Reflections on Green Week 2006 in Brussels

What is Green Week?

The Environment Directorate-General (DG Environment) is the European Union’s (EU) department for the protecting, preserving and enhancing of the environment within the EU. Each year DG Environment hosts a conference in Brussels called Green Week. Its purpose is to bring together the key conservation organisations and researchers operating in Europe with the aims of celebrating European nature and providing a forum for lectures and discussion concerning the challenging issues that wildlife in Europe faces.

Green Week 2006: Biodiversity for life - Every Green Week conference has a different theme and in 2006 biodiversity was chosen as the focal topic. Europe has a wide diversity of habitats supporting a myriad of different plants and animals. However, despite the EU’s various pieces of environmental legislation, such as Natura 2000, Europe’s biodiversity is in decline and species like the Iberian Lynx are amongst the most threatened in the world.

A Rocha’s involvement: Through A Rocha’s European officer Janice Weatherley, who has a joint position with The World Conservation Union (IUCN) and A Rocha in Brussels, our material was displayed alongside the IUCN stand. In addition two members of A Rocha’s staff were present throughout the conference, attending lectures, liaising with other conservation organisations and promoting A Rocha’s work.

Summary of lectures: The conference comprised lectures on different aspects of the threats to European biodiversity. A Rocha representatives attended four lectures that were most applicable to the work of A Rocha within Europe.

Opening talk – "Finding the balance." 30/05/06

Speakers:
Stavros Dimas, European Commissioner for the Environment.
Vaclav Havel, Former President of Czech Republic and Czechoslovakia and literary writer.
Achim Steiner, Director General IUCN, appointed Executive Director of UNEP.
Pascal Lamy, Director General of the World Trade Organisation.

The opening talk of the conference presented a platform for the subsequent lectures. It set out some of the key global environmental issues and the response that the EU made to them. The over-arching theme of the speeches was the need establish stronger linkages between the environment leading to a more cohesive approach to nature conservation.

Shrinking space for nature. 30/05/06

Speakers:
Jock Martin, Programme manager of European Environment Agency (EEA).
Dr Mar Cabeza, University of Helsinki Postdoc researcher and part of the Metapopulation research group.
Dr Tiiu Kull, Head of the Department of Botany, Institute of Zoology and Botany, Estonia.
Tony Long, Director of the WWF European Policy Office.

Jock Martin opened the lecture with a report on a study by the European Environment Agency that has plotted the changes to EU land-use using satellite imagery. A telling observation of the study was that natural areas within the EU are under increasing pressure from urban sprawl, particularly in the countries where the majority of EU spending has occurred in recent years: Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Italy. This has alarming implications for the wild areas in the latest countries to join the EU, if they follow the same pattern of development. Connected to this urbanisation has been the improvement of transport links, particularly to coastal areas, which is increasing habitat fragmentation and putting more development pressure on fragile coastal habitats.

Dr Mar Cabeza of the University of Helsinki followed on by reporting on the impact of fragmented habitats on biodiversity. The conclusion reached from various research projects is that smaller habitat areas equate to smaller numbers of species. The implications of the research was that if the erosion of EU biodiversity is to be halted then existing wildlife areas must be increasingly connected to one another and that this must become one of the key considerations within spatial planning procedurers.

A potential system for increasing habitat connectivity was presented by Dr Tiiu Kull, whose research demonstrated the vastly increased levels of biodiversity within wooded meadows and extensively managed farmland. As farmland is one of the dominant land use types within Europe an extensively managed farmland system including wooded meadows could provide vital wildlife links.

The lecture was concluded by Tony Long of the WWF who commented that currently 60% of EU habitats and species have a poor conservation status and the EU needs more tools to prevent further biodiversity loss. He concluded that for improvements to the implementation of EU legislation and planning for wildlife to take place then biodiversity must be communicated to non-environmental groups in the language of economics.

Creating a European nature network: The challenge of Natura 2000 and beyond. 31/05/06

Speakers:
Dr Paul Opdam, Alterra.
Mr Hermann Hinterstoisser, Amt der Salzburger Landesregierung.
Mr Ladislav Miko, Director DG Environment, European Commission.
Luis Suarez, WWF Spain.
Other speakers included Mr Arvids Ozols, Deputy State Secretary, Ministry for Agriculture, Latvia; and Mr Barry Gardiner, Minister for Rural Affairs, Landscape and Biodiversity UK.

The lecture served as a critique of the Natura 2000 system as a means for preserving and enhancing European biodiversity. The over-arching message of the speakers was that Natura 2000 will not prevent biodiversity loss in Europe on its own. However, Dr Paul Opdam commented that Natura 2000 areas have great value if they become "keystone" sites that are linked to other lesser (or un-)protected areas by wildlife corridors.
The validity of some existing wildlife corridors for certain species was questioned by Luis Suarez, whose studies on the Iberian Lynx in Donana, Spain, discovered that the existing wildlife bridges are of very limited value to the Lynx. The challenge to creating a functioning wildlife corridor network between Natura 2000 sites was to engage in spatial planning and involve non-environmental groups through developing a "common metric" that all people can relate to and understand.

Passing the message: biodiversity for the man on the street. 01/06/06

Speakers:
Mr Patrick Worms, Aspect Public Relations.
Mr Jim Burt, English Nature and one of the driving forces behind Springwatch.

The lecture recognised that for many people the loss of biodiversity is something that isn’t a priority in their lives. In response to this Patrick Worms commented that environmental groups must take the message of saving biodiversity out to people because it is a matter of justice and it is a message of truth. Based on this he encouraged the use of television and internet to broadcast the message, noting that television is a strong force in influencing what people consider to be their priorities in life.

Picking up from this theme, Jim Burt passed on the lessons that his team learnt from making the successful Springwatch programme for BBC 2. Their key findings were that initially people need to be engaged with nature rather than educated about it. One of the strengths of Springwatch was that it helped people realise that biodiversity exists on their doorstep and that therefore they can do something to prevent its loss. It also brought back biodiversity into the everyday lives of people. The team also discovered that once a person was connected to their own biodiversity, they were more likely to be concerned about larger scale environmental issues.

Summary action points for engaging the public:

  1. Keep it simple
  2. Not boring
  3. Have inspirational events
  4. Get celebrity involvement
  5. Use creative technology
  6. Engage with the local scenario
  7. Organise simple actions that the average person can undertake.

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For more information on future Green Week conferences go to the DG Environment Green Week home page.

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