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2/2010 Natural Resources in Switzerland


Biodiversity is Life

Diversity’s values > Food, health, safety > Biodiversity and economy > Status and losses > Ethics > Common responsibility > Consumption patterns > Biodiversity and climate

Summary > Biodiversity is Life 03 Editorial by Environment Minister Moritz Leuenberger

04 Views Maintaining and utilising biodiversity

08 The web of life Leader by Willy Geiger, FOEN Vice Director

12 Biodiversity is economy 13 Food Biodiversity on our plates

17 Health Biodiversity works

18 Micro-organisms A biological library

22 State and responses Losses continue

Publication details 2/10, May 2010 / The FOEN publication “umwelt”, on which this special English-language edition is based, appears quarterly in German and French; subscriptions available free of charge. / Published by: the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN). The FOEN is the federal government’s centre of environmental expertise and is part of the Swiss Federal Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications (DETEC) / General project management: Bruno Oberle, Thomas Göttin / Concept, editing, production, marketing: Georg Ledergerber (project manager/managing editor); Gregor Klaus, Oliver Graf, Sandra Limacher, Olivier Biber, JeanMichel Gardaz (coordination of “Biodiversity” dossier); Hansjakob Baumgartner, Luc Hutter, Beat Jordi, Cornélia Mühlberger de Preux, Lucienne Rey; Valérie Fries (editorial secretary) / Translation: Christopher Hay, Seeheim, FOEN Language Services / Copy editing: Eric Wiedmer / Layout: Atelier Ruth Schürmann, Lucerne / Ordering address for the print version and link to PDF file: FOBL, Distribution of Publications, CH-3003 Bern, Tel. +41 (0)31 325 50 50, fax +41 (0)31 325 50 58, Order number: 810.500.2-10. eng, / Paper: Cyclus Print, 100% recycled paper from sorted printers’ offcuts and office waste / Circulation of this issue: 54 000 German copies, 20 000 French, 6000 Italian, 3000 English / Copyright: Reprints permitted with citation of source and copy to the editors.

26 Ethics An interview on moral values

29 Eight federal offices Responsibilities in every sector

33 Consumption patterns Biodiversity-friendly labels

37 Climate change Ecosystems for resilience

> Cover illustration Photomontage: Christian Koch

> Good to know All articles in this magazine are also available on the Internet from Most of them include links and references. FOEN home page:


> umwelt/environnement is a magazine published four times a year in German and French. Each issue has a focal theme, presenting cutting-edge findings and prompting readers to take environmentally responsible action. The present English-language issue is an excerpt containing the “biodiversity dossier” of number 2/2010. The next issue, due in September 2010, will examine the prospects and risks of nanotechnology. It will reveal how the diverse opportunities presented by novel materials on a scale of a few millionths of a millimetre will be grasped in Switzerland while keeping a close eye on the potential hazards. environment 2/2010

A visit to Bern’s weekly market. At the ceremony held on 12 January 2010 to mark the launch of the International Year of Biodiversity, Swiss Councillor Moritz Leuenberger highlighted the importance of biological diversity for food security. Photo: Peter Klaunzer, Keystone

Valuing the essence of life Biodiversity is the essence of life. The unique, habit-

biodiversity into account. But some assets are im-

able biosphere that humankind enjoys on Earth has

possible to weigh up in monetary terms. Let us not

only evolved thanks to the diversity of living organ-

forget that human beings are also part of nature. If

isms. This great variety of genes, species and eco-

natural assets are defined purely as commodities

systems is what we call biodiversity.

with monetary prices, even people would have to

We are dependent on biodiversity – it is our lifesupport base. We obtain our nourishment from plants

justify their existence in economic terms if this were taken to its logical extreme.

and animals. Other organisms take care of soil for-

Switzerland is in the process of drawing up a na-

mation and soil fertility. Biodiversity also keeps us in

tional biodiversity strategy in line with the UN Conven-

good health: for example, Aspirin is derived from a

tion on Biological Diversity. In 2009, the Swiss Fed-

willow and Tamiflu from an Asian species of anise.

eral Council defined the cornerstones in the course

But instead of conserving and enhancing biodi-

of a preliminary debate. The objective is to maintain

versity, we exploit it. This has caused massive losses

and upgrade ecosystem services and to ensure that

of biological diversity, in Switzerland as elsewhere.

resource use has minimum impact on biological di-

Ecologists and economists are now joining forces in

versity. A further aim is to designate sufficient areas

order to halt these losses. Today, the value of eco-

for the conservation and enhancement of biodiversity,

system services is calculated in billions of Swiss

give them binding protection and integrate them into

francs. It is clear that safeguarding biodiversity is no

habitat networks. And finally, we must honour our re-

less vital to the survival of humankind than combat-

sponsibilities for global biodiversity.

ing climate change. Therefore, in all our economic activities, we must take the costs and benefits of

environment 2/2010

Moritz Leuenberger, Federal Councillor


Irene Künzle, Thal regional nature park

“Biodiversity and the landscape make us proud” “In October 2009 the Thal region in the Solothurn Jura Mountains was designated a regional nature park of national importance. The entire region was thrilled to be awarded the Swiss Confederation’s park label. The Federal Office for the Environment gave us excellent ratings for our biodiversity and landscape projects, and we are proud of that. The park’s objective is to maintain and support the fascinating landscape of the Jura Mountains while strengthening the region economically. The key aim is to gain economic benefit from the natural resources, striving for sustainable regional development which maintains a balance between people, biodiversity, the landscape, and the economy. Local people are very attached to the nature park. The nine municipal presidents make up the governing agency’s board, while we at head office coordinate the park’s 20 or more projects. These involve tourist services, marketing regional products, promoting species, and health and education activities. My own task is to raise awareness among local people and tourists about the value of biodiversity. We offer field trips and volunteer days. With partners working in


nature and landscape conservation, we are planning a nature trail and the restoration of a dry-stone wall, a significant feature of the cultural landscape. One of the early projects, completed in 2009, was the special exhibition ‘Tier&Haar’ (Animal&Hair) at the ‘Haar und Kamm’ (Hair and Comb) museum in Mümliswil (Canton Solothurn). In a playful and interactive way, children and youngsters were told fascinating stories about the hair, fur and wool of native animals. A number of projects are dedicated purely to biodiversity protection and enhancement. They include thinning woodlands and removing scrub to support rare or endangered species. In the agricultural sector we initiated a broad-scale project to enhance and network ecological compensation areas. We are now working on improving woodlark habitats. We have invited the schools to participate and this is being taken up with great enthusiasm!”

Recorded by Gregor Klaus

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Maja and Johannes Janggen, Farmers

“Biodiversity is a farm enterprise” “In 1993, one year after my wife and I took over this farm, payments for ecological compensation areas first became available. We registered some of our land, too, even though I had reservations: as a farmer I would have preferred to earn my income from the food we produce. But in the meantime biodiversity has become an on-farm enterprise for us, one we look after like any other and one we enjoy, when we see all the good that comes of it. Thanks to the habitat networking project launched in Malans in 2003, it is also worthwhile financially. Ecological compensation areas now make up 27 per cent of our farm; as well as hedges and traditional orchards, they mainly consist of a number of hay meadows under ‘extensive’ management, meaning they are not fertilised and not mown before July to give the meadow flowers time to set seed. These meadows are on steep slopes and we never gave them much fertiliser in the past anyway, because getting fertiliser, slurry or manure up those slopes was hard work. The bit of extra yield we could achieve wouldn’t be worth the effort. Managing these meadows extensively works better for us, not least because we receive

Biodiversity > environment 2/2010

the quality bonus for all our ecological compensation areas. We qualify by having certain wild flowers in the meadows and good overall biodiversity. Diversity to me also means cultural diversity. That is to say, I want my holding to be as diverse as possible. We are planning to plant more fruit trees. Between the direct payments and the fruit yield for juice production it should work out financially. Basically this is exactly what we want: to do something for nature which also yields a marketable product. I think extensification and habitat networking are already showing results. We are seeing more butterflies and I come across a hare more often than I used to. Last year we got a visit from some birdwatchers. Of the many species they spotted here in a very short time, I must admit I only knew a few. But I did get them to show me the red-backed shrike in one of our hedgerows. That’s one of the target species of the networking project.”

Recorded by Hansjakob Baumgartner


Olivier Antille, park and green space service, Lausanne

“Insects, birds and people appreciate our work” “Lausanne’s park and green space service has been promoting biodiversity since 1991. Back then, near-natural management was introduced under the maxim of ‘as much as necessary, as little as possible’. Systematic mowing has been given up in some areas of our public green spaces. Now, well-tended lawns are interspersed with nutrientpoor meadows. Thanks to this change in management a number of orchid species have returned, as has the Swallowtail butterfly. I am in charge of the ‘Vallée de la Jeunesse’ park where we mow certain meadows only once a year in order to let a wide range of species flower and disperse their seed. A biologist monitors the ripening of the seedheads and gives the green light for haymaking. Lately we have also arranged for all of the town’s public gardeners to take a course in mowing with scythes. In the ‘horticultural zones’ such as the rose garden in the ‘Vallée de la Jeunesse’ we also work in a more natural way. Plant protection measures


are more carefully considered and more targeted; we let natural predators do their work, and use more gentle products. We have also gone back to weeding by hand. Where new plots need to be planted or individual trees have to be replaced we now choose native tree species such as field maple, oak and beech, or native shrubs such as elder, cornelian cherry and European spindle. The woodland margins around the parks used to be chopped back with an axe, but not any more. Now we create a natural gradient with trees at the back, shrubs in the centre, and a herbaceous strip at the front. This design benefits insects, birds, and other species. We even provide the rare stag beetle with special structures made of rotting beech trunks – its preferred habitat. Apart from a minority of mostly older people who miss the neat, tidy lawns, the public has welcomed these developments which make our green spaces look that little bit more wild.” Recorded by Cornélia Mühlberger de Preux

environment 2/2010 > Biodiversity

All Photos: Christian Koch

Martin Küng, Forest warden

“Biodiversity and timber use are not mutually exclusive” “Over the past 20 years much has changed in the forests. When I began as a forester, trees unsuited to the location or alien species, like spruce, Douglas fir or northern red oak, were often planted on a grand scale. In monocultures these species are susceptible to drought, storms, heat, and pests such as bark beetles. In the 1990s, an inventory was taken of the natural forest communities and forest sites of the Canton of Basel-Landschaft. Based on the findings, forests not native to their location are now gradually being converted into natural or site-appropriate mixed stands. With mixed stands, which need much less management intervention, it is easier to react to market demands because one year beech might be in great demand whereas the next it might be ash or European silver fir. We take out of the forests what the market demands most at the time. Biodiversity and timber production are not mutually exclusive. We would not get by finan-

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cially with timber harvesting alone in any case, mainly because commodity prices for timber have slumped. So biodiversity promotion is now a mainstay for us. For example, as an FSC-certified operation we manage and maintain important nature reserves, mark certain trees to be maintained for woodpeckers, and improve forest margins. The Canton provides financial support for all this. We even mow woodland clearings to preserve the habitats of important plant species such as orchids. I am delighted to see that fewer and fewer people have a problem with old wood and deadwood that we leave in the forests, whether standing or cut down. Deadwood is not dead, it is full of life and it is an important element in the forest’s lifecycle. My wish for the future would be for all forestry operations in Switzerland to combine timber production with the conservation of biodiversity.” Recorded by Gregor Klaus



Biodiversity – the intricate web of life ecosystems provide cannot be artificially created, however hard we try.

