We want you to know what is going on in the BOD, our meetings, our actions, members leaving, the new ones elected,... but text written in this blog cannot be taken an official position or statement of the Society for Conservation Biology. Probably it is not even an official statement of the section... as these need to be approved by the members.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

The big gap between people and nature

Guest Blog Post by Jéssica Fonseca da Silva

At the past few conservation meetings I attended, the apathy of the general public for nature was a hot topic. This distance between people and nature contributes strongly to the lack of empathy towards nature loss and degradation. Thinking carefully, we only care about things we value; and we only value things we know. There is very little space to get to know nature in our modern lives. For most people, the only opportunities to be close to nature are occasional visits to parks, natural reserves or to the beach. However, most people fail to realize our interdependence with natural resources – especially urban residents. This ignorance is responsible for the big gap between people and nature and for the denial of our dependence on natural resources and ecosystem services.

A canoe "parked" near the floating house, very typical of Amazonian riverside populations. 
Photo courtesy of Jéssica Fonseca da Silva.

As someone coming from the Amazon, it is hard for me to imagine that some people have never had the opportunity to be close to nature. I remember climbing in trees and running barefoot in my childhood; eating fruits directly from the trees and swimming in rivers.  We would often find animals in our backyards and gardens. Once, we came home and there was a big green iguana in the garden. We struggled, but finally caught it and released it in the forest. Every day, little blue birds came to feed from the fruit on the kitchen table and in the late afternoon we could see macaws flying across the sky to reach a cozy spot in a big tree nearby. I often wonder how many children born in cities nowadays can still have these experiences. It is rare to see kids playing on the ground without worrying about getting dirty or making their parents terrified. There’s a risk that when these kids will turn into adults, they will feel apathetic about nature and the environment. Unfortunately, this is true for the majority of the population, even those living in Manaus – located in the middle of the Brazilian Amazon forest!

Children playing in the river near their house, about 50 km north from Manaus (Just like me and my cousins).
Photo courtesy of Jéssica Fonseca da Silva.

The lack of value attributed to the environment arises not only from a scarcity of contact with nature, but also from ignorance of the source of raw materials, supply chains and market forces. Tropical forests are the ecosystems most threatened by our greedy demand for goods and raw materials. To put this situation in perspective, forests produce more than 90 percent of the world’s terrestrial biomass and of this, tropical forests account for two-thirds (Pan et al. 2013). The main commodities driving deforestation in these forests are beef, palm oil, soybean, timber and pulp (Forest Trends 2014). Demand for these items is ubiquitous, especially by the food, construction and paper industries. Many of the items we get from supermarkets are either directly made from one of these items, or consumes them as part of the production process. However, as consumers, we are often unaware of the environmental cost of our choices. Thinking carefully about the products we consume is a simple and highly effective way to temper the destruction of tropical forests. Buying items that show certificates of environmentally sustainable production (Ecolabels1) and fair trade is a good way to start.

Reducing meat consumption or opting for sustainably raised sources of meat requires a stronger commitment, but markedly reduces deforestation. Finally, choosing items produced locally when possible also reduces our carbon footprints. Because markets are driven by the consumer’s demands, we have the power and the responsibility to drive the increasing offer of items that are produced sustainably by buying them preferentially.

Many people say they care about environmental issues, but they do not understand that the problem requires much more than just recycling. Often, we shift the responsibility to governments. Of course, governments have a part to play in the sense that regulations help to ensure people follow the rules. Nevertheless, the need for government action does not absolve the individual from responsibility. It can be hard to admit that we are all part of the same problem and that we should take action, but there is no other choice. Real change will only happen when we, collectively, understand that we rely entirely on the remaining natural resources, and that we have to make the best use of these resources from now on.

Macaws preparing to rest in the end of the afternoon (tree was at least 40 m tall).
Photo courtesy of Jéssica Fonseca da Silva.

There is some good news. Governments are starting to understand that materials, sources and consumption, as well as our well-being, are related to the status of natural resources and that one of the best choices (we still have) is to keep our forests safe. Recently, more than 177 countries signed the climate change agreement that was produced in the last United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change — COP 21 in Paris —for reducing CO2 emissions to avoid further increases in temperature and other climatic problems. Now formal instruments of ratification have started to be deposited by the signatory countries, showing their real commitment. Actions will involve reducing pollution and deforestation and improving the use of natural resources. However, the road ahead is still long. It is now time for us all, as individuals, to take responsibility and work toward a better future. I believe that a profound change in attitude is possible, although it will not be easy. In addition to the governments’ top down measures, we need to build our changes locally to get significant results. It is in our hands, so let's be positive and do our best!


