Science - September 11, 2009

Wanted: Nature managers with flair

Today's nature managers are not sociable, communicative or enterprising enough, says the new VHL honorary professor Wouter Helmer. He feels that social involvement is a must for graduates of Van Hall Larenstein University of Applied Sciences.

There are not enough nature managers with a broad view of nature and society, explained Helmer at his inauguration as honorary lecturer in VHL in Velp. People are looking at nature differently due to increasing urbanization, he argues.
Alienated city dweller
'People no longer come down so hard on animals previously considered as dangerous. As soon as direct threats from man become fewer, wild animals will head towards the city.' Examples in Europe are the bison, the vulture, the wolf and the lynx, and in the Netherlands, the giant eagle owl, the wild cat and the wild boar. Even the wolf and the lynx will be found in this country a few years down the road, he says. 'A lot of nature management will soon be carried out in the city to help the alienated city dweller get along with nature's spontaneous arrivals.'
Economic base
Helmer feels that we should also attach economic values to nature in this process. Values such as recreation and tourism, water storage and purification, and managing the effects of climate change, so as to contribute to welfare and health. These inter-relationships can be found in the projects of the Ark Foundation, of which Helmer is director. His work has won him the 2007 Edgar Doncker Nature Award, the prize money of which is being used for the project 'Missing Lynx', which Helmer hopes will bring new depth to the Dutch debate on nature.
Field academy
To cater to the demands of a changing society, nature managers need to be enterprising, communicative and socially involved, stressed the honorary professor. 'These characteristics were not considered as important for nature management in my time.' Helmer is going to change this and has plans for a field academy where students can be exposed to big practical projects.
Under their belts
An example is a project of the Ark's in which an offer has been made for the hunting rights of a Bulgarian nature area. 'How would you earn those 30,000 euros back from an area 10,000 hectares big? Maybe the students should answer this question.' Nearer home, the Ijsselmonde area in Rotterdam is faced with city-related nature problems and water storage issues in its efforts to provide climate-hardy housing. Helmer: 'If a few hundred students get this under their belts, they'll be well prepared for the future.'