Writtle College research centre leading on worldwide conservation work

Writtle College academic Dr Peter Hobson is working to establish a large UNESCO World Heritage reserve across the Altai mountain region straddling the border between Russia and Kazakhstan.

The proposed site is almost 1.6 million hectares of mountain landscape rich in both biodiversity and cultural heritage – and is one of the best sites in the world for snow leopard.

Dr Hobson, Principal Lecturer in biodiversity conservation, is collaborating with a professional team of staff from the two countries. He has made several visits to the Altai Mountains in the southern region of Siberia to work on the major project, which involves producing a management plan and nomination application for a UNESCO World Heritage Trans-boundary Biosphere Reserve.

He said: “This is truly a unique landscape of mixed old growth forest, steppe, glacial lakes and traditional range land. Many communities continue to live here as they have done for centuries.”

The Centre for Econics and Ecosystem Management, which Peter established with Co-Director Professor Pierre Ibisch from Eberswalde University, Germany, in 2011, is contracted by the German Ministry for Environment BfN to steer the project.

The latest step in the project was a Commission meeting in Gorno-Altays, Siberia, where officials from both the Russian and Kazakhstan ministries were asked to endorse the proposal.

Simultaneously, Peter, together with colleagues from the Centre for Econics, is working on a two-year project, also funded by BfN, to register the best examples of old growth beech forest areas across Europe as UNESCO World Heritage sites. Peter is responsible for selecting appropriate sites within the Atlantic zone of Europe, which includes the UK, parts of Denmark, Belgium, France and southern Sweden.

The international conservation work, carried out by Peter and academic staff at the Centre for Econics, together with their on-going research on forest ecosystems and biodiversity, has prompted organisers of the International Union of Forest Research Organizations to invite Peter to present some of the research findings at the 2014 XXIV World Congress to be held in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA.

Peter explained: “The wider implications of our research are to demonstrate the importance of applying principles of close-to-nature management, what we would call ‘econics’, to mitigate problems linked to climate change. Published findings suggest ecosystems affected by human disturbance are less capable at regulating microclimatic conditions and this is degrading their ability to function effectively and to provide the essential services for human wellbeing.

“I presented at the last World Congress for forest research four years ago in Seoul, Korea. It is a truly big event, with over two thousand participants.

“IUFRO is a global, non-government network for forest science cooperation, which provides assistance to scientists and institutions and promotes joint activities and partnership agreements with national governments and NGOs. I am excited to be invited to present for the second time at the IUFRO World Congress and to share the research work we carry out at Writtle and the Centre with some of the best forest scientists in the world.”

This year, Peter and Professor Ibisch are also meeting with a team of professional staff from both South and North Korea to discuss the potential for developing a new trans-boundary national park between the two countries.

To find out more about the activities of the Centre for Econics and Ecosystem Management, visit www.centreforeconics.org

To find out more about how you can get involved in global Conservation research by being a student at Writtle College, please visit www.writtle.ac.uk or call the Conservation team on 01245 424200.