Forest Trends. “Consumer Goods and Deforestation: An Analysis of the Extent and Nature of Illegality in Forest Conversation for Agriculture and Timber Plantations.” September 2014.

Pan, Y., Birdsey, R. A., Phillips, O. L., & Jackson, R. B. (2013). The structure, distribution, and biomass of the world's forests. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics, 44, 593-622.


About the authorJéssica is a tropical ecologist, and currently a postgraduate pursuing her PhD at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. She studies ecosystem function, biodiversity conservation, and responses of organisms to global changes. Jéssica is a winner of the SCB European Section Student Blog Competition held at the 2016 Student Conference on Conservation Science in Cambridge, United Kingdom.  

Monday, 29 February 2016

Białowieża Forest at risk due to proposed management measures

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Proposed policy changes to the 2012-2021 Forest Management Plan by the Polish Government threaten the integrity of Białowieża Forest and risks losses in species diversity and ecological processes, according to an article published in the February 25th issue of Nature that highlights recent commentaries from three Polish scientists about their concerns around the proposed policy changes.

Białowieża Forest

‘Białowieża Forest represents a unique reference in Europe, and a fascinating source of scientific knowledge. Different forest types and high structural diversity result in an exceptional biodiversity fully justifying its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. More than 12,000 articles in Google Scholar are returned when typing the word “Białowieża”, and more than 4,000 scientific publications are derived from studies conducted in Białowieża Forest,’ said Dr Nuria Selva, Associate Professor at the Institute of Nature Conservation, Polish Academy of Sciences, who studies wildlife conservation and policy.

Supplementing the correspondence in Nature, the Society for Conservation Biology European Section (SCB-ES) wrote a letter to the Polish Prime Minister, Polish President, European Commissioner, UNESCO and Council of Europe expressing concern about the Polish Governments plans to modify the existing 2012-2021 Forest Management Plan for Białowieża Forest. In the letter, Dr Selva and SCB-ES colleagues highlight that the forestry practices proposed in an amended Annex set out by the Polish Government, such as salvage logging as a response to bark beetle outbreaks, break the limits of timber extraction established in the Forest Management Plan 2012-2021, and are not only unnecessary for the protection of the Białowieża Forest, but are counterproductive. The proposed changes to the 2012-2021 Forest Management Plan have met strong opposition from Dr Selva and Polish colleagues as well.

‘Białowieża Forest should be governed mainly by natural forces, not by standard silvicultural measures. Proposed silvicultural measures, whose origin is in timber production, not biodiversity protection, ignore the key role of bark beetles in forest dynamics and processes. Numerous species, like the three-toed woodpecker, depend on these ecological engineers, and will be negatively affected by the planned changes in the management of this Natura 2000 site,’ said Dr Selva.


Dr Nuria Selva, nuriselva@gmail.com, Polish Academy of Sciences.

Friday, 26 February 2016

Past, present and future of Białowieża Forest: reflections from the Society for Conservation Biology’s European Section

Białowieża Forest is a large forest fragment in Eastern Europe. Different forest types and high structural diversity result in an exceptional biodiversity in Białowieża Forest. More than 17,000 plant and animal species have been recorded in Białowieża Forest. However, despite these ecological values, the forest is currently under threat from unprecedented logging proposed by the new Polish government, ostensibly to halt an outbreak of bark beetle (Scolytinae subfamily). SCB-ES recently checked in with member, Nuria Selva of the Institute of Nature Conservation, Polish Academy of Sciences in Kraków, Poland, to find out more about the potential changes in environmental policy in Poland, and how this could affect both the management and protection of Białowieża Forest. 

SCB European Section member Dr. Nuria Selva.

SCB-ES: What is Białowieża Forest and where is it?

