Call of the wild: biodiversity days in Vienna

In a couple of days, it´s time to visit Lainzer Tiergarten.   On 8 and 9 June this lovely forest park in Vienna´s West will be hosting the 17th Vienna Biodiversity Day.  This event  is co-organized by the Vienna Environmental Protection Department (MA 22) as a contribution to the “GEO Day of Biodiversity“. (Actually, they seem to have renamed it GEO Nature Day, it used to be GEO Species Diversity Day – my thoughts on what´s in a name are below.)  The renowned science magazine GEO called for such a day for the first time in 1999. In the meantime there are biodiversity day events in the entire German-speaking area every year  (which actually extends over several days).

Locally grown: what wild plants and animals thrive in our region?

 

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The focus is on getting to know native nature: Participants are encouraged to discover as many different plants and animals as possible within 24 hours in a limited area.  Several years ago, when I was living in  New York, I participated in such an event – a.k.a.  a “Bioblitz” – there with the NGO WildMetro , and it was great fun.  This kind of thing is not just fun for visitors, it also allows scientists to make a kind of inventory of the species in our environment. 

Many a times when we walk our dog at night, we hear strange screams.  But no, it´s nothing to be scared of.  In fact, we are very pleased about it, because:  there are foxes, martens, badgers and co., frolicking about in our neighborhood, and probably somewhere near your doorstep too in Vienna. In fact, these wild animals are so comfortable in an urban setting (lots of food that humans discard, lots of places to hide) that there are entire research projects dedicated to finding out more about where in the city they hang out. (The short answer: everywhere!) 

One such project is Stadtwildtiere, run by biologists from the Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology, part of the Vetmeduni Vienna.  The friendly scientists there like you to report any sightings of wildlife in Vienna to them.  So, if you´ve come across something interesting, why not make a contribution to citizen science?

Fox caught on camera
Caught on candid camera – a beautiful fox I spotted in an industrial overgrown area of the 15th district.

Vienna´s parks and gardens are also home to a huge variety of insects, who pollinate our flowers and vegetables.  And of course plenty of plants and animals thrive in Vienna’s woods. And that’s a good thing, because diversity means life, means a healthy environment.  You are invited to take a closer look at the topic on GEO Biodiversity Day.

So you do not have to go to the museum this time (although the Museum of Natural History in Vienna is a wonderful fount of information on biodiversity and often hosts related events) – instead head for  beautiful Lainzer Tiergarten in Hietzing.  You will have – under the auspices of the Biosphere Reserve Wienerwald – an opportunity to participate in guided nature walks, or to visit one of many information booths.  Check out the programme.  Apart from nature walks, I am personally very fond of the Mikrotheater (micro theatre) of the Natural History Museum, a live show of small critters under the microscope, projected onto a big screen, with experts talking about these animals´ lives and peculiarities.  It´s on every Saturday, Sunday and public holiday at the museum, but this Saturday you can see it at Lainzer Tiergarten.  Fascinating stuff!

 

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The Stadtwildtiere project I mentioned will also be there, as will the team Habichtskauz (ural owl) – they have re-introduced ural owls to the Vienna Woods!  After 100 years of local extinction, these great owls are populating our forest again – isn´t that wonderful?

Bio-what?

OK, so let me talk about wordiness.  If the term “biodiversity” is not in your dictionary, you are not alone.   Loosely put, it means all the different species of animals and plants that live in a place, plus the variety of habitats  (e.g. forests, grasslands, rivers, the ocean, etc.) they live in, plus…    but I will leave it at that for now.   For simplicity´s sake, let me just call it “nature”.

Heron in Ottakring
I spotted this heron at a very small pond along Stadtwanderweg 4 in Ottakring.

But for sticklers for detail – the official definition is rather more wordy than the one I have given above (it is from a global treaty, the Convention on Biological Diversity, which has set many targets for conserving biodiversity and to which Austria and 195 other states are a Party).

Biodiversity is defined as “the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems.” (Green Facts)

I know, it´s a mouthful.  That´s why I – and evidently now also GEO – prefer to use “nature” when talking to most (non-scientist) people, even though that term is not very precise and it, too, needs definition, because it means different things to different people.

Why does it matter to YOU?

If you want to know more about it, the British paper The Guardian has an excellent article for non-experts, “What is biodiversity and why does it matter to us?“, with beautiful hand-drawn illustrations by Frances Marriott.  Recommended reading!

If you follow the news, you will have heard about the decline of species and the destruction of  “nature” globally, but also here in Austria.

Almost nine out of ten Europeans believe that biodiversity loss – the decline and possible extinction of animal species, flora and fauna, natural habitats and ecosystems in Europe – is a problem. The latest survey on Biodiversity indicates that familiarity with the term “biodiversity” has increased in 18 Member States compared with the previous survey in 2010. A considerable majority of Europeans – 65 % – totally agree that the EU should increase the areas where nature is protected in Europe.  (Source:  Flash Eurobarometer 379: Attitudes towards biodiversity)

This is probably not new to you, but why it matters may be less clear.  Have there not always been extinctions, you might ask.  Well, yes, except that the rate of species loss due to human activities is highly accelerated and does not bode well for us or for our children and grandchildren.  More on that perhaps in another post.

 


P.S.  I have an M.Sc. in Biodiversity Conservation and Management, so this is a field that is very important to me – and should be to everyone.


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