Key points from Forum Lab 7: Better together: Engaging communities for nature conservation and protection
On the 9th of November 2021, the Bern Convention participated in a Forum Lab together with two initiatives it has supported over the years. The focus of the Lab was on the role of local communities in enhancing the conservation of nature around Europe.
For centuries, we humans have extracted and exploited natural resources for the benefit of our social and economic development. We’ve now finally realised that biodiversity loss and climate change are mutually reinforcing, and both constitute a threat to human existence. But is there anything we can do to reverse the damage already done to nature and ourselves? How can local communities respond to this challenge? What can be done to facilitate citizens’ participation in decision-making regarding nature protection?
These were some of the questions addressed by three initiatives that presented their work in the 7th Forum Lab at the World Forum for Democracy: the Irish Burren Programme, the Georgian Emerald Network, and the Global Wildland Fire Network located in Germany; the first two of these being projects that have been supported by the Bern Convention, and the latter by the EUR-OPA Major Hazards Agreement, the sister organisation of the Convention.
Brendan Dunford, manager of the Burren Programme, explained that the principal aim of their project is to improve the quality of local habitats and biodiversity in the Burren in Ireland by encouraging, supporting and rewarding farmers for delivering ecosystem services on their land. Some farmers within the programme are paid for specific actions, like the removal of invasive species, and some for locally providing goods and services. Farmers are also considered as educators in the programme, given the long relationship they have with their lands. They are motivated to innovate and create local solutions for different farming operations, such as the management of water sources. The main benefit for the farmer is the encouragement that the environmental challenge can be met in a way that benefits them, their land, and the generations to come.
Kakha Artsivadze, project coordinator of the Emerald Network in Georgia, shared the work behind the establishment of the Emerald Network in his country. This pan-European network aims at preserving habitats and biodiversity in line with the Bern Convention. The establishment of the Emerald Network resulted in the creation of new democratic mechanisms in Georgia by including NGOs and other citizens’ representatives in the decision-making process. It also enabled NGOs to appeal to the institutions established by the Bern Convention in case the State wasn’t meeting its commitments. Although the region of the Caucasus is geopolitically challenging, the countries in the area are all part of the Bern Convention framework, which has enabled them to work together in nature conservation. Georgia and Armenia, for example, are already developing plans for creating their first cross-border protected areas. Artsivadze emphasised the role of the local communities in initiating this process and added that the environmentalist NGOs represent a reservoir of knowledge and resources that local communities readily use. The NGOs are also indispensable in advising local communities on how to improve their proposals for achieving the status of protected areas to important biosphere reserves in Georgia.
Johann Georg Goldammer, director at the Global Fire Monitoring Centre in Germany shed light on the initiative “The Global Wildland Fire Network: A contribution of civil society to build sustainable and fire-resilient societies and landscapes”. As a consequence of rural abandonment, lands that have been cultivated for millennia are becoming increasingly flammable. This voluntary network thus provides advice for the development of informed fire management policies, as well as science and technology transfer to enable nations and international organisations to reduce the negative impacts of landscape fires on people and the environment. The initiative employs a bottom-up approach, meaning that it aims at harnessing farmers’ knowledge in its actions.
The Lab was also enriched by contributions by the discussants Edite Estrela, Portuguese MP and member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and Rob Hopkins, Founder of the Transition Towns movement and permaculture expert.