Selva: Białowieża Forest, located in the Polish-Belarussian borderland, is the last well-preserved lowland temperate forest in Europe. Most of the forests that once covered the lowland plains of Europe disappeared long ago. Białowieża is the only lowland forest fragment that has persisted through centuries. The persistence of this forest fragment is thanks to long-standing protection set into place by Lithuanian dukes, Polish kings and Russian czars. Industrial exploitation of the forest started over 100 years ago, during WWI. However, historical timber harvesting didn’t result in complete modification or loss of intact forest remnants. Still, old-growth forest stands are an important part of the Białowieża Forest. It is a highly resilient system, where numerous ecological processes and phenomena that have otherwise vanished from the European continent can still be observed. 

Map of Białowieża Forest; under proposed policy changes it could lose UNESCO World Heritage status.

SCB-ES: From our interactions on social media it would seem Białowieża Forest is a special place to many people. Can you tell us more about the forest and species that live there?

Selva: Actually, it is a very special place. To me, the most amazing feature of Białowieża Forest is the close link between life and death. Most trees (except for those logged and extracted) are born and die naturally. A typical Białowieża picture is that of hundreds of tree seedlings strongly competing to grow close to large lying dead trees, which provides them protection and nutrients. These are the forces that for thousands of years have shaped Białowieża Forest and still act today.

The forest lies in the transition of the nemoral and boreal zone, including numerous forest types from deciduous oak-lime-hornbeam and alderwoods to bog-pine forest and taiga-like forest dominated by spruce. The most characteristic features of Białowieża Forest are the forest stands supporting big-old trees (e.g. oaks >400 years old and up to 40 m tall) and expansive tracks of large-dead-wood. These forest stands are especially important to species such as the three-toed woodpecker (Picoides tridactylus). Numerous species of fungi and insects that are connected with dead wood are also present in these old forests, some of them quite rare or relict, and new species are still being discovered. Roughly 5,000 species of fungi and 10,000 species of insects are estimated to inhabit the area. The most emblematic animal is the European bison (Bison bonasus); Białowieża Forest holds the largest population in the world of this species. In addition to the old trees and emblematic species, the forest ecosystem is widely shaped by pulsed resources, like oak masting, rodent fluctuations, winter carrion pulses and caterpillar outbreaks.

European Bison (Bison bonasus) in Białowieża Forest.

SCB-ES: How is the forest valued by the local people/communities?

Selva: In the last century, local people were mostly connected to logging by the Polish State Forest Administration. However, the local economy has been changing and currently more and more local people depend on non-exploitative activities linked to nature tourism and research. Compared to other regions of Eastern Poland, where the forests are intensively logged, Białowieża Forest region has much lower unemployment. Logging benefits a reduced group of people. Consequently, local people, particularly young people, have a wider perspective of the benefits and opportunities that can be gained from protecting Białowieża Forest.  

SCB-ES: It sounds like changes could be afoot with regards to how Białowieża Forest is managed, can you tell us more about this?

Selva: For the last 25 years, after political changes in Poland, a strong campaign supported by scientists and environmental non-government organizations (NGOs), has been pushing for better protection of Białowieża Forest. During this time, the National Park of Białowieża Forest was enlarged, and a large network of reserves was created. In 2012, the 10-year Forest Management Plan was approved for the non-protected part of the forest. Major components of this management plan was to limit timber extraction to 48,000 m3/year, enough to fulfil the local needs, and to set non-intervention practices into place for forest stands >100 years old. In 2014, the UNESCO World Heritage was extended to the whole Białowieża Forest (previously only the National Park was included). However, now, the Polish Government wants to make changes to the Forest Management Plan (as an annex to the official document) to increase the levels of timber extraction, log stands with trees >100 years old, and intense logging of spruces infected by a bark beetle outbreak. The logging industry and Polish Ministry of Environment claim that such measures are needed for the protection of the forest, but are vague about what exactly will remain protected and what will be logged. Under the proposal, more than 40% of the planned harvest will impact species other than spruces (spruces are the primary species affected by the bark beetle).

SCB-ES: If the proposed policy changes are put into place, are there potential impacts? What could it mean for the forest and species that live there?  

