At the end of April, the Corridor Talk team gathered for our third and final place-based workshop. This time, we convened in Lauwersoog, in the fluid landscape of the Dutch Wadden Sea coast.
Our first encounter with the area was a trip around the Lauwersmeer National Park in the company of fisherman Jaap Vegter and biologist Sander van Dyck from the World Heritage Center Wadden Sea. The Lauwersmeer was created when a section of the Wadden Sea Coast was turned into a freshwater lake reserve in 1969 by the erection of a dam. Our tour took in once-coastal communities of fishermen whose livelihoods were dependent on the sea and its risks and bounties; the nature reserve with its abundance of bird-life; and the complex history of dike-building, water-management, grazing, and farming practices that characterise the landscape. The tour ended with a sandwich lunch in the “Waddenloods,” the site for our workshop, itself reflecting the multiple stakeholder interests in this rich coastal site. Conceived as a meeting space for fisheries and Wadden management, it represents the aim of bringing fishers, flood protection authorities, and nature conservationists into conversation with each other over their shared responsibility for this vulnerable landscape.
The afternoon session was dedicated to a discussion of the proposed new Nature Restoration Law. We were joined by Aurélien Carré (Patrimoine naturel France) and Laure Debeir (IUCN) who walked us through the intricacies of EU’s biodiversity policies. Sander van Dyck then introduced us to the plans for the World Heritage Centre Wadden Sea, due to open in 2024.
The second day of our workshop started with a visit to the seal centre in Pieterburen. Founded in 1971 as a rescue station for seals in need, it has since evolved into a research and education facility informing visitors about the past and present of the human-seal coexistence in the Wadden Sea. Although it’s safe to say that most visitors still come mainly to see the (admittedly very cute) baby seals, the centre offers a wealth of information on seal ecology and their interactions with humans, including the message that most of the time, it’s best to leave the animals alone.
The workshop concluded with a discussion of how can the Corridor Talk findings result in policy recommendations on both regional and European level, with expert input from Zoltan Kun (WildEurope) on the practicalities of making our voice heard in European institutions, and with a delicious fish dinner at ‘t Ailand, a restaurant run and supplied by local fishermen. This was altogether a fitting conclusion to our project: despite starting in February 2020, just weeks before the pandemic hit, in the end we managed to visit and get a sense of all three field sites and environments that Corridor Talk investigated: the mountains, the woods, and the sea.
Pavla Šimková from the Corridor Talk team and Laura Kuen from the BOAR project based at the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague spoke about the Bavarian Forest and Šumava and Transcarpathia in Western Ukraine and about the role that concepts of landscape, periphery, and wilderness play in their research. The event was organized by the Junge DGO, a branch of the German Association for Eastern European Studies, and took place on 26 April at LMU Munich.
Katie Ritson participated in the symposium on the Wadden Sea in Danish literature on 30-31 March 2023. Organised by Anders Ehlers Dam from the Europa-Universität Flensburg in cooperation with Taarnborg in Ribe and the Danish Wadden Sea Centre “Vadehavscentret,” the event drew literary scholars from across Denmark and Germany and featured readings by prominent Danish writers. The symposium set out to explore how Danish literature represents the rhythmically shifting border between sea and land, and the significance of climate change for the literary understanding of this landscape. The event ended with a short guided walk on the mudflats with a view out towards the island of Mandø.
Jonathan Carruthers-Jones has published a chapter in the Routledge Handbook of Rewilding, “CORES AND CORRIDORS: Natural landscape linkages to rewild protected areas and wildlife refuges”. The Routledge Handbook of Rewilding provides a comprehensive overview of the history, theory, and current practices of rewilding. Rewilding offers a transformational paradigm shift in conservation thinking, and as such is increasingly of interest to academics, policymakers, and practitioners.
Corridor Talk PI Graham Huggan is looking for contributions to a special issue on Conservation Humanities. Broadly defined, conservation humanities is an emerging paradigm that exists within the larger multi- and interdisciplinary field of environmental humanities, and which aims at using humanities-based methods—textual and discourse analysis, philosophical and historical inquiry, ethnographic fieldwork—to shed light on contemporary conservation issues and problems, paramount among them being today’s alarmingly intensifying levels of biodiversity loss.
