nature Value Farming in Mountain hay meadows – hotspots of biodiversity and traditional culture, ed Knowles B (Society of Biology, London, Boros Valley, Transylvania, Romania).

Paulini I, et al. (2013) The hay meadows in the SCI „Eastern Hills of Cluj”
(Romania): Data about mowing and abandonment. Abstract of oral presentation at conference “Mountain hay meadows – economic, social and environmental value”, available:

Wilson JB, Peet RK, Dengler J, & Partel M (2012) Plant species richness: the world records. J Veg Sci 23(4):796-802.