Twenty years ago scientists in the USA attempted to construct an artificial world. In the Arizona desert they erected an air- and watertight glass capsule, resonantly named “Biosphere 2”. The experiment was designed to prove that life could be sustained indefinitely in a completely closed system. Within the bubble different habitats were created, providing a home for around 4000 species. There was a desert, a savannah, a tropical rainforest, a mini-ocean and agricultural land. Highly complex pumping, filtering and ventilation systems were installed. But the experiment failed: despite the investment of 150 million

The myriad forms of life. Biodiversity encompasses all life-forms (species of animals, plants, fungi and bacteria), the different habitats in which these species live (ecosystems such as forests, lakes and oceans) and the genetic diversity within species (e.g. subspecies, breeds and varieties). We humans are completely dependent on the goods and services that ecosystems provide (see page 12), including fertile soil, drinking water, CO2 storage, food and medicines. Biodiver-

dollars, the eight human “guinea pigs” were defeated by the challenge of surviving without help from the outside world and maintaining the capsule as a viable life-support system. Oxygen had to be repeatedly pumped in, animals died, cockroaches and ants multiplied in droves, and plants withered or smothered other species. The experiment made a powerful point – albeit at odds with the researchers’ original intentions: biodiversity and the services that

sity is of crucial importance for life on our planet and the well-being of humankind. A particularly significant aspect is the fact that biodiversity maintains itself, and even carries out its own “upgrades��� free of charge – it can just be left to get on with its work. Almost two-thirds of ecosystem services have already been damaged by humans or are being used non-sustainably. In the Tropics, to our dismay, 27 million hectares of rainforest – 2.4 per cent of the world’s tropical for-


Wherever scientists have sought life, they have found it – thriving in the deepest seas and on the highest summits. Bugs (Hemiptera) are a particularly diverse group, numbering more than 1000 species in Central Europe. In Switzerland, Hemiptera colonise prac tically every habitat – in and on water, on plants, on and in soil. Images: Collection Natur-Museum Lucerne, Christian Koch

environment 2/2010 > Biodiversity

ests – were destroyed between 2000 and 2005 alone. At the start of the 21st century the annual deforestation rate remains as high as it was in the 1990s. Most of the devastated area is converted into grazing land or soya or palm oil plantations. Ever-diminishing biodiversity. The situation in Switzerland may not be quite as dramatic, but we cannot afford to be complacent. For one thing, as consumers, exporters and investors we are all indirectly involved in the destruction of ecosystems all over the world. For example, palm oil goes into many of the foods and cosmetics found on our shelves. For another, we in Switzerland have also decimated our biodiversity and have been doing so for the last 150 years or more: 36 per cent of all alluvial zones, 82 per cent of all mires and 95 per cent of all dry meadows and pastures have been destroyed since 1900. Biodiversity loss is an insidious process. It takes place in small areas, often invisibly and very often with a time-lag before the effects are felt. Important functions of biodiversity and its ecosystem services may be lost before society takes notice and mobilises a response. It is high time for biodiversity to be classed as a key national economic indicator. But at the same time, we need to be constantly reminded that we ourselves did not just arrive from some other planet! Humans as a biological species are one among many results of more than 3000 million years of

lisation of genetic resources. Yet hopes that adoption of the Convention would result in large-scale conservation and enhancement of biodiversity have not been realised. Eight years ago in Johannesburg the international community set itself the target of significantly reducing the global rate of decline in biological diversity by 2010. The tenth Conference of the Parties to the Convention, which takes place in October this year in Nagoya, Japan, will have to face up to the fact that the world’s nations have failed to meet this target. In the International Year of Biodiversity 2010, Switzerland is also taking stock: although much has been done over the last two decades to conserve and enhance biodiversity, the losses continue to mount (see page 22). On a positive note, though, defining the target has clearly given biodiversity conservation a shared focus and renewed momentum. More and more steps are being taken in the right direction. This year is our opportunity to define our future course. It is up to us to decide how much biodiversity this planet will harbour in years to come. We need a biodiversity strategy. The conservation of biological diversity is enshrined in the Swiss federal constitution and in international conventions. The instruments that Switzerland has developed in recent years include biotope inventories, protected forest areas, Red Lists of endangered species, a biodiversity monitoring system and an environ-

“It is high time for biodiversity to be classed as a key national Willy Geiger, FOEN economic indicator. ” evolution. Without the richness of Earth’s life forms and the variety of its ecosystem services we would never have come into being. We have a moral obligation to conserve biological diversity. Missed targets. In 1992 the Convention on Biological Diversity was adopted at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro; it was ratified by Switzerland two years later. The Convention has three objectives: the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the uti-

Biodiversity > environment 2/2010

mental compensation scheme for farmers. But they are not enough to reverse the trend of biodiversity loss. In September 2008 the Swiss parliament therefore announced that a strategy for conserving and enhancing biodiversity would be part of the legislative programme for 2007–2011. In a decree of 1 July 2009, the Federal Council set a deadline of mid-2010 for receipt of the Swiss Biodiversity Strategy as a basis for deciding on further action. Willy Geiger, FOEN Vice Director



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Biodiversity’s services General services – Production of the air we breathe – Mires, soils and forests as natural carbon reservoirs (climate stabilisation) – Acceleration of the hydrological cycle through plant evapotranspiration – Recycling of plant detritus

Contribution to health – – –

Active ingredients for medicines Recreation in a diverse natural environment Reception and detoxification of contaminants

Contribution to nutrition – Production of all foods – Diversity of foods – Formation and stabilisation of fertile soils – Maintenance of nutrient cycles – Biological control of pests – Pollination of crops – Edible wild plants – Wildlife/game (e.g. fish, deer) – Animal fodder – Organic fertilisers

Further economic services – Valuable natural and cultural landscapes for tourism – Clean potable water from unspoilt ecosystems

Contribution to safety – Protection against rockfall and avalanches – Ecosystems as water storage systems (flood protection) – Resilient ecosystems as bulwarks against invasive species

Existence value – Value attributed to natural diversity regardless of its utilisation (e.g. value as a bequest to future generations)

Although we only experience parts of the picture at any one time: everthing is connected. Photos and photomontage: Christian Koch

Biodiversity > environment 2/2010



Biodiversity is economy Biodiversity is the foundation of our lives and provides us with innumerable essential services. Many of these services are now under threat from biodiversity loss. Money spent on conserving and restoring biological diversity would be a sound economic investment.

The human population effectively squanders the equivalent of 75 000 000 000 Swiss francs each year as a result of our failure to control biodiversity loss and the increasing pressure on Earth’s ecosystems. This is the conclusion of a team of scientists who have studied how much humans benefit from ecosystems and the species that inhabit them. Key ecosystem services are the storage of CO2, especially by forests and peatlands, and the provision of drinking water, food and medicines (see summary on page 11). The engine that drives the provision of these services is biodiversity. No life without biodiversity. If ecosystems are damaged or destroyed, they can no longer provide their services. Humans must then either accept

versity; we need to view the markets for traded goods and services as a subdivision of a much higher-level economy, the economy of the biosphere,” says Andreas Hauser. Price tags on biodiversity. The TEEB project (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity) does just this at global level. The study, which is hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), sets out to put price tags on biodiversity’s services to humankind and to assess the economic consequences of biodiversity loss. The initial findings show that the welfare loss to humankind in economic terms would amount to around 7 per cent of global gross domestic product by 2050 if biodiversity loss continues at the present rate and if the quan-

“We must learn that the ecosystems are an important form of capital Andreas Hauser, FOEN that produces goods and provides services.” a serious reduction in quality of life or use expensive and complex technology to replace these services. “We must learn that the ecosystems are an important form of capital that produces goods and provides services”, says Andreas Hauser of the Economics Section at the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN). Nevertheless, it is impossible to put a figure on the economic value of biodiversity as a whole. “Since we cannot live without biodiversity, its value is infinitely high,” explains Andreas Hauser. Economic valuations therefore relate to the loss or added value of services when two different situations are compared. However, many ecosystem services are not traded on the open market. While everyone knows that a kilo of potatoes has a price in the shops, processes such as the creation of fertile soil or the pollination of crops are assumed to be free. “It is important for us to become more aware of the benefits that we derive from biodi-


tity of goods and services that biodiversity can provide continues to decline. “The cost of the damage would spiral and very rapidly reach thousands of billions,” says Andreas Hauser. Studies in Switzerland likewise show that near-natural ecosystems are of greater economic value than low-biodiversity ecosystems. But in many cases what is worthwhile for society as a whole is not profitable for the individual landowner. Because of this, many services which deserve to be valued and treasured are quietly destroyed. The three following pieces illustrate the importance of biodiversity for everyday life in connection with food, health and security. In each case the core message is the same: the conservation of biodiversity is not a luxury but an existential necessity. Gregor Klaus

CONTACT Andreas Hauser Economics Section FOEN +41 (0)31 322 79 15

environment 2/2010 > Biodiversity


From bank to table A wide diversity of crop plants and livestock breeds is an essential prerequisite for our survival. The gene bank of the Swiss research institute Agroscope Changins-Wädenswil harbours treasures that may one day play an important role in solving present and future food crises.

