Swamps as Lifeline
by Mariana Verbovska
German biologist Michael Succow - about the potential of Ukrainian biosphere reserves
Michael Succow has been working on nature conservation (especially swamps and peatlands) in Europe. In 1997, at the age of 56, he received the Right Livelihood Award, also known as the Alternative Nobel Prize. Every year the award is presented to fighters for human rights, nature conservation, and peace. This award was once received by American programmer Edward Snowden and environmentalist Bill McKibben.
In his research, he devoted most of his attention to swamps and peatlands. Currently, its typology of wetlands is now used as a classification standard. It is thanks to the work and support of Michael Succow dozens of national parks, reserves (the territory where the main object of protection is one of the components of the natural complex. - Ed.) and other environmental sites were created in a number of countries such as Georgia, Azerbaijan, Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Belarus and Russia.
"I was born in a family of a farmer from East Germany and became the last in the generation to be at the farm. As a boy, I grazed flocks of sheep, was constantly surrounded by local nature, watched the birds. I had time to watch nature. It is love and respect for nature that have determined my future, become my foundation, and accompany me in everything I undertake” said Professor Succow in his speech during the presentation of the Right Livelihood Award.
ADVANTAGES OF THE BIOSPHERE RESERVES
After the biologist received the award "Right Livelihood Award", he decided to establish a non-profit organization that will promote the creation and development of biosphere reserves. Since then, dozens of new reserves have sprung up around the world with the support of the Succow Foundation. One of the projects of adaptation of biosphere reserves to climate change is currently being implemented in Ukraine.
"During my trip to Ukraine, I saw forests dying... The edges of forests are especially damaged. There is a strong erosion of the soil, especially after heavy rains in fields with summer crops (corn, sunflower), which are not covered in winter," Succow told to the correspondent of The Day newspaper.
According to professor Succow, UNESCO Biosphere Reserves are the best model areas for adaptation to climate change. And all because they represent different geographical regions, socio-economic conditions, as well as environmental problems. They are field laboratories for sustainable development.
"I have been working for the State Committee for Biosphere Reserves since 1990, and I think Germany is a good example of their development. One of my biggest dreams or, better said, ideas is to develop and maintain biosphere reserves nationally and internationally. I am also involved in the conservation and protection of peatlands and promote the development of the concept of nature protection through scientific study and cooperation with the public," says Michael Succow.
It is important that one of the key tasks of the biosphere reserves is not only to preserve the environment, but also the harmonious interaction of nature and people who live nearby. This distinguishes the biosphere reserve from, let’s say, a strict nature reserve, where human activity is prohibited.
ADAPTATION OF NATURE
Last year in Ukraine, the Succow Foundation launched a three-year project "Ecosystem Adaptation to Climate Change and Sustainable Regional Development through Capacity Building of Ukrainian Biosphere Reserves." The Desniansky Biosphere Reserve (Sumy Region), as well as Biosphere Reserve Roztochya (Lviv Region) and Western Polissya (Volyn Region) take part in it.
"Territories are very different, but also interesting. This is not my first trip to Ukraine, I have already seen a few local landscapes, so I can compare. And here I want to say at once that in the field of adaptation you have many prospects. For example, I already had a meeting with one of your Deputies, and we talked for two hours about how to develop organic farming in Ukraine and why it is important. Biosphere reserves can be an ideal place for this,” says the ecologist.
The project will last until 2021 and includes a number of activities such as the collection and analysis of information on ecosystems and their vulnerability to climate change, exchange of experiences with foreign colleagues, a tour to the German biosphere reserve, development of strategies for each biosphere reserve, and a competition for the best pilot projects of ecosystem adaptation.
"In working with biosphere reserves, it is very important to unite people and efforts for a good result. To be honest, a large part of our work is a dialogue with people who live in these areas. They know this nature best. We are here only to suggest something, but not to impose!” Professor Succow emphasizes.
The first developments of the project were presented in May-June. In particular, at a two-day seminar at the Biosphere Reserve Roztochya, experts discussed the state of local ecosystems, climatic stresses and the factors that determine them. Maps created by specialists from the University of Sustainable Development in Eberswalde (Germany) and the Ivan Franko National University of Lviv were used. Among the problems recorded in the reserve are lower groundwater and surface water levels, prolonged droughts, heavy rainfall (monthly rainfall for a short period), frequent icing events in winter, strong wind gusts that cause blizzards, hurricanes, and even tornadoes.
So the more forests we have (especially old beech), the more we will be protected from natural disasters. Analysis of land surface temperature maps based on satellite images shows that the air temperature above the forest surface in summer differs from the air temperature above the building by 7 degrees! Scientists have recorded the lowest temperatures in water bodies and forests. Reservoirs are slowly heating and cooling, in fact, they themselves are regulators of the surrounding microclimate. Coniferous plantations in this sense are "poor", they quickly heat up and cool down. But the ancient forests showed low temperatures in the summer heat. One of the reasons is dead wood, which retains moisture.
TIPS FOR UKRAINE
Among the options for ecosystem adaptation is the transition to organic farming instead of industrial. Global trends show that such products will be in demand and more expensive. It's just a matter of marketing and promotion.
"Biosphere reserves are typical regions for social and ecological land use, so the emphasis should be on climate-neutral agriculture. Then agriculture for climate change can be more profitable than elsewhere, and even help mitigate climate change. In addition, ecological products and natural tourism have great potential and can help people earn a living without destroying nature,” adds the professor.
One of the options may also be the revival of swamps. "In terms of climate change, peatlands are extremely important. In Russia, for example, almost all of them have been destroyed in the last 50 years. This had a significant negative impact not only on the country's economy and human security, but also on the environment. After all, artificial drainage leads to significant greenhouse gas emissions, fires and almost complete loss of biodiversity," explains Professor Succow.
For example, the restoration of the swamp in Roztochya will increase the fertility of cranberries, which 20 years ago had a good harvest in these areas. If it is harvested in moderation, it will become not only an element of adaptation, but also a job and income for local people.
A few years ago, the Roztochya reserve in the Lviv region could not understand what was happening to the local nature. The number of frogs decreased three times, pike and red crucian carp disappeared, beech and oak forests dried up, cranberries stopped ripening and flocks of black grouse did not fly. The reason for these changes was drained in the 50's local swamp. The reserve is completely dependent on water, so when the water level changed, everything began to change as well. After long deliberations and calculations in the reserve, the territory of the drained swamp was artificially flooded. In the spring of 2017, the idea was supported not only by scientists, but also by local beavers, who began to build an additional dam, thus increasing water spills.
"That's why I always emphasize: we must protect the swamps and help to fill them with water! In Ukraine during the Soviet times, some swamps were destroyed. Today we need to save and preserve what we still have,” advises Michael Succow.
June 20, 2019, Newspaper „The Day“