Tag Archives: socio-ecological research

Vistas of place-based research in Scotland’s Cairngorms

By Jen Holzer

In December 2016, funded by an eLTER Transnational Access grant, I made a visit to the Cairngorms Long Term Socio-Ecological Research (LTSER) platform. The Cairngorms LTSER is the only such platform in the UK; its boundaries are the same as those of the Cairngorms National Park, established in 2003. My mission: to spend a week speaking with about twenty researchers, land managers, and institutional and local stakeholders, whose work is related to the Cairngorms LTSER. I sought to understand how research activities are prioritized, how research may inform policymaking and management activities, and how satisfied stakeholders are with research as it is currently conducted. This case study is one of several I will ultimately use to characterize the state of socio-ecological research across the global LTSER network. My trip began with interviews in Dundee, St. Andrews, and Aberdeen, interviewing ecologists, social scientists, GIS specialists and others about their work in the park, and then I ventured west to the Cairngorms National Park itself.

I learned that the Cairngorms National Park Authority is mandated to manage ecological conservation and promote economic development, a surprisingly integrated vision considering that many economic and governance models still pit environmental protection against economic development. The Authority itself does not own land, nor does it employ park rangers. Rather, it acts as a planning agency that coordinates stakeholders like Scottish Natural Heritage, landholders like private estates (which might host sheep farming, whisky, grouse hunting, and ATV rides), municipalities, and businesses, all within the park.

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The view from my room at the Grant Arms Hotel in Granton-on-Spey, a town of about 2,600 people. The Grant Arms was founded in 1765; Queen Victoria and Prince Albert stayed here in 1860. Several years ago, a new owner began billing the hotel as “the UK’s wildlife hotel”, with a special focus on birding.

My visit was planned to coincide with a stakeholder meeting co-organized by my host, Dr. Jan Dick of the Center for Ecology and Hydrology, who was tasked with presenting her findings from the EU’s OPENNESS project to the relevant public, and by Dr. Kirsty Blackstock of the James Hutton Institute, who facilitated a discussion with the participants, focusing on stakeholder priorities for future research. This meeting was a highlight of my trip, as I got to participate in a workshop where researchers, land managers, and farmers were able to have an intimate, targeted discussion.

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Pictured left to right: Mr. Andy Wells of Crown Estate, Mr. Richard Owens of the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency and Ann Maclennan, a local farm owner.

Meetings with stakeholders revealed the tensions of striving for management that captures the multiple priorities of diverse stakeholders – local citizens, recreational users, farmers, and estate managers – who sometimes feel the burden of too many rules.

In a post-referendum¹ and post-Brexit² world, Scottish lawmakers are unsure of their relationship to both Westminster and the European Union, and Scottish researchers are anxious about the continuity of some projects funded by these governments. I heard in interviews that officials relied upon EU-level legislation for the strongest environmental protections, and Scottish Parliament has already enshrined these standards into law; however, some expressed concern about whether Westminster would have the power to undo or modify these protections. These issues were mentioned by multiple interviewees, highlighting feelings of uncertainty about how law, governance and policy-making may change in the near future.

So how feels the pulse of the LTSER overall? I interviewed the advisory committee of the LTSER – three research scientists, one land manager, and one executive of the Cairngorms National Park Authority. The general feeling among these experts was that the LTSER was a framework useful for relationship-building across sectors and coordination of research activities across agencies and programs. Specifically, LTSER creates a forum and a framework for ongoing, periodic stakeholder dialogue, needs assessment with regard to research, and the coordination of research activities, funding, and data management. It was described as one layer in a web of institutions and research frameworks, important for coordination of research, data, and funding.

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Blogger Jen Holzer interviewing host Dr. Jan Dick, at the Center for Ecology and Hydrology on the Bush Estate, UK.