Genetic resources are just as much a foundation for food security as are soils and water. “They are vital and must be secured for the long term,” stresses Sarah Pearson of the Species and Biotopes Section of the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN). “If the genetic diversity of crop plants and livestock is not conserved, we risk not being able to react to future challenges such as new diseases or climate changes,” notes Christian Eigenmann, Coordinator of the National Action Plan for the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for nutrition and agriculture (NAP-PGREL) in the Swiss Federal Office for Agriculture (FOAG). Wide diversity. The genetic diversity in fungi,

plants and animals is a tremendous resource reservoir. Nearly 60 000 species of fungi and plants worldwide are considered edible, of which some 7000 are cultivated. Over the centuries, crop plants were selected on a local level in such a way that they are ideally adapted to their environment and can withstand droughts, diseases and pest infestations. They developed countless interesting characteristics

were then added. At present nearly 12 000 cultivars are being conserved. On average 300 specimens are distributed annually among organisations and institutes in Switzerland and abroad for research and selection purposes, or simply as demonstration material. The material in the Changins collections is carefully described. Not only are the collection date and the name of the cultivar and the parent generation filed in the data bank, but also information on characteristics such as growth height, protein content, resistance to diseases, and for cereal cultivars, baking quality. The seed is dried, placed in aluminium pouches, stored in deep freezers and monitored on a regular basis. For greater security, part of the material is also stored in another location, such as Germany or the USA. The Global Seed Vault in Spitzbergen (Norway) is also supplied with material. Food security through diversity. “As a whole we

were able to stop the loss of biodiversity in crop plants in Switzerland,” Geert Kleijer, head of the national gene bank, is glad to report. In fact, the offering on the market is actually in-

“As a whole we were able to stop the loss of biodiversity Geert Kleijer, national gene bank in crop plants in Switzerland.” as a result. This legacy, however, can only be conserved through utilisation and protection. In Switzerland, three agricultural research institutions operate under the aegis of the FOAG. One of these, Agroscope ChanginsWädenswil (ACW), maintains, among other things, the national gene bank. Laborious work. The collection of cereal culti-

vars was started at the research institute over a hundred years ago. Vegetables and grapes

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creasing once more as the research institute releases one or two new cultivars for agricultural production each year. The trend in cereal cultivars is a good example: around 1900 there were still around 200 local cultivars being grown in Switzerland. This number had dwindled to a mere handful by the 1950s. Since then, however, the number of cereal cultivars being grown in the fields has increased and is presently between 20 and 30. And that is a good thing: “If we limit ourselves



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to just one cultivar and if this cultivar then succumbs to a severe disease, it would be a disaster. But if we have several cultivars, there is a good chance that some of them will be resistant and at least part of the harvest will be saved,“ Geert Kleijer explains. Saved thanks to tradition. Normally only a few local cereal cultivars are maintained in production, as in most cases they are no longer compatible with modern growing and harvesting methods. Hence, diversity is primarily a reservoir for breeding work. Once in a while, however, Agroscope Changins is asked to bring heirloom seed out of storage. This was the case with “Rouge de Gruyère”, a wheat cultivar that is suited for straw plaiting and was added to the collection in the early 20th century. Since the revival of that traditional craft, “Rouge de Gruyère” is now being sown again in Canton Fribourg. “This is a case of niche products with high added value that are intended for local markets or for private gardens. For larger scale production, however, the cultivar must be of greater significance economically,” says Geert Kleijer. There is greater interest in heirloom cultivars of fruits and vegetables. For example, Geneva cardoon (vegetable) and “Poire à Botzi” (“Büschelibirne”), a pear from the Fribourg region, were both added to the Appellation of Controlled Origin (AOC or GUB) list, as was the maize cultivar Rheintaler Ribel. Promoting such products gives neglected cultivars a resurgence in popularity, making food more diverse. The revived regional dishes in turn enrich cultural diversity.

Photos and photomontage: Christian Koch

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Considerable potential. The conservation work, however, is particularly important in terms of a greater gene reservoir and more options for cross-breeding. As local cultivars may possess desirable traits such as resistance, adaptation to local conditions, stable yields, a certain level of disease tolerance, or easy seed production, they are a vital reservoir for genetic research. “The question that we need to keep asking ourselves is ‘What characteristics should the cultivars of the future have?’ In the fight against summertime drought, for example, we need to find early ripening cultivars,” explains Geert Kleijer. “That the selection programmes have produced more resistant cultivars that are compatible with sustainable agriculture is especially good news,” emphasises Sarah Pearson. At Changins, the search for cultivars that will make the use of fungicides obsolete is under way. “We have found that certain local wheat and barley cultivars are highly resistant to a fungus disease


known as black rust. These cultivars are now available to breeders, who are breeding this trait into other cultivars,” explains Geert Kleijer. Another example is the discovery of Münstertaler, a wheat cultivar from Graubünden that is especially resistant to the fungus disease pink snow mould. There is much interest in this research in Japan, which is similarly plagued by the disease. A sound foundation. Numerous private organi-

sations in Switzerland are also committed to the conservation of crop plant diversity. Various associations such as Fructus, the Aubonne Arboretum, ProSpecieRara and Rétropomme are collecting and conserving heirloom fruit tree cultivars.

The Swiss Commission for the Conservation of Cultivated Plants (CPC) serves as umbrella organisation for all stakeholders in this area and coordinates activities in the scope of NAP projects. “The Swiss Confederation in turn provides these organisations and the CPC with support through the NAP,” explains Christian Eigenmann. The most recent report on plant genetic resources in Switzerland shows that there have been major achievements in the conservation and utilisation of genetic resources in recent years.

Cornélia Mühlberger de Preux

CONTACTS Sarah Pearson Perret Head of Species and Biotopes Section FOEN +41 (0)31 322 68 66 Christian Eigenmann NAP Coordinator Swiss Federal Office for Agriculture FOAG +41 (0)31 325 17 04

No soil, no life (gk) When the British colonised Australia, there was one tradition that they didn’t want to give up: the Christmas tree. But the spruce seeds that they brought with them produced nothing but sickly little trees in the Australian soil – sometimes not even that. It only worked when English soil was imported as well. The mycorrhizal fungi in that soil made the crucial difference. “Soil is much more than a nutrient-holding substrate,” explains Elena Havlicek of the FOEN Soil Protection Section. A handful of soil can contain as many as five billion living organisms – almost as many as there are people in the whole world. The ability of the soil to deliver key ecosystem services depends on these organisms and their interactions. Life forms – ranging from bacteria, fungi and minute flagellates to the relatively large earthworm – are key players in soil formation. Without functioning soils, most plants would not be able to grow; there would be practically no above-ground biodiversity and for human beings, no food. “No life, no soil – no soil, no life,” explains Elena Havlicek. Soil organisms are involved in the cycles of many substances. One of their services is to decompose dead plant material. “Without soil organisms, the world would drown in dead biomass,” says Elena Havlicek. Humus is a key nutrient reserve. Soil organ-


isms build it up as well as breaking it down and thus making it available to plants. This service is key, especially to organic agriculture, where artificial fertilisers cannot be used. Carbon is also tied up in humus, which means that soils are a gigantic sink for sequestered carbon – the carbon that would otherwise fuel climate change if it were in the atmosphere. Furthermore, soil organisms promote an open soil structure with greater permeability and water uptake capacity, so that intact soils are important retention basins for precipitation. Soil conservation effectively doubles up as flood protection and a means of hazard prevention. Soil organisms stabilise the soil and prevent it from being washed away. As a general rule, the more intact the biodiversity, the greater the benefits of its services. According to Elena Havlicek, “Life needs diversity.” .

CONTACT Elena Havlicek Soil Protection Section FOEN +41 (0)31 325 14 97

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Biodiversity’s healing power Biodiversity is a vital source of medicines, and a diverse landscape gives us quiet places to relax and unwind. Investing in biodiversity is a way of investing in our health.

One of nature’s most spectacular medicines was discovered by the Nobel-prize-winning English bacteriologist, Alexander Fleming, back in 1928: in a strain of mould he discovered penicillin, the prototype for all antibiotics. The market value of that discovery is almost impossible to quantify. But biodiversity is not just an ever-ready source of new medicines (see box on page 18). Its health benefits are much wider-ranging thanks to its regenerating effect on mind and body. According to a WHO definition, health is much more than the mere absence of disease. Human health is a state of physical, mental and social well-being. Unspoilt landscapes and the biodiversity they harbour make a vital contribution to this, as numerous studies have confirmed. Considering the rising costs in the health care sector, promoting high-quality, biodiverse landscapes looks like an excellent investment.

health than was previously believed. Since biodiversity in the form of living organisms and habitats is an important element of the landscape, its conservation merits special priority. “Near-natural and diverse environments that are easily accessible and perceived as attractive by the population promote physical activity, have positive mental health benefits, improve concentration and reduce frustration, anger and stress,” explains Pia Kläy of the FOEN’s Landscape and Land Use Section. Biodiversity for exercise. Wild areas close to resi-

dential developments hold a special appeal for children. These natural outdoor spaces meet their elementary needs for activity, exploration and autonomous play. Following ecological upgrading work on a stream near the Telli highrise development in the Swiss canton of Aargau,

“Near-natural and diverse environments promote physical activity, have positive mental health benefits, improve concentration and reduce frustration, Pia Kläy, FOEN anger and stress.” Biodiversity for well-being. Medical researchers

have long discussed the benefits of plants and animals in health care settings. For example, they can help to speed up recovery. A study demonstrated that patients with a view of trees and meadows regained their health more quickly than others who had a view of a plain brick wall. To explore the interface between landscape and health, the Swiss Foundation for Landscape Conservation (SL-FP) joined forces with the Swiss Association of Doctors for the Environment (AEFU) to launch the project “Paysage à votre santé”, supported by the FOEN among other sponsors. One of the project’s first studies, carried out at the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine, University of Bern, verified that the landscape has more all-encompassing effects on

Biodiversity > environment 2/2010

local children took ownership of it with spontaneous enthusiasm. As a resource for exercise, the natural world plays an important part in motivating a more physically active lifestyle. This in turn is a key factor in good health. Green spaces in cities also perform a range of ecological functions. For example, they have useful effects on the microclimate and reduce the immissions load in urban centres. Biodiversity for learning. Studies show that even

short bursts of outdoor activity, say during a lunch break, can refresh the mind, stimulate creativity and promote concentration. In view of these services provided by biodiversity, the Swiss Foundation for Nature and the Economy (Stiftung Natur & Wirtschaft), supported by the FOEN, wants to turn the environs of business


premises into recreational zones for employees and habitat areas for animals and plants. The Foundation has set its sights on enhancing the humdrum routine with more life, diversity and colour. Already, an area the size of Lake Sempach has been certified to its standards. For Reto Locher, the foundation’s managing director, the relationship between biodiversity and well-being has yet another, more profound dimension. In making room for the dynamic creativity of nature – to which we are intimately linked, by virtue of millions of years of evolution – we take a step back from ourselves and practise humility. “Realising the diversity of all the species, and appreciating them – and ourselves – as living beings, is an experience that teaches us humility, respect and responsibility,” says Reto Locher. This can enhance our well-being tremendously. Gregor Klaus

Biodiversity works (gk) Historically, almost all medicines were made from plants and animals. Even today, we still use nature as our pharmacy. It is thought that 50 000 to 70 000 plant species are used in traditional medicine worldwide. People in developing countries rely on medicinal plants that grow in the wild. The conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity is therefore crucial to these people’s survival. Destruction of the rainforest in many parts of the Amazon has already made essential medi cinal plants very rare or very expensive – with fatal consequences for the health of local inhabitants. Although Swiss consumers are more used to taking the active ingredients in tablet form, we are every bit as dependent on global biodiversity. Around half of the drugs in standard use today are based on active ingredients extracted from animals or plants, or are formulated to replicate natural substances. The worldwide annual revenue from such medicines amounts to some 200 billion US dollars. CONTACT Pia Kläy Landscape and Land Use Section FOEN +41 (0)31 322 80 30



Invisible helpers The CCOS Laboratory in Wädenswil on Lake Zurich is the custodian of a relatively unknown biological resource in Switzerland: the diversity of native micro-organisms.