Defining conservation humanities as a paradigm rather than a field is not just a reflection on the fact that its academic status has yet to be fully established. It also suggests that its main value, at least at this preliminary stage, lies in conceptualizing conservation problems rather than in seeking the kinds of direct evidence that might help to solve them, and indeed it shares environmental humanities’ general suspicion towards top-down, solution-driven approaches that fail to take account of local ecological knowledge or confront conspicuously unequal distributions of wealth. However, the task of conservation humanities is not limited to exploring ongoing conservation issues from a wide range of cross-disciplinary humanities perspectives; it also asks questions about the changing meanings and functions of conservation and the humanities themselves. This Special Issue, the first dedicated to its subject, will ask what role the humanities can play in addressing historical conservation issues, and what humanities scholars can add to contemporary conservation debates.
Corridor Talk team member Pavla Šimková presented a paper at the 12th Congress of Czech Historians that took place from 20-22 September 2022 in Ústí nad Labem. Her talk, entitled “Nature without Borders? History of Transboundary Nature Protection in the Bavarian Forest and Šumava,” was part of a section focusing on environmental discourses in Czech and Slovak historiography.
How can the humanities contribute to conservation practice? This was the overarching question that the Corridor Talk team members Jonathan Carruthers-Jones, Pavla Šimková, and Eveline de Smalen probed with the participants of their panel at the European Society of Environmental History (ESEH) conference in Bristol in early July. At the “Conservation Humanities Café,” chaired by Katie Ritson, the team opened with a presentation of the work currently underway at the three study sites in Europe.
In the following café part of the session we broke into three groups, each exploring and assessing the merits, opportunities, and limitations of humanities disciplines in informing and developing sustainable conservation practices in national parks in Europe. One group discussed, among other topics, the potential dangers of using a single landscape or species to symbolize a larger issue, concluding that certain conservation imageries can in fact be counterproductive. Participants also pointed out that even though humanities interventions into conservation debates oftentimes fail to produce an immediate practical effect on the ground, it is still meaningful to keep taking part in the conversation.
The group discussing participatory audio-visual methods highlighted the importance of storytelling in sustainability and conservation. Documenting the stories told by diverse communities, both local and non-local, as they share experiences and perspectives on challenging conservation issues, is a critical first step. Finding ways to then share these stories and the accompanying research insights more widely was considered a key contribution from audio-visual methods to address conservation challenges. Looking forward, ‘gently capturing’ and sharing these stories was also considered critical to both learning lessons from history and building alternative landscape imaginaries going forward.
The final group discussed the challenges for the humanities in bridging the gap between humanities research and conservation practices and policy. Participants suggested that the first key to approaching practitioners and policymakers is a place-based approach with a geographically defined region at its basis on which researchers, practitioners and policymakers can find common ground. The second requirement is long-term research that provides time for researchers to build and maintain networks. In the current academic and funding landscape, this is difficult as much research is done through third-party funding which is often short-term and sometimes very short-term. Especially for early-career researchers, this makes this kind of work next to impossible.
As one of the opening sessions of the conference, covering environmental history as well as a wider set of disciplinary lenses, the café itself was also considered a story worth sharing: two members of the Corridor Talk team, Katie and Jonathan, were interviewed for the ESEH radio blog, which will be online soon!
One of the pick-up pamphlets available at the administration centre for Nationalpark Bayrischer Wald (Bavarian Forest National Park) in Grafenau carries the title ‘Grenzenlose Wald: Wildnis entdecken’ (‘discover the borderless wild forest’). The title is misleading in several respects. Bavarian Forest National Park (BFNP) occupies a large expanse of mixed forest, some of it quite remote and parts of it strictly protected, but it is by no means borderless and, even allowing for discrepant understandings of the never-easy-to-translate German term ‘Wildnis’, it is arguably only selected areas within it that qualify as ‘wild’.
After the two workshops on Teaching the Wadden Sea through Literature, Eveline de Smalen has put together a teaching resource on literature and the Wadden Sea. The resource lays out different approaches to bringing the Wadden Sea and its communities, geography and ecology together with knowledge and insights from literature and can be used in creating advanced university courses in Scandinavian, Danish, German or Dutch language and literature or comparative literary studies programmes, and for integrating literature into courses in other disciplines. You can find it at www.waddensealiterature.com.