Great, ongoing efforts are being made to steward this beautiful, remote place, as fairly and effectively as possible, given competing interests. But it seems no pocket of earth is too far removed from a widespread feeling of change and uncertainty that threaten to interrupt the steady progress of ongoing research nor the inexorable human population growth that continues to put pressure on land management priorities.


¹In May 2016, the Scottish citizenry voted on the question — Should Scotland be an independent country? 55% of citizens, with a voter turnout of 85%, voted no (http://www.bbc.com/news/events/scotland-decides/results).

²On June 23, 2016, British citizens voted 52% to 48% that the UK should leave the European Union. The act of separating from the EU has not yet occurred, and the implications it will bring are as of yet uncertain.


jh

Jen is a PhD student in the Technion Socio-Ecological Research Group in Haifa, Israel and is affiliated with the Israeli LTSER network, with whom she is currently writing an article about applying transdisciplinary action research at the Negev Highlands platform. Her research evaluates impacts of the transition in ecological research toward transdisciplinary socio-ecological research. Her trip to Scotland was funded by an eLTER Transnational Access research exchange grant. She is happy to receive your comments, questions, and feedback at jholzer@technion.ac.il.

The Small Island of Braila

By Jen Holzer, Technion Socio-Ecological Research Group

After three days in and around Tulcea, we journeyed by car to the City of Braila, a city of about 200,000, famous as a node for the textile, shipbuilding, and shipping trades, and a surprisingly underdeveloped tourism industry. When our hosts told us this was not a travel destination, we were incredulous and inquired with the hotel reception. But the hotel proprietor confirmed that most hotel patrons are businessmen, mostly people from the Netherlands and England involved in the textile and shipping trades; they advised us to vacation in Brașov, the mountainous, “most beautiful part of Romania”7

After a tour of the University of Bucharest’s beautifully refurbished laboratory facilities in the city, we toured the Faculty’s pontoon on the Danube, complete with laboratories and sleeping quarters, and sat with local environmental managers and scientists for interviews and discussions.8

The next day, we drove to Stăncuţa to meet with the mayor of this communa, a collection of local villages bordering the protected Small Island of Braila, a LTSER platform. Interviewing the mayor and his colleagues at the Town Hall was illuminating for understanding the interplay of stakeholder interests – from EU funding requirements and opportunities to the situation of the veterinary technician who moved back to the hometown of his grandparents but was struggling to make ends meet, to wide local opposition to limits on grazing in the protected area on the Small Island of Braila.9

We were generously hosted for a fantastic lunch by the Mayor at a new research facility on the shores of the Danube, and set out on a short boat tour of Braila Island.

Coming from Israel, I am no stranger to a dynamic and fraught history of political conflict and transition, nor to a reality of contested natural resources. While the purpose of our trip was to understand the progress and barriers made by socio-ecological research in Romania, I was hardly expecting the depth of cultural exchange that took place on every level. I want to express my gratitude to our hosts, not only for their thoughtful hospitality down to the last detail, but also for their incredible patience in answering our questions – from the role of macrophytes in the Danube Delta ecosystem to the residual effects of the Communist period on environmental management to the role of ecologists as educators. As social ecologists, the social context of science is always relevant, on every level, including the personal.

jh

Jen is a PhD student in the Technion Socio-Ecological Research Group in Haifa, Israel and is affiliated with the Israeli LTSER network, with whom she is currently writing an article about applying transdisciplinary action research at the Negev Desert platform. Her research evaluates impacts of the transition in ecological research toward transdisciplinary socio-ecological research in Europe. Her trip to Romania was funded by an eLTER Transnational Access research exchange grant. She is happy to receive your comments, feedback, and suggestions for trivia questions about Romania at jholzer@technion.ac.il.

There’s Nothing Trivial about the Danube Delta

 

By: Jen Holzer, Technion Socio-Ecological Research Group

Romania Trivia

  1. Which nations border Romania?
  2. The Danube River empties into which sea?
  3. In what year did Romania become part of the European Union?
  4. Name a Romania-born Nobel Laureate.
  5. This Romanian building is known as the largest building in Europe.