The CHA0 strain of Pseudomonas fluorescens bears the number 2. This variant of the rodshaped bacterium was thus one the very first micro-organisms to become part of the Culture Collection of Switzerland (CCOS). At the CCOS facility, these organisms are meticulously examined and characterised one last time before going into cold storage at temperatures of –196°C, where they await the day that someone decides to take a closer interest in them and their characteristics. The CCOS laboratories at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) in Wädenswil were opened in May 2009. The paint is still fresh, and the equipment is shiny and new. Control lights blink, the fans hum, numbers and graphs zip across monitor screens. It does not seem like a place that has anything to do with natural diversity. Nevertheless this artificial environment is the repository for a significant part of our country’s biodiversity. The invisible majority. The fungus, plant, and animal species populating Earth represent only a part of its biological diversity – and not necessarily the largest. More than half of the biomass is made up of micro-organisms, namely microscopic fungi, algae, and protozoa. They keep ecosystems going, convert atmospheric nitrogen into a plant nutrient, purify water, and decompose all living things after they die. Half of all global oxygen production results from their activity. Micro-organisms are jacks of all trades. The scope of their capabilities is reflected in the diversity of ecological niches they occupy. Some flourish in extreme heat; others in glacier lakes at near-freezing temperatures. There are specialists for highly acid or alkaline, sulphur-rich or anaerobic media, and many species use other organisms as habitats. “Essentially all biological ‘innovations’ that have ever been tried in the course of evo-

environment 2/2010 > Biodiversity

lution can still be found in micro-organisms,” says Kurt Hanselmann, geomicrobiologist at the ETH Zurich and an expert on biocommunities in extreme locations. It is precisely these extremists that sometimes exhibit useful characteristics. An example is the bacterium Thermus aquaticus, which was isolated from the 70ºC water of a geyser in Yellowstone National Park in the USA. It led to the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique, the method used to copy

of this highly contagious disease. Nowadays sprays of the antibiotic streptomycin are used to treat infected orchards, which is not without problems due to the danger of resistance developing. Diverse natural enemies from the microbe world are being used against the bacterial pathogen. A promising candidate is Pantoea agglomerans, which is reputedly highly effective. Precise identification of the strains that are suitable for biological pest control is critical, however, as there are also human

Micro-organisms have been a biological resource for humankind since ancient times. the chemical substance of heredity, DNA. PCR is one of the most important processes of molecular biology. With PCR, genetic diseases or viral infections can be identified, and genetic fingerprints can be created and used to identify suspects who left trace amounts of skin particles behind at crime scenes. To make copies of double-stranded DNA, it must first be separated into two single strands, which requires temperatures of 96°C. Thermus aquaticus provides the necessary enzyme, which is still able to function even at this temperature. Beer, bread, and biological pest control. Micro-

organisms have been a biological resource for humankind since ancient times. The first pictorial illustration of their use is 5000 years old: ancient Egyptian frescoes show men brewing beer. To do so, they must have called upon the services of the microscopic yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, as Louis Pasteur eventually discovered in 1857. Micro-organisms have also been helping out in cheese production and in baking for thousands of years. Molecular biology is opening new fields of activity for these minute organisms in medicine, research, industry, and also in green technology: the CHA0 strain of Pseudomonas fluorescens that we mentioned earlier could become useful in biological pest control. This bacterial species lives on roots. It protects its host plant by producing substances with antibiotic activity against pathogenic organisms. In the case of the CHA0 strain, which colonises the roots of cereals, sugar beets, and other crop plants, this substance inhibits the growth of pathogenic fungi. The bacterium Erwinia amylovora, the pathogen that causes fire blight, has ravaged Swiss orchards in recent years. A quarter of a million trees had to be cut down in 2007 because

Biodiversity > environment 2/2010

pathogenic strains of this bacterium. In a research project sponsored by the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN), the characteristics of such strains and how they behave in the environment are being studied at the Agroscope Changins-Wädenswil ACW research institute. Biological library. The rules of the Convention on Biological Diversity, ratified in 1992, also apply to working with micro-organisms: they are to be used sustainably and equitably, and their diversity conserved. According to Marco D’Alessandro of the FOEN Biotechnology and Substance Flows Section, “The focus is thus on studying the contribution of these organisms to ecosystem functions and also on conserving strains potentially useful to science and industry.” Most of the microbes that end up in the CCOS gene bank in Wädenswil were isolated from the environment, i.e., from plants, soils, or bodies of water, in the scope of research projects. Others come from local research and industrial laboratories. Along with potentially useful micro-organisms, the collection also contains others which are pathogenic and may be useful for diagnostics and vaccine development. For example, several borreliosis pathogens isolated from Swiss ticks are in the inventory. “The CCOS works like a library,” explains Martin Sievers, microbiologist and CCOS director. “Strains of micro-organisms of Swiss origin are stored at our facility and made available to interested parties for practical applications.”

Hansjakob Baumgartner

Micro-organisms have huge structural diversity. Their genomes are an archive of all key biological innovations that have occurred throughout Earth’s history. Images: Kurt Hanselmann, swiss | i-research and training, Zurich

CONTACT Marco D’Alessandro Biotechnology Section FOEN +41 (0)31 322 93 95



environment 2/2010 > Biodiversity

Biodiversity is dynamic Biodiversity is not a static thing that could be preserved by shutting it away. Plants, for instance, respond to environmental factors such as frost, dryness, flooding, shading or the nutrient content of the soil. Spatial and temporal variations in environmental conditions work first to the benefit of one species, then another. This maintains diversity without any single species becoming dominant. For this dynamic to be able to play out, and in order that new sites favourable for a species can actually be colonised, connectivity in the shape of intact habitat networks is essential. Images and montage: Christian Koch

Biodiversity > environment 2/2010



Ever-decreasing biodiversity The state of biodiversity worldwide is alarming. Despite the wide range of measures taken to conserve and enhance diversity, its depletion continues, in Switzerland as elsewhere. The causes of this decline are manifold. Although Switzerland is a relatively small country, its diversity of species and habitats is more or less equivalent to those of other, much larger European countries. Switzerland hosts more than 50 000 species of plants, animals, and fungi. We owe our relatively high biodiversity to the Alps with their different climatic zones, the country’s diverse geological makeup, the richly structured cultivated land which has been managed by traditional practices over many centuries, and the great variety of natural and near-natural habitats. Switzerland also features a rich genetic diversity of crop plants and livestock breeds which closely corresponds to the country’s varied physiographic and cultural assets. But this diversity does not come as a matter of course. A study conducted by the Swiss Biodiversity Forum, involving more than 80 scientists, shows that there have been massive losses in biodiversity since 1900, with few exceptions (Fig. 1, Fig. 7). Practically all natural and near-natural habitats have significantly diminished in both area and quality. The Red Lists of endangered species (Fig. 5) are correspondingly long, with a variety of factors causing these losses (Fig. 4, 6). Intensification of Alpine land use. In order to halt the loss of species and habitats, work to conserve and enhance biodiversity has been underway over the past two decades (Fig. 2). Meinrad Küttel, project manager of the Swiss Biodiversity Monitoring programme (BDM) at the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN), explains that “Switzerland’s efforts to conserve and enhance biodiversity are showing first signs of success, especially in the forests and regarding genetic diversity in livestock breeds and crop plant varieties. However, the most important objective of halting the human-induced loss of biodiversity has yet to be achieved.” In the Alpine region there are signs that agricultural land use is intensifying, which will only hasten the woeful decline in biodiversity (Fig. 9).

CONTACT Evelyne Marendaz Guignet Head of Species Management Division Protected areas and habitat networks. Where land FOEN uses lead to a major loss of biodiversity, protected +41 (0)31 325 53 42 areas play a particularly important role in the evelyne.marendaz@ conservation and enhancement of biodiversity.


Protected areas become refuges from which species can spread again. However, at present (2010) the total area of biodiversity conservation sites designated at national level comprises only 6.19 per cent of Swiss territory (Fig. 2). Together with the cantonal and municipal protected areas these refuges are spread throughout the country and form the backbone of a habitat network system. However, since they are often quite small, isolated and subject to a range of disturbances, they will not suffice as the sole conservation strategy. Results-monitoring in habitats of national importance has shown that mires (raised bogs, transition bogs, fenlands) (Fig. 3), amphibian spawning sites, and dry meadows and pastures have suffered a considerable deterioration in their habitat quality. Biodiversity-friendly land use. What is needed therefore, on a nationwide scale, is land use adapted to ecosystems with ecological stepping stones and corridors forming a habitat network system. “Only then can the whole of Switzerland attain its habitat potential,” says Evelyne Marendaz, head of the FOEN’s Species Management Division. In forests, for example, this entails not just designating certain areas of the forests as nature reserves or special forest reserves but also managing the country’s entire forest stock in a near-natural manner. Other equally important measures aimed at consolidating the habitat network system include ecological compensation areas and networking projects in the farming sector, the revitalisation of watercourses, the nature parks, the recreation of wildlife corridors through the construction of vegetated overpasses, ecological enhancement of company premises, green roofs, wild gardens and green spaces in residential areas. “The conservation and enhancement of biodiversity are also dependent on the sustainable use of natural resources by all political and economic sectors throughout the land,” Evelyne Marendaz explains. “Economic incentives and financial instruments to support biodiversity programmes must be optimised or newly developed.” Gregor Klaus

environment 2/2010 > Biodiversity

FIG. 1: MAJOR LOSSES OF VALUABLE HABITATS Total area (%) 100 80 Alluvial zones 60 40 Mires


Dry meadows and pastures 0

Alluvial zones (floodplains), mires, and dry meadows and pastures used to be widespread habitats in the past but since 1900 they have significantly declined in area. Alluvial zones mostly fell victim to river engineering works; mires had their peat extracted or were turned into farmland; dry meadows and pastures were subject to increasingly intensive agricultural use or fell into disuse and reverted to woodland. Between 1900 and 2010, Switzerland lost 36% of its alluvial zones, 82% of the area of mires, and 95% of the area of dry meadows and pastures. One must also bear in mind that there had already been major changes prior to 1900. For example, between 1850 and the present, 71% of alluvial zones have been lost. Source: Lachat T. et al. (Eds.) 2010: Wandel der Biodiversität in der Schweiz seit 1900.








Ist die Talsohle erreicht? Bristol-Stiftung, Zurich. Haupt Verlag, Bern.