Selva: The impacts of increased timber harvesting in Białowieża Forest could be enormous, detrimental and, given the large scale, almost irreversible. First, species connected to infected spruces, like the three-toad woodpecker, and a whole bunch of natural enemies of the bark beetles, will be negatively affected. Second, the forest dynamics and processes connected to gaps created by bark beetles, such as enhanced natural regeneration of spruce and oak, could be disrupted. Instead, forest clear cuts, soil destruction after heavy machinery, reduction in the amount of dead wood, and tree planting with protection against herbivory, among others, will be promoted. Third, the changes proposed by the Polish Government will reduce our ability to see how a resilient forest can manage itself and recover from a natural disturbance whose frequency is increasing due to climate warming. Białowieża Forest is a reference ecosystem and gathering scientific data on how natural forests respond to global change will be extremely important for restoration of managed forests. Finally, Białowieża Forest will lose its character. The name for Białowieża Forest in Polish is ‘Puszcza’, which means ‘left alone and out of control’, but under the intense forestry management proposed by the Polish Government the forest will lose more of its untouched forest stands and face broader-scale timber harvesting. In this case, after several years, the forest is likely to resemble a typical commercial forest rather than ‘Puszcza’.

Białowieża Forest.

SCB-ES: What is the Society for Conservation Biology European Section’s position on these potential policy changes?

Selva: SCB-ES has always supported the protection of old-growths and forests worldwide. In fact it is one of our priorities, and focuses in terms of where we invest our policy efforts. SCB-ES had followed the case of Białowieża Forest by passing Resolutions and informing policy-makers about the potential negative implications of their decision making on the state of the forest. It has strongly advocated for the full protection of natural forests and non-intervention practices. We, the policy committee of SCB-ES, have just submitted letter to the Polish Minister of the Environment asking them to make all efforts to keep up the implementation and enforcement of the approved Forest Management Plan 2012-2021 and to abstain from changing it. We have also communicated our concerns about the potential policy changes around the management and protection of Białowieża Forest more broadly through correspondence in the scientific journal, Nature. 


Nuria Selva, nuriselva(at)gmail(dot)com
Steph Januchowski-Hartley, stephirenee(at)gmail(dot)com

This interview was conducted by SCB European Section Board Member, Dr Stephanie (Steph) Januchowski-Hartley (http://srjanuchowski-hartley.com/). You can follow Steph on Twitter @ConnectedWaters to hear more about fishes, Environmental Policy, SciComm and all things in between. 

Thursday, 25 February 2016

SCB European Section scientists express concern over proposed logging expansion in Białowieża Forest

Białowieża Forest is threatened by proposed changes to the Polish Government’s Forest Management Plan, which would allow for increased timber harvest. The Society for Conservation Biology’s European Section (SCB-ES) has reacted to this proposed change by sending a letter (see below) to the Polish Ministry of Environment. SCB-ES has followed the case of Białowieża Forest for a decade now and continues supporting the protection of old-growth forest stands in the forest and elsewhere in Europe. These European activities form part of the Society for Conservation Biology's Global Forest Initiative

On 18th February 2016, SCB-ES sent the following letter by post to the Polish Ministry of Environment with copies to the Polish Prime Minister, Polish President, European Commissioner, UNESCO and Council of Europe. In addition, on 24th February 2016, the SCB-ES President, Dr Piero Visconti also emailed the letter to the Polish Ministry of Environment.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

SCB Europe Section Board Elections Now Open

Attention all SCB Europe Members it is time to get your vote on! 

Vote for a new board member! We have two outstanding nominees, Cheli Cresswell & Petra Mihalic. Learn more by logging into conbio.org and going to your member area. In your member area you can read about both candidates and cast your vote! Voting closes March 3rd!

Happy voting! 

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Seeking nominations: SCB European Section Board Member

Hello out there! One SCB Europe Board position has opened up and we are seeking nominations!

If you are an official SCB Europe member and interested in serving on the board, please take note that applications are due by 31 January 2016. Please note that all applications should be sent to Stephanie Januchowski-Hartley, SCB – Europe Section board member and section secretary stephierenee[at]gmail[dot]com. More details about the post as well as the nomination form are posted below!

We are excited to welcome a new member to the board!
Posted by S. Januchowski-Hartley on behalf of the European Section board - 21 January 2016.

European Section Board Member Agreement

As of January 2016, the European Section of the Society for Conservation Biology has a 'Board Member Agreement' that outlines our board's mission, values, and expectations of our board members. We are providing it here for easy access to our members, and to make it available for thew view of standing and incoming board-members. All standing and incoming European Section board members are expected to sign and uphold this agreement throughout the duration of their term.

Published by S. Januchowski-Hartley on behalf of the European Section Board - 21 January 2016.