Answers:

  1. Bulgaria, Servia, Hungary, Ukraine, Moldova
  2. Black Sea
  3. 2007
  4. George Emil Palade (Physiology and Medicine, 1974), Elie Weisel (Peace, 1986), Herta Muller (Literature, 2009), Stefan Walter Hell (Chemistry, 2014)
  5. Palace of the Parliament building in Bucharest

Tulcea, Gateway to the Danube Delta

On our first morning in Bucharest, Romania’s capital, Dr. Mihai Adamescu met us (my advisor, Dr. Daniel Orenstein, and myself), and together we walked 10 minutes north, past the Palace of the Parliament, said to be the largest building in Europe and the third-largest in the world, to the Faculty of Biology of Bucharest University, which has programs in biology, biochemistry, and ecology.

After a tour, we drank tea up a steep, narrow staircase in the Systems Ecology faculty – the office of our esteemed hosts, Mihai and his colleague Constantin – and without further ado, we departed on a 4-hour drive to the resort town of Tulcea, gateway to the Danube Delta.

We drove through vast flatland monocultures – sunflowers, corn, and wheat – and then on to solar fields boasting the latest model of German-made wind turbines. Romania currently gets 25% of its energy mix from renewables. The electric wires slumped what looked to be dangerously low across the fields. Finally, after two pit stops, we crossed a bridge straddling the murky Danube, of mythic proportions and Hulk-green.

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On our first day in Tulcea, we boarded a medium-sized motorboat fit for 8 people, and our boatman, Jeru, drove out into the Danube Delta. We took the river downstream, then several canals, two large lakes, and back home, for a full 8-hour tour, including a 2-hour stop in Criştan, the home village of our boatman, for a traditional lunch of fish stew, called chorba.

Our host ecologists took us to the a reflooding project, where the marshland had been drained for agriculture, and then, in a long-fought-for change of policy, was reflooded, about a year ago, to restore the wetlands. A team of horses and a herd of cows roamed the area, marked by man-made dikes, and dotted with native flowers.

They also pointed out the abundance of endemic biodiversity, despite it “not being birding season”. So many birds I had never seen before! Little egret, great egret, the invasive shore plant amorpha fructosa. Great white heron, little tern, black tern, common tern. Juvenile and adult cormorants. Black ibis, geese, swans. A lonely white pelican. A rare Dalmatian pelican. A domesticated pig, a wild boar. An otter. When we stepped onshore, tiny frogs sprang out of the mud in abundance.

We inaugurated our interviews that day with the impromptu questioning of our boat captain, native to the small village of Criştan, accessible only by boat. He shared a dominant view of many locals, who saw the Biosphere Reserve designation as a barrier to poor fishermen like himself, who needed as much catch as they could get. While we were there, our phones picked up the Ukrainian phone network, reminding us of the transboundary nature of the Danube Delta.

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The following day we interviewed the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve Authority Governor Dr. Baboianu, researchers at the Danube Delta Research Institute, and an administrator of the Biosphere Reserve Authority who discussed her daily struggles with enforcing Biosphere regulations.

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Our interviews in Tulcea were done. The next morning we would set out toward the City of Braila, adjacent to the Small Island of Braila, a 15,000 hectare nature reserve dedicated to protecting the natural floodplains and wetland habitat characteristic of the Lower Danube area, another important bird migration corridor between Europe and Africa.

jh

Jen is a PhD student in the Technion Socio-Ecological Research Group in Haifa, Israel and is affiliated with the Israeli LTSER network, with whom she is currently writing an article about applying transdisciplinary action research at the Negev Desert platform. Her research evaluates impacts of the transition in ecological research toward transdisciplinary socio-ecological research in Europe. Her trip to Romania was funded by an eLTER Transnational Access research exchange grant. She is happy to receive your comments, feedback, and suggestions for trivia questions about Romania at jholzer@technion.ac.il.