FIG. 2: BIODIVERSITY CONSERVATION SITES AT NATIONAL LEVEL Protected area (ha) 100 000 Statutory biodiversity conservation areas (national level): 6.19% of Swiss territory

90 000 80 000 70 000 60 000 50 000

Source: FOEN

40 000 30 000 20 000 10 000 0 1991 93




Overall area Raised bogs Fenland







Amphibian spawning sites National park Alluvial zones Dry meadows and pastures

The inventories of habitats of national importance (raised and transition bogs, fenlands, alluvial zones, amphibian spawning sites and, since 2010, dry meadows and pastures) are a pillar of the Confederation’s biodiversity policy. Since the federal inventories were introduced in 1991, the area of these strictly protected sites has increased steadily in Switzerland (graph on the left: includes national park). Especially in the case of alluvial zones and mires, this has largely halted quantitative loss. However, in fact only remnants have been protected, and their quality is in persistent decline (Fig. 3). All the protected areas mentioned above, together with the reserves for waterbirds and migratory birds and the federal game reserves (i.e. no-hunting areas), make up 6.19% of Swiss territory (chart on the right).

Source: BDM

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Species group Macrofungi

less nutrient-rich: 5%

more wet: 3% drier: 26%

Flowering plants and ferns Mosses

more nutrientrich: 23%

Epiphytic lichens Terricolous lichens Breeding birds Locusts Damselflies and dragonflies Fishes and cyclostomes Amphibians Reptiles %

Source: FOEN

Maintaining habitat quality in the remaining and protected biotopes of national importance is a major challenge. Alluvial zones need regular flooding and natural river dynamics in order to maintain their ecological quality; dry meadows and pastures require extensive management year after year; mires need intact water regimes and nutrient-poor conditions. Yet a study commissioned by the FOEN showed that the quality of many raised bogs and transition bogs of national importance had deteriorated within a five year period (survey period 1997/2001– 2002/06). More than a quarter of mires have become markedly drier and in almost another quarter of sites, nutrient inputs had increased significantly. Nitrogen inputs from farming and from transport via airborne pathways are a cause of particular concern.






Extinct in Switzerland Critically endangered Endangered Vulnerable






Potentially endangered Least concern Data deficient Source: FOEN

The length of the Red Lists of endangered species in Switzerland varies, depending on the species group. Among the vertebrates, amphibians and reptiles are in particular danger: 70% of amphibian species and 79% of reptile species are on the respective Red Lists. The share of species for which there are insufficient data indicates that more research is needed on the species group concerned.


Number of priority species

Area in hectares


100 000

140 24 254

80 000 60 000 40 000

18 404

21 572






80 60

52 932

61 200

68 165

20 000

40 21

20 0

0 1979/85

Sealed soil surfaces



Buildings Source: Federal Office for Spatial Development ARE

Soil surfaces sealed over with concrete or asphalt are one of the least eco-friendly characteristics of settlement areas. In Switzerland, the sealed area has been increasing steadily in parallel with settlement growth. The chart above illustrates the increase in sealed soil surfaces over the period of the three surveys taken for Swiss land use statistics since 1979. The data refer to 38% of the Swiss territory, primarily the north and northwest, matching the currently available data from the 2004/09 land use statistics.



Intensive use of agric. land, watercourses and forests

Habitat destruction due to construction of buildings and infrastructure

Habitat loss due to loss of natural dynamics or cessation of farming

Disturbance due to leisure activities, tourism, or excessive collection in the wild

Deposition of pollutants (e.g. nitrogen) and climate change

Source: Red List Synthesis, FOEN

The chart above lists the causes of threats to the plant species of highest conservation priority. These include species that are very rare, endangered, or particularly characteristic of certain habitat types, as well as species that are of particular importance to the survival of other species or for which Switzerland has a major responsibility within Europe or on a global scale.

environment 2/2010 > Biodiversity


The chart illustrates the trend in butterfly fauna in the Basel region (approx. 1500 km 2). The number of species that are typical for a diverse agricultural region has been decreasing steadily. Approximately 20% of the species have not been sighted since 1980. The principal causes of this decline are the intensification of agricultural land use, the cessation of farming on remote and hard-tofarm dry meadows and pastures, and the expansion of settlements and industrial areas. By the time the disappearance of a species is noted, changes in biodiversity have already progressed significantly, because disappearance is always preceded by a major decrease in the number of individuals and populations. For example, many of the once-common gossamer-winged butterflies and fritillaries now only occur in a few sites in the Basel region. These small and highly isolated populations are under serious threat.

Number of species 120 100 80 60 40 20















Source: Altermatt F. et al. 2006: Die Grossschmetterlingsfauna der Region Basel. Monographien der Entomologischen Gesellschaft Basel, 2, 423 pp.


A century ago, Switzerland’s Central Plateau hosted as many butterfly species as the mountain regions. Since then, this diversity has been lost from the Central Plateau and almost every species group has been affected. The chart illustrates the species diversity of butterflies in sampling plots (1 km 2 each) as part of the Swiss Biodiversity Monitoring Programme (2003/07). The larger and redder the dot, the more species were recorded. The principal cause of the decline is the loss of extensively managed, flower-rich habitats. Today the species diversity of butterflies per square kilometre in the Alpine region is twice as high as that recorded in the Central Plateau. However, the Alpine region has also been affected by the intensification of agricultural production since the 1980s, resulting in a decline in endangered and specialised farmland species.

Source: BDM

< 20 species 20–29 species 30–39 species 50–59 species > 60 species Not surveyed

40–49 species

FIG. 9: LOSSES IN THE ALPINE REGION Number of breeding bird territories per 10 ha

Over the past twenty years the mountain regions have succumbed to a wave of higher-intensity land use. Meadows and pastures on favourable sites have received more fertiliser, more water or more frequent irrigation, brought into use earlier in the year and used more intensively than ever before. At the same time, many remote and difficult-to-manage sites have been abandoned, only to fall fallow or revert to woodland. These trends all result in some loss of biodiversity. The chart illustrates the changes in the overall population of meadow breeding birds (whinchat, skylark, tree pipit, corn bunting, woodlark) in three municipalities in Canton Valais (Brunnen, Gampel, Savièse) from 1988 to 2006.

10 8 6 4 2 0

Source: Sierro A. et al. 2009: Banalisation de l’avifaune du paysage agricole sur trois surfaces témoins du Valais





Gampel Brunnen Savièse

Biodiversity > environment 2/2010







(1988–2006). Nos Oiseaux 56: 129–148.

CONTACT Francis Cordillot Species and Biotopes Section FOEN +41 (0)31 324 01 38

Meinrad Küttel BDM-CH Species Management Division FOEN +41 (0)31 322 93 24



Ethical and economic arguments aren’t necessarily incompatible Gérald Hess has been advising the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) on ethical issues for the past six years. Since January 2010 he has been teaching environmental ethics at the University of Lausanne. In International Biodiversity Year he talks about moral values, ethical perspectives and the areas of common ground between economics and ethics.

environment: There are all sorts of economic reasons for conserving and promoting biodiversity. Are there also ethical grounds for protecting biological diversity? For example, do the dragonflies at the pond near your office have an intrinsic value that we must respect?

Gérald Hess: That depends on the basic ethical position that you adopt – whether your view is confined to humans or whether it includes other living things in the moral community. A person’s ethical position is strongly influenced by sociocultural factors. My task as an environmental ethicist is to critically examine the

tected because they take pleasure in it, a value is placed on the meadow and its species diversity. Human wishes and needs still have a strong bearing on this value, but interestingly enough, it also approximates very closely to the intrinsic value of nature. But the focus is still on humans.

Other views of nature explicitly extend the moral considerations to other living beings. For example, the pathocentric point of view is based on the belief that humans have a duty to protect

“There is no doubt that economic arguments for protecting biodiversity are justified. At the same time ethical arguments can also be very helpful.” values and behavioural norms that govern our interaction with non-human nature. What are the various possible ethical standpoints?

The anthropocentric view is probably the most widespread one in practice. Adherents of this position believe that it is only or at least mainly people who have intrinsic value and that nonhuman nature is of value only through its relation to people. The focus is therefore on the usefulness of nature. This includes such aspects as the aesthetic value of a wildflower meadow. If people feel that the meadow should be pro-


all sentient beings. In response to your opening question, one can take the ethical view that the dragonflies have an intrinsic value because they are sentient beings and sentience is morally relevant. However, for proponents of both the pathocentric and the anthropocentric viewpoint these dragonflies may also simply be beautiful, or there may be a link between them and the observer. The biocentric viewpoint goes so far as to ascribe intrinsic value to all living things, including plants. However, this point of view is difficult to put into practice and often struggles to gain acceptance. As soon as decisions need to

environment 2/2010 > Biodiversity

The philosopher Gerald Hess was staff scientist at FOEN, where he ran the coordination centre for ethics with a special interest in biotechnology and species management. Since January 2010 he has been a senior assistant at the Faculté des géosciences et de l’environnement of Lausanne University, where he lectures on environmental ethics. Image: Christian Koch

be taken, life has to be destroyed – for example, in order to deal with an invasive species from Asia or to convert a habitat occupied by nonnative species into one typical of the region. Anything one does in the countryside benefits some living things at the expense of others. You are putting the case for an anthropocentric moral view?

I am saying that we shouldn’t see economic and ethical considerations as opposing points of view, but as two sides of the coin. There is no doubt that economic arguments for protecting biodiversity are justified. At the same time ethical arguments can also be very helpful. Take the example of mire landscapes. People are a part of this ecosystem; they influence it and also profit from it. Could this not give the entire system

Biodiversity > environment 2/2010

– including the human element – an intrinsic value that significantly increases its actual monetary value? I see this standpoint as being perfectly justified if one abandons a view of nature in which everything is judged according to whether it is wild and untouched and from which humans are completely excluded. But if a raised bog is no longer used for peat-cutting, the result is an economic loss.

That’s not true! It is not just utility values that can be expressed in monetary terms. If people deliberately forego use of the bog because they take the ethical view that the life that inhabits it must be protected, the utility value becomes the opportunity cost. This enables the moral relevance attributed to the bog to be expressed in terms of monetary value – provided that the de-


cision to forego use can be justified on ethical grounds. At the same time the bog has a longterm value, because later generations will be able to profit from peat-cutting whenever they choose. And, finally, an intact bog is a carbon sink that helps combat climate change, which will affect the poor countries most. One can also calculate what the cost to the economy would be if we did nothing to protect the bog. All in all this gives us a fine combination of economic and ethical arguments. Wouldn’t ethical arguments be a good enough reason to protect biodiversity?

