The United Nations proclaimed the period from 2005 to 2015 the International Decade for Action, "Water for Life", to draw attention to the importance of water for the preservation of biodiversity and human well-being. With our environmental campaign Water:Trails, Naturefriends have joined these efforts by developing a special focus on water-related topics.
We are happy to note that a pilot project which we are carrying out together with Österreichische Bundesforste (ÖBf, the Austrian Federal Forests Administration) in this context has recently been designated as a Decade Project by the Austrian UNESCO Commission within the framework of "education for sustainable development".
With Water:Trails activities carried out by Naturefriends organisations in Togo and Senegal earlier this year, the campaign has been gathering international momentum. And the Water Backpack environmental education kit which we developed as part of the campaign last year is becoming ever more popular.
As an introduction to the water theme, let us first look back on international environmental politics over the last decades. Throughout this period, many legal instruments were introduced to protect water as a resource, as well as aquatic habitats and the plant and animal species that live in them.
Water is also an important aspect of the 2013/14 Landscape of the Year, the Upper Rhine region, which was launched with a celebration in Basel in April. Over the next two years, Naturefriends will carry out a broad range of activities in Germany, France and Switzerland. Anita Pinter, who is responsible for the organisation of the Landscape of the Year activities, and our new colleague David Bröderbauer will help participants get to know the varied landscapes along the banks of the river Rhine between Basel and Strasbourg. A Naturefriends tour d'horizon-trip in June will provide an opportunity for a first-hand experience of the landscapes and culture along the upper reaches of the Rhine. For more details, see the inside pages.
Another focus of this issue of Biodiversity Info is dedicated to Naturefriends Greece, an organisation which, though relatively small, pursues an impressive array of activities despite the difficult situation that currently prevails in Greece. In our "Who is Who" interview series, Christiana Vlachaki draws a very personal picture of her experiences and plans, and Irini Vallianatou, curator of the Julia & Alexander N. Diomedes Botanical Garden in Athens, provides extensive information on biodiversity in Greece.
An item not to be missed is the report on current EU environmental policy issues written by Seda Orhan Defrancesci at our EU Policy Office in Brussels. The struggle for the preservation of biodiversity has gone on for many years, but it will take many more steps forward to achieve the goal of halting the loss of biodiversity. The ongoing negotiations on Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) clearly show how difficult it is to establish nature conservation as a principle in other policy sectors, such as agriculture.
A new approach is now being taken in the context of the EU's 2020 biodiversity strategy, which focuses on the economically measurable impacts of ecosystems, such as soil productivity. However, we should not forget the cultural "ecosystem outputs" either: experiencing nature has a recreational effect and contributes to human well-being on an everyday basis. And while this intangible asset may be difficult to quantify, it is just as important as other "outputs". Moreover, we should keep in mind that nature, apart from all the functions and services which it provides for us humans, also exists in its own right – a right which is unconditional and completely independent of our interests.