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ALTER-Net: A Long-Term Biodiversity, Ecosystem and Awareness Research Network

Europe’s ecosystem research network


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Information about ALTER-Net's 2nd Summer School

Lavender fields in FranceThe second ALTER-Net summer school again took place in Peyresq, Alpes de Haute Provence, France from 1 to 13 September 2007. This year the chosen title was Trends in Biodiversity: European Ecosystems and Policy and marked an even closer integration between natural and social sciences than last year. The topics of the presentations naturally encompassed biodiversity questions but also scenarios, as well as gender issues in relation to biodiversity. Thirty two participants were selected from 67 applications of which 64% were women. The percentage of female participants were even higher: 66%. 19 nationalities were represented, mostly from European countries but there was one participant from each of Australia, Argentina, Indonesia, Peru, USA and Venezuela. For two South Americans, the travel costs were sponsored by the Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research to which the summer school secretariat applied for funds.

The summer school started with an introduction by Jean Vancompernolle a representative of the Belgian Foundation Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc who has helped to reconstruct the village which was almost deserted and in ruins at the end of the forties (for more information about Peyresq, click here). The days were organized mostly in the same way: In the morning there were two lectures of 1 hour each, with an additional half hour of discussion. After lunch he working groups usually met. Five working groups were formed, each addressing topics relevant to the surrounding area, the catchment of the Var. Their specific themes were: water, nature conservation, agriculture and tourism. An additional working group was formed by delegates from the other groups in order to compile a synthesis of their results aimed at policy makers.

At the start of the summer school there were poster sessions at which all the participants presented their own research, mainly based on their PhD theses. On the second day a walk to visit a local shepherd was arranged, which helped to understand real local problems concerning agriculture. There were not that many sheep up in the mountain this summer as it had been extremely dry and the grass proved not to be sufficient so they had been moved downward early. Another recent problem is the presence of wolves which have moved back into the area. Therefore special sheepdogs have been introduced from the Pyrenees called pastou.

Summer school - nightlifeThe working groups met to work on their case studies in the afternoon and another talk finished the programme each day: the aperitif talk. Shorter than the lectures in the morning, these presentations were generally more provocative and covered topics ranging from historic developments to the question 'why preserve biodiversity?'.

The evenings were a time for lively socialising, though some participants continued to work on their case studies.

An excursion provided further examples of landscape changes due to changes in land use, such as abandoned terraces formerly used for agriculture. On the Plateau de Valensole the characteristic lavender fields are now diminishing because the farmers have introduced oak trees aimed at providing future truffle plantations. It will be ten years or more before the first truffles can be harvested, but long-term planning is already highly visible. Students were also given a presentation on the drowning of the valley bottom to create the Lac de Ste. Croix reservoir. Before the water filled the reservoir an old village had to be taken down and deconstructed which the former villagers apparently still cannot forget. The last item was a walk at the northern rim of the Gorge du Verdon, the biggest canyon in Europe.

As with the lectures, these examples helped the students in their case study work. There was a mid-term presentation from the working groups and a final presentation on the last day.

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