We live in a culture in which economics has become the touchstone of our everyday life. We are geared towards increasing the utility value of things – and we act accordingly. Whether we like it or not, ethical arguments about the intrinsic value of nature are not in themselves enough to conserve biodiversity. However, it is wrong to assume that sustainable production and consumption and ethical behaviour are mutually exclusive. An anthropocentric moral view that is broadly construed can be a working basis for good environmental and resource policy.

replaced; we must conserve them now so that future generations can also profit from them. Do we need to rethink our behaviour?

It is generally acknowledged that our civilisation cannot continue as it has been doing. In the near future we are going to have to learn to do without things. It is essential that we reconsider our basic values: for example, we must think about our understanding of happiness. We must exercise our moral responsibility as consumers, just as businesses are supposed to do. We don’t have to use every little patch of earth, and we don’t have to fly everywhere. That sounds very anti-progressive.

Not at all! We have never been so dependent on new technologies as we are today. But these technologies must be sustainable. In our innovation we should attempt to “naturalise” technology rather than trying to imitate nature through technology. For instance, it would make more sense to restore wetlands or establish new ones than construct expensive treatment facilities in order to produce potable water. I also consider it essential that we change our political institutions, for example by set-

“Where biodiversity and the climate are concerned, we know that action is urgently needed. Yet much of the time we fail to act.” Does our society need a discussion on moral values?

Definitely! We need to begin by imparting basic values and ideas through parents and teachers and in environmental education. We must make children aware that we are linked to other living things on this planet through many millions of years of evolution. Schools need to be discussing questions such as whether flowers have intrinsic value. Do I need to respect them? And if so, why? What is my personal responsibility as a consumer or user? Why do we behave as we do? Because decision-making in real life is often much more complex than the ideal world?

It is indeed all too often the case that people’s actions are not in tune with what they know. Where biodiversity and the climate are concerned, we know that action is urgently needed. Yet much of the time we fail to act. You don’t even need to be a biocentrist to conserve nature. It should be enough to know that natural resources, including biodiversity, can never be


ting up a Sustainability Council that has wide decision-making powers and is elected for at least ten years. We need an ecological democracy – not one in which politicians always have half an eye on the next elections and take shortsighted decisions that in the long term harm both the environment and ourselves. Someone who wants to destroy an area of natural value should bear the burden of proof. This means that society and the political system need to be open to pathocentric and biocentric points of view, which would at least be in line with Swiss environmental protection and animal welfare legislation. Interview: Gregor Klaus

CONTACT Evelyne Marendaz Guignet, see page 22

environment 2/2010 > Biodiversity


Shared benefit – shared responsibility Efforts to ensure the conservation, promotion and sustainable use of biodiversity can only succeed if all sectors of society pull together. Each and every sector must bear its share of responsibility. It is pleasing that biodiversity has moved higher up the agenda in all areas of policy-making in recent years, as the following contributions from eight federal offices show.

DDPS Twenty years ago the Swiss people adopted the Rothenthurm Initiative for the protection of the Rothenthurm Mire – the campaign at the time implied that a fragile landscape needed protection from the heavily armed military. Now, though, conservation authorities and associations recognise the increasingly important role of military training areas, firing ranges and airfields for biodiversity conservation in Switzerland. These areas include the largest dry meadows in the Swiss Central Plateau; they are home to the largest number of lizard orchids in the Canton of Valais, the largest populations of tree frogs in the cantons of Aargau and Thurgau and the largest number of stonechats on the north side of the Alps. In agricultural areas, species numbers have progressively declined due to intensive farming methods or forest encroachment. On military land, though, this loss has been wholly or mostly avoided. What is more, Round Table negotiations have ensured that at 70 of the country’s 90 military training areas, firing ranges and airfields, conservation has been coordinated with the interests of military, agricultural and recreational users of the land. Fulfillment of agreed objectives and implementation of specified measures is monitored annually. The photo shows site management work to maintain amphibian habi-

Biodiversity > environment 2/2010

tat in a military area in the Canton of Bern. In Bière (Canton Vaud), the oldest and largest military training ground in Switzerland (10 km2), 50 per cent of the open land is classed as worthy of conservation. Half of all Swiss species of breeding birds and amphibia and a quarter of all Swiss plant species occur here, including a particularly large number

unexploded shells remain. Over the last five years the growth of scrub has been halted by specialist soldiers on Swiss territorial army exercises using a remote-controlled mine-clearance vehicle; recently the land has also been used for grazing goats. To good effect: on the areas cleared of scrub, the number of plant species has doubled in three years. David Külling, armasuisse, DDPS (Federal Swiss Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport)

FEDRO of red-listed species. Thirty-two farms, a civilian forestry business and members of the army’s logistics base help to maintain the land in a near-natural state. Times at which cutting can take place and restrictions on fertiliser use are laid down in leasing agreements. The world’s first simulator for five self-propelled howitzers in Bière has enabled vehicle journeys and firing rates to be halved. While this has benefited the environment and the local population, an undesirable side effect has been the encroachment of the forest into the nationally significant dry meadows of the restricted area in which

Switzerland has one of the densest road networks in Europe. Transport routes are the lifelines of Homo mobilis. Yet for wildlife they are barriers severely constraining migration and dispersal. Motorways in particular, with their high traffic volumes and protective fencing, are insurmountable obstacles for larger animals such as red deer or roe deer. For wild animals mobility is a matter of survival. It is vital for seasonal migrations, genetic exchange between populations, and range expansion. Studies in Switzerland have shown that of the 303 important wildlife corridors, i.e. the “transport routes” of wild animals, only one in five is unobstructed. More than half are significantly impaired in their functionality and the remainder are completely blocked. Based on these findings, the FOEN and the Federal Roads Office


(FEDRO) have developed baseline plans for the restoration of wildlife corridors. Fauna passages known as “ecoducts” can help maintain links between populations and thus preserve biodiversity. In 2001, 51 sites for future ecoducts were identified along the Swiss network of motorways and highways in addition

to structures already planned. Twelve corridors have since been made permeable again and five further projects are in the implementation phase. The aim is to make all 51 corridors passable for wildlife over the next twenty years in the context of maintenance work or widening of motorways and highways. The wildlife bridge at Neu-Ischlag in the Canton of Bern (photo) was constructed as part of the Rail 2000 expansion phase. The single 60-metre wide and 54-metre long overpass spans the A1 motorway. Monitoring shows that the new structure is well used, especially by the red deer population, which has regained a link between the Emmental–Central Plateau and the Jura Mountains. But the bridge also serves a networking function for smaller animal species. Natterjack toads and common toads have even been found to spawn in the ponds on the bridge. Marguerite Trocmé Maillard, FEDRO (Federal Roads Office)

FOAG Since 1999, farmers in Switzerland have had to manage a minimum of 7 per cent of their agricultural area as ecological compensation areas to qualify for direct payments. For special landscape elements such as “Buntbrachen” (strips


sown with wildflowers and herbs) and traditional orchard trees on standard rootstocks, farmers can receive “eco premiums”. However, not in all regions have these measures contributed to increased species diversity or a greater distribution of populations of endangered species. To remedy this, ÖQV, the Swiss Federal Ordinance on ecological quality and the networking of ecological compensation areas, came into force in 2001. Since then the Swiss Confederation and the cantons have been providing additional payments for ecological quality and for the networking of ecological compensation areas. If a site meets certain ecological quality criteria the farmer can register it for the scheme. Additional payments can be drawn down for optimum habitat networking between the

site and other important habitats but these payments are only made available in the context of regional strategies. A model of habitat networking is to be found in the Canton of Appenzell Ausserrhoden (photo). The cantonal agricultural office, the cantonal conservation authority, representatives of the farming, hunting and forestry sectors and of conservation organisations jointly developed a strategy for the entire canton. Since then, habitat enhancement measures have been undertaken in traditional orchards and forest margins, sites along watercourses have been managed extensively and scrub encroachment has been stopped in species-rich woodland clearings. Wetlands and dry grasslands are surrounded with buffer zones to prevent eutrophication and are integrated into habitat networks. Amphibian spawning sites are connected with the animals’ wintering areas. Farmer participation in these networking projects is encourag-

ingly high: farmers are committed to the idea of multifunctional farming. Patricia Steinmann, FOAG (Federal Office for Agriculture)

FOT Like other transport infrastructure, railway lines fragment habitats. Therefore, new lines built as part of the Rail 2000 and AlpTransit projects are designed to minimise their environmental impacts: they are often constructed underground or include overpasses or tunnels for wild animals. Several compensation measures offset unavoidable adverse impacts on nature resulting from AlpTransit, the “New Rail Link through the Alps” the largest construction project in the history of Switzerland. For example, when the Lötschberg Base Tunnel was constructed, 0.67 hectares in Bireloui near Mitholz (Bern) were designated a mitigation site. The site, important for butterfly and ant species, had been under threat. Management measures greatly increased its habitat value: a census in spring 2008 found 76 butterfly species. Spoil from the Gotthard Base Tunnel was used at the Urner Lake near Flüelen to restore shallow water zones degraded by gravel extraction; six islands were also created, three for swimmers, the other three for flora and fauna (photo). Many red-listed plant species have already established there, as have numerous bird species. At the southern end of the Gotthard Base Tunnel, AlpTransit mitigation involved habitat enhancement of the neglected sweet chestnut woodland of

environment 2/2010 > Biodiversity

Santa Petronilla above Biasca (Ticino). In 2005 the project was awarded first prize by the Ticino Section of the Swiss Foundation for Landscape Protection. Animal habitats, especially for reptiles and insects, can also be found alongside railway tracks. Sites of particular ecological importance such as brownfield or unused greenfield land are often in the midst of urban areas. Artificially created gravel and sand areas, or flower-rich nutrient-poor meadows on embankments offer refuge to many species, as do stacks of wood, rocks and stones. Moreover, ongoing noise abatement works along the railway lines are carefully observing potential reptile habitats: gabions are being installed at regular intervals along the bases of sound-barrier walls, making these more permeable for the animals and providing additional habitat.

providing specialist support to administrative bodies and keeping the public informed about species protection issues. Many CITES permits relate to the wristwatch and luxury goods industry. This sector submits around 80 000 requests per year, mostly in connection with the import and re-export of reptile leather products. Some 30 years ago all crocodile species were endangered; today the majority of populations have recovered. The fact that considerable quantities of products from endangered species can sometimes be traded without jeopardising their survival is due in part to rigorous application of CITES. The recovery of crocodile populations is

Gregor Saladin, FOT (Federal Office of Transport)

FVO Alongside habitat loss, international trade is another major driver of species extinction. CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) was signed on 3 March 1973. The aim of CITES is to promote the worldwide conservation and sustainable use of animal and plant stocks. It permits species to be traded only to the extent that their natural populations allow. More than 5000 species of animals and 28 000 species of plants are now listed in the appendices to CITES. Switzerland was among the first countries to sign CITES and is the depository state of the Convention. The CITES secretariat is based in Switzerland. As the CITES implementation authority, the Federal Veterinary Office (FVO) is instrumental in protecting and conserving plant and animal species and their habitats. Under CITES it issues more than 90 000 export permits and more than 20 000 import permits per year, and carries out physical monitoring of imports at the Swiss borders. Other important activities are domestic controls,

Biodiversity > environment 2/2010

such as potatoes and maize in order to improve the country’s food security. For the last 20 years the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) has supported projects in Bolivia that promote seed production for key local crops such as the potato, of which the country boasts 230 varieties. This work concentrates on reproducing and certifying native varieties. Production of certified seed has risen from just under 7000 tonnes in 1987 to 60 000 tonnes in 2005. Through the SDC projects, local partners have developed decentralised structures, focusing on native varieties and on the needs of smallholders whose farms are often exposed to extreme climatic conditions. More than 100 cooperatively organised businesses involving around 1500 seed producers are now broadening the available range of potatoes, beans and wheat. Those who have benefited most from the improved seed include poor smallholders in the Altiplano and the dry high valleys where local varieties were in danger of disappearing altogether. Se-

one of the biggest CITES success stories and a prime example of the sustainable use of natural resources through controlled trade. Mathias Lörtscher, Mirjam Walker, FVO (Federal Veterinary Office)

SDC “It is paradoxical in Bolivia that species richness is often greatest where rural people live in the harshest poverty,” says Bolivian environmental expert Gonzalo Mérida. He sees it as vital that these slumbering riches are both preserved and utilised. This is not only about regulated tree felling in the already decimated forests. There are plans to tap new sources of income: wild tropical fruits, bulbs and tubers, wool from llamas and alpacas, and healing plants whose secrets are known to local farmers. It is equally important to promote the cultivation of fodder crops and native foods

lected seed is now systematically sown – usually on small plots of land – at different altitudes and under a wide range of ecological conditions. A carefully devised value chain enables the farmers to market their seed both regionally and nationally. Richard Bauer, Hans Peter Reiser, SDC (Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation)


SECO SECO, the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, aims to create a sustainable basis for world trade, which is known to be the key driver of economic development and poverty reduction. With the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), SECO promotes the development of export products based on local, sustainably managed biodiver-

Round Tables for important commodities, including soya and agrofuels. With the involvement of producers, wholesalers, NGOs and governments, these round tables draw up sustainability standards – an important tool for maintaining global biodiversity and combating the illegal felling of tropical rainforests. Caring for ecosystems and maintaining them often also makes a welcome contribution to climate change mitigation. As an important donor to the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO) and in cooperation with the World Bank, SECO encourages sustainable forest management in the developing world; this also promotes biodiversity conservation. This approach supports the international community’s plans to compensate developing countries for their forest conservation services in future if they demonstrate exemplary practices under the UN Climate Convention.

dam (photo) – where users and nature and the landscape benefited from significantly increased residual water flow in the Linth river between Linthschlucht and Linthal, the closure of one water intake, river widening at a number of sites, four fish leaps, and the regeneration of two waterfalls. Wind energy projects are also giving cause for hope. The winning formula is well known and can be applied to many other installations and sites: careful integration of plants into the landscape, combining protection measures with construction measures, conservation work ranging from the creation of ecological compensation areas to clearly protected habitats, and further protection measures on site or in the vicinity. Often this combined

Hans-Peter Egler, SECO (State Secretariat for Economic Affairs) TransFair e. V. / Didier Gentilhomme

sity in developing countries. Many of the countries whose biodiversity is particularly rich are in the southern hemisphere – their natural diversity is the source of raw materials for food products, cosmetics, craft work, herbal products, clothing, ecotourism and many other purposes. This is in keeping with the objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity: conservation through use! The use of biodiversity boosts its economic value and thus its conservation and longer term protection. When genetic resources are used commercially outside their country of origin, at least part of the profits should be returned to benefit the poor communities in those countries. An agreement between Bolivia and the Swiss grocery chain Migros provides an excellent example of how this principle of access and benefit sharing is applied. Swiss farmers have recently started to grow coloured varieties of potato from Bolivia, previously unknown in Switzerland, and to sell them through Migros. As part of the deal, an agreed percentage of the turnover flows back to Bolivia. Switzerland is an international trade hub for a variety of agricultural commodities such as cotton, coffee and cocoa. SECO thus supports international


SFOE Due to the worldwide boom in renewable energies, conflicts are escalating over protection and use of the environment. But it is possible to build new power plants and contribute to conserving and enhancing biodiversity at the same time. Indeed, such an approach should become a matter of course. In Switzerland, promoters of renewables are clashing with environmentalists. The fear is that the advance of renewables will destroy the last few natural watercourses, wind turbines will blight the landscape, and ecosystems will be overexploited. But the “either – or” view is misplaced, forcing a choice between missing targets for renewable energy generation or irreversibly destroying natural resources. We really need a way forward that caters for all interests. Many good projects show that this can be done. An excellent example is the new pumped-storage hydropower plant “Linth-Limmern” in the Canton of Glarus – which involved, among other things, raising the level of the Muttsee

strategy results in a net improvement on the overall situation prior to construction. This approach is ambitious and relies on authorities at different levels coordinating their measures, which is easier said than done. But it is an opportunity and in my view it is the only chance we’ve got. Michael Kaufmann, Vice Director, SFOE (Swiss Federal Office of Energy)

CONTACT Sandra Limacher Head of Swiss Biodiversity Strategy Project Species Management Division FOEN +41 (0)31 322 92 94

environment 2/2010 > Biodiversity


Managing markets Our purchases leave environmental trails that extend to distant continents. What can we do to ensure that they aren’t trails of devastation?

Our appetite for fish is growing. The quantity of fish and seafood consumed in Switzerland each year is equivalent to 8.5 kilos for each person in the country. Marine fish account for three-quarters of this. That may be good for our health, but our growing appetite for fish is not such good news for ocean fauna. Every year the fishing industry catches around 84 million tonnes of fish and seafood – four times the quantity landed 50 years ago, and more than the populations of some species can cope with. According to the World Food Organization, 80 per cent of commercially used fish stocks are overfished or being exploited to their limits. Labels guarantee sustainability. The output of seafood farms has also risen sharply. More than half of the fish, crustaceans and molluscs that people eat now come from such farms; in 1970 the figure was only 4 per cent. Yet fish farms do not reduce the pressure on wild species – they have precisely the opposite effect, since the farmed fish are often fed on wild fish caught specially for the purpose. A fish farm needs up

Partnership with the industry. This is just one ex-

ample of the industry-wide solutions that WWF is pursuing in various areas. Swiss members of the Seafood Group include Migros, Coop and a number of suppliers to the restaurant trade. Collectively they account for around 70 per cent of Swiss sales. Palm oil is another case in point. Demand for it is rising. Between 1998 and 2007 Indonesia – now the world’s largest producer of palm oil – increased its production area from 3 to 7 million hectares, often destroying forests in the process. In other countries, too, palm oil cultivation is one of the drivers of tropical deforestation. Palm oil is a constituent of many food products and cosmetics – although that is not immediately obvious, and the small print that lists a product’s ingredients is all too rarely consulted. Here once again, the WWF is striving for a partnership-based solution. In 2004 it was instrumental in setting up the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). The Roundtable brings together environmental organi-

Consumers can go in the right direction by buying native species of wild fish or organically farmed ones. to 5 kilos of fish to produce one kilo of fish or seafood for the table. Consumers can go in the right direction by buying native species of wild fish or organically farmed ones. And if diners do still insist on marine fish, it is worth looking out for the label of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), which guarantees that it is not sourced from overfished stocks. The market share of MSC fish is currently estimated at 5 per cent. Members of the WWF Seafood Group pledge to switch gradually to fish from sustainably fished stocks and environmentally friendly farming sources; they no longer sell fish of endangered species.

Biodiversity > environment 2/2010

sations and companies and institutions from every stage of the production chain, including plantation operators, traders, industrial purchasers and retailers. The RSPO defines criteria for sustainable production, based on standards drawn up by WWF Switzerland in collaboration with Migros, among others. Key principles are forest conservation, the protection of endangered species, fair working conditions and respect for the land rights of local communities. RSPO palm oil has been available on the European market since November 2008.



environment 2/2010 > Biodiversity

Demand still too weak. The two retail giants Migros

and Coop are also doing their bit for the RSPO. They recently received good ratings from the WWF. They are constantly increasing the quantity of certified palm oil that they buy. However, demand for it is still too low, says Matthias Diemer of WWF Switzerland. As a result, sellers of RSPO palm oil are only able to sell a quarter of their production at the higher price that the label promises: â&#x20AC;&#x153;There is still a lot of work to be done; many companies are still using palm oil produced under conditions that are neither environmentally nor socially acceptable.â&#x20AC;? Biodiversity-friendly food is food that is in season, produced locally, and covered by labels such as Bio or TerraSuisse. The evidence shows that land has higher species diversity when it is farmed organically. Food produced locally or within Switzerland has the environmental advantage of lower transport miles. In addition, Swiss farming is governed by certain ecological standards. However, not everything produced on Swiss farms is an entirely Swiss product. According to the figures, Switzerland produces 69 per cent of the meat and even 107 per cent of the milk and milk products that it uses, but the data conceals the fact that the animals in Swiss barns are fed largely on feed imported from abroad. Cutting back on meat. Switzerland imports 250 000

tonnes of soya per year, 80 per cent of it as animal feed. Most of it comes from South America, where soya production has more than doubled in the last ten years; the fields are encroaching ever deeper into the tropical forests and species-rich savannahs. Now a process similar to that for palm oil has been set in motion for soya farming. The Roundtable on Responsible Soy, which met for the first time in Brazil in 2005, aims to lay down internationally applicable standards. It builds on criteria drawn up by the WWF in collaboration with retailers. Yet even if the resulting methods eventually become standard practice, we need to cut back our meat consumption. Producing one calorie of meat needs between two and seven times the amount of land needed to produce one plant-based calorie. Timber from sustainable forests. It was the sale of

Photomontage: Christian Koch

Biodiversity > environment 2/2010

tropical timber in Switzerland that first made the general public aware of the link between product origin and the destruction of biodiversity. Environmental organisations raised the alarm in the early 1980s, calling for a boycott of tropical timber. Their efforts were not without success: Swiss imports fell from around 70 000 tonnes in 1980 to between 10 000 and 20 000 tonnes in the 1990s; in 2007 imports were almost exactly 15 000 tonnes.


It is now possible to use tropical forests for timber without over-exploiting them. At the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro attempts were made to codify sustainable forestry principles in an agreement similar to the conventions on climate change and biodiversity. However, no consensus could be reached. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) was set up in response to the deadlock: it brings together environmental organisations, people living in forest regions and businesses in the forestry and timber industry. The FSC defines the international criteria for environmentally and socially acceptable forest management. The Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes (PEFC) has comparable aims. It is based on the agreements reached by the Ministerial Conferences on the Protection of Forests in Europe. The FSC and PEFC standards are similar. Both institutions award labels to businesses on the basis of criteria that are fleshed out in detail by each national member. At the end of 2009, 118 million hectares of forest worldwide were certified by the FSC and

and projects subsidised by it must come from sustainably managed forests; they explicitly refer to the two wood labels as providing the necessary proof of this. One of the principles of the Confederation’s Sustainable Development Strategy is that, through its consumption behaviour, the Confederation is to function as a model by demanding in its procurement procedures products that are cost-effective, environmentally sound and socially acceptable. At the same time, procedures must not infringe the discrimination ban that is enshrined in WTO agreements. For example, a public invitation to tender for construction work must not stipulate that only wood from Swiss forests can be used. It is permissible, though, to take account of environmental criteria – provided that they are clearly defined in the call to tender. Cantons and local authorities are also setting a good example. The shirts worn by the Zurich city police used to be made of a mixed fibre of conventional cotton and polyester. Cotton growing is one of the most pesticide-intensive areas

At the suggestion of the development organisation Helvetas, the municipal authorities enlisted policemen to wear organic cotton shirts. 200 million hectares by the PEFC. Areas certified under the two schemes comprise in total 8 per cent of the world’s forests. Yet only around 10 per cent of certified forests are in tropical countries. Despite this, says Damian Oettli of WWF Switzerland, the FSC has sent out the right messages in the countries of the South and has kept markets open for some exporters of environmentally friendly tropical timber in countries that had previously favoured a boycott. In the northern hemisphere, by contrast, the two labels are now widely used. In Switzerland approximately 60 per cent of the forested area is now FSC- and/or PEFC-certified. The standards in this country relate to mixtures of tree species appropriate to the location, natural regeneration wherever possible, old and dead wood and protected areas. The public sector leads the way. An important way

in which the Swiss Confederation promotes wood from near-natural silviculture is through its procurement policy. The recommendations of the Federal Office for Buildings and Logistics (FBL) state that wood and wood products featured in tenders submitted to the Confederation


of farming. Yet alternatives are available, and at the suggestion of the development organisation Helvetas, the municipal authorities enlisted policemen to wear organic cotton shirts on a trial basis. The outcome was favourable and use of the shirts was extended to the entire police force. “To make consumption more sustainable, it is important to disclose in a transparent fashion what resources and energy go into the making of a product and what environmental impact the product has,” says Christoph Rotzetter of the Consumption and Products Section at the FOEN. “Labels provide valuable information on this front and can help to take responsible purchasing decisions. It would be even better if products with poor environmental and social ratings were not even on the shop shelves. With this in mind the Confederation is endeavouring to set up discussions with the industry and is promoting the development of corresponding product standards.” Hansjakob Baumgartner

CONTACT Christoph Rotzetter Consumption and Products Section FOEN +41 (0)31 323 27 06

environment 2/2010 > Biodiversity


Biodiversity conservation is climate protection – and vice versa Effective climate policy and the global conservation of biodiversity go hand in hand. Ecosystems in natural or near-natural condition act as sinks for large quantities of greenhouse gases. As such, they can mitigate climate change.

In lower-lying areas of the Swiss canton of Valais, more and more Scots pine trees have been dying off since the 1990s. Here as elsewhere in Switzerland, these conifers are typically planted in dry, inner-Alpine valleys. They are under pressure primarily from drastic warming of the climate in the Alpine region. Periods of intense heat like the record-breaking summer of 2003 worsen the drought stress even further, leaving the Scots pines in a weakened state – while also favouring their parasites, mistletoe being a prime example. Below about 1000 metres above sea level, coniferous vegetation is increasingly being suppressed by more resistant deciduous trees like the subMediterranean Downy Oak. Experts from the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL) have been studying the phenomenon of Scots pine death in Valais for many years. They now expect the mixed stands to convert into downy oak forests in the medium term, while the Scots pine belt is likely to retreat higher up the mountains. If aridity is further exacerbated by rapid climate warming, however, the downy oak would suffer as well. “Desertification would then be a possible scenario,” warn the researchers. If that point were reached, all kinds of ecosystem services would grind to a halt: for instance, there would no longer be trees to protect mountain settlements and transport routes from natural hazards. Adaptability has limits. Plants, animals and their habitats have always reacted sensitively to climatic variations like rising temperatures or reduced precipitation. If these changes occur slowly and consistently, many species can adapt to the new conditions – whether by finding alternative territories with more suitable condi-

Biodiversity > environment 2/2010

tions, or by natural selection. However, the speed of human-induced climate change – combined with the sustained pressure of human use on numerous natural landscapes – now risks overloading the adaptive capacity of large numbers of species. If the global average temperature were to rise by 2 to 3°C compared to preindustrial levels, it would increase the risk of extinction of 20 to 30 per cent of plant and higher animal species worldwide, warns a study by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations’ panel of experts on climate issues. Preventing dangerous interference. With a view to mitigating the impacts of unavoidable warming as far as possible, the international community agreed the Framework Convention on Climate Change at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. This treaty, negotiated at the same time as the Convention on Biological Diversity, aims to stabilise the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at a level that prevents dangerous interference with the climate system. “By common consensus, temperature rise should be limited to a maximum of 2°C so that the natural systems our lives depend upon – for food production, economic and social development – are not endangered by the loss of existing ecosystems,” explains Xavier Tschumi Canosa from the International Affairs Division at FOEN. “The Convention sets out to achieve this not only by reducing climate-relevant emissions, but also by means of better conservation and promotion of natural sinks which store greenhouse gases.” Conserving natural sinks. Large volumes of carbon dioxide (CO2), the most significant greenhouse gas, are bound by the plankton in the world’s


Scientists have warned that climate change has the potential to destroy coral reefs on a broad scale. These reefs deliver ecosystem services worth 170 billion US dollars every year, and are the livelihood base for some 500 million people. Image: Fisheries and Oceans Canada

“Intact biodiversity is the most cost-effective insurance policy against undesirable consequences of climate change like extreme weather events.” Xavier Tschumi Canosa, FOEN

CONTACT Xavier Tschumi Canosa Rio Conventions Section FOEN +41 (0)31 323 95 19 xavier.tschumicanosa@


oceans and by forests, soils and peatlands. Around 80 per cent of the carbon stored in land vegetation is fixed by Earth’s forests. Per year they absorb an estimated 5 billion tonnes of CO2 or around 15 per cent of global man-made carbon emissions. Thus, they play a vital part in mitigating climate change, as attested by a study published in 2009 by the global TEEB project (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity; see page 12). Coral reefs are severely threatened by warmer water temperatures, another example of the extent to which the degradation of ecosystems also heightens the vulnerability of human society to climate change. For instance, intact reefs can protect the populations of coastal areas from storm surges. By acting as natural fish-spawning shelters, they also provide millions of people with livelihoods. If these ecosystems disappeared, the economic services they provide – valued at up to 170 billion US dollars – would also be lost, the TEEB study starkly warns. Much like the coral reefs, species-rich ecosystems often act as a buffer. By cushioning against the adverse impacts of global warming, they enhance our economic and social resilience to the consequences of climate change. “This is why we need to work together to combat both biodiversity loss and the human-induced greenhouse

effect,” says Xavier Tschumi Canosa. “Intact biodiversity, with its vast potential for adaptation to changing environmental conditions, is the most cost-effective insurance policy against undesirable consequences of climate change like extreme weather events.” Harnessing synergies. Conserving ecosystems and their biological diversity is therefore a vital aspect of strategies for adaptation to climate change. For example, site-appropriate forests with a near-natural structure are more resistant than monocultures to perturbations such as storms, drought or insect attack, and better able to recover from such events (see box page 39). In a position paper published in 2008 on conflicts and synergies in the management of biodiversity and climate impacts, the Swiss Academy of Sciences (SCNAT) points out where efforts are particularly worthwhile. Watercourses that have been narrowed and lined with hard materials, for example, can be renaturalised in order to reduce flood risks. This combines the conservation of biodiversity with measures to mitigate climate change impacts. Likewise, according to SCNAT, the rewetting and renaturalisation of drained peatland sites is conducive to both climate mitigation objectives and the conservation of near-natural communities of flora and fauna.

environment 2/2010 > Biodiversity

The ptarmigan is already rare today. Modelling studies of the future distribution of this character species of the Alps have revealed that if temperatures rise markedly from present levels, the ptarmigan will lose almost half of its range. Image: Claude Morerod

Diversity for forest stability

Intact peatlands are the most important longterm terrestrial sink for naturally sequestered carbon. They bind twice as much CO2 as the biomass of all the forests on Earth. Although Switzerland has now lost more than 90 per cent of its original mire area as a result of drainage, peat extraction and cultivation, these organic soils still hold around 176 million tonnes of carbon dioxide or about three-and-a-half times the country’s annual greenhouse gas emissions. Some conflicts of interest. Alongside these synergies, some efforts to protect the climate come into conflict with the aim of conserving biodiversity. Issues identified by SCNAT as particularly problematic are the intensive production of energy crops, the use of currently near-natural watercourses for electricity production, reduction of water outflow at hydropower stations, and fuelwood plantations in the forestry sector. Nevertheless, the authors of the SCNAT position paper give far greater weight to the opportunities than to the potential conflicts. “The better we manage to conserve the diversity of life on the level of genes, species and ecosystems, the better the chances that our society will cope with the climatic conditions of the future.” Beat Jordi

Biodiversity > environment 2/2010

(hjb) Forests composed of a mixture of tree species are preferable because, unlike pure stands, “neither insects nor storms can cause them major damage” wrote the German silviculturalist Heinrich Cotta. That was back in 1828. Looking ahead to the turbulent times augured by climate change, this old insight takes on a new relevance. “The ability of a forest to hold its own in changing conditions and to recover from perturbations depends on biodiversity on all levels,” concludes a summary of worldwide experience in this field, published by the Convention on Biological Diversity. Successful adaptation to climate change, along with long-term stability, are crucial characteristics to aim for, most notably in Switzerland’s protective forests. To help preserve these, the FOEN’s project on “Sustainability in protection forests” (NaiS) has developed good practice guidelines. Increasing the diversity of tree species is a core requirement, but can only be done in the course of forest regeneration. “We must utilise the potential of every locality to the full. That means more tree regeneration, in a way that exploits a site’s potential to the full, bringing in any and every indigenous species that is capable of thriving there,” says Arthur Sandri, head of the Landslides, Avalanches and Protection Forest Section at the FOEN. That is the best way to guarantee that the protective forest does its job today and, what is more, continues to grow for tomorrow in all the places where it is needed.

CONTACT Arthur Sandri Head of Landslides, Avalanches and Protection Forest Section FOEN +41 (0)31 323 93 98


Magazine «environment» 2/2010 - Biodiversity is Life