1.1 State of knowledge regarding the environmental situation
Biodiversity of the agricultural landscape in the Czech Republic has declined rapidly since the 1950s, as well as the diversity of the landscape and its ecological stability. One of the major causes is the radical loss of the rich landscape structure with its landscape ele-ments and their interconnectedness (Šálek et al. 2018).
Large areas of landscape elements were destroyed during communism (1948 – 1989), lit-erature mentions thousands of square kilometres (Lipský 2010). In many regions, in addi-tion to the ever-decreasing biodiversity (e.g. decline in abundance of formerly common bird species), the landscape consists of arable blocks larger than 100 hectares. This land-scape with very little landscape features is suffering from drought, erosion and several other land-use problems (e.g. Cibulka 2018, Faberová 2018).
Part of these problems can be influenced by the restoration of landscape features (non-cropped elements) and their appropriate management as suggested by Šálek et al. (2018), Pavliska et al. (2017), Reif and Hanzelka (2016) and other experts. Data by Šálek et al. show significant difference between Northern Austria and Southern Moravia (Czechia): in Aus-tria, more non-cropped elements and smaller fields were present and were accompanied by larger populations of insects and birds. There is clear evidence for positive correlation between the amount of landscape features and abundance of spiders, butterflies and at the larger scale also birds.
Also, the study by Pavliska et al. (2017) shows that hare populations are negatively affect-ed by increased areas of farmland and recommends that reducing field size can be good tool to support populations of European hares in arable landscapes.
Appropriate restoration of landscape features can also help to decrease soil erosion sig-nificantly and increase water storage capacity of the landscape. These ecosystem ser-vices (provision of healthy soil and water) are becoming more and more crucial in the face of current climate change impacts that threaten Czech people with drought.
The environmental relief out of the project is therefore the possibility of restoration of landscape features, especially in large soil blocks (more than 40 ha).
• Landscape features can be defined as elements in agrarian landscape, which have not only a production function but, above all, non-productive function, particularly sup-port for the biodiversity.
• They include permanent elements such as shrubs, wetlands, clumps of trees, permanent grasslands (e.g. protective stripes on river banks), tree stands (e.g. small forests in arable land); temporary elements in arable land – e.g. stripes of grass for feeding birds and insects.
2 Objectives of the pilot project
The project is stated as a pilot for following objectives:
1. Raise awareness for resilient ecosystems
2. Plant landscape elements to counter the loss of biodiversity
3. Exercise cooperation of farmers, communes and nature conservationists
4. Gain knowledge for a transfer to other Czech regions
In detail, the objectives are described in the following.
1 Raise awareness for resilient ecosystems
The main objective of the project is to raise awareness for stable ecosystems and what can be done in agrarian landscapes to improve ecosystems’ resilience. Therefore, different training and information material for the communes and farmers are developed.
The resilience of ecosystems is coming more into awareness by farmers, especially after the two drought years 2018 and 2019, although the reason and possible mitigation measures aren’t known yet. Communication and cooperation between rural stakeholders (farmers, conservationists, state administration) are hardly existent. Better cooperation between conservationists, farmers and public authorities should contribute to better conditions for ecosystems, e.g. more biodiversity in the pilot regions.
Therefore, the Czech project partners will develop different formats of publications, meetings and other information to spread mutual understanding, knowledge and mitigate conflicts in the areas. Also, the study trip to Germany as much as the visits of experienced cooperation managers from LPV from Germany in the pilot regions serve the goal to raise the awareness and the capacity to act within the different stakeholder groups.
2 Plant landscape elements to counter the loss of biodiversity
As a demonstration and a role model, landscape elements are to be planted in the model regions, mainly on arable plots owned by communes. The loss of biodiversity in arable landscapes is highly related to the loss of landscape elements (see literature).
• selection of sites for new tree plantings, new wetlands, bio-stripes, grasslands and more landscape features
• during the project, minimum 2 tree plantings or other measures will be planned and created
• specification of further measures that require longer planning time (e.g. revitalisation of streams and smaller rivers).
In the Czech Republic, starting the cooperation model is an innovative solution to the problem of biodiversity decline which allows for the creation of procedures for achieving better understanding and subsequent cooperation between groups with different primary interests
3 Exercise cooperation of farmers, communes and nature conservationists
For to improve further structures and processes of cooperation, models of cooperation similar to German landcare associations are to be tested in the model regions. This cooperation has an innovative character in the Czech Republic due to the lack of trust and the misunderstandings about ecology in the Czech society in general.
The objective is to model of partnership between farmers, conservationists and other stakeholders in two pilot regions that will focus on consensus building measures. Sup-ported by different information and training manuals as far as the re-establishing of land-scape features can function as a role model for further cooperation. Also moderated meetings, up to mediation in difficult cases, should build up a mutual understanding of intentions and common goals.
The structure of the partnership will be based on the Landschaftspflegeverband/ landcare associations (LPV) model that is already functioning in Germany and other European countries. The partnership can be defined as a platform for building communication, mutual understanding and cooperation between groups that are interested in improving the state of the landscape in two pilot regions.
The project will build on the best current knowledge, our preparatory work and previous experience in the field. According to our knowledge, past and current projects in the Czech Rep. have not been focusing on the state of under-standing between farmers, mayors and environmentalists, yet even how starting cooperation between them. The only exception is the Josefovske louky where Czech Society for Ornithology, project partner, has been creating a site for wetland birds. We have been up to date with the most recent scientific data in Czechia thanks to the previous projects and cooperation (again, please see part 4).
Due to the to the TACR project we will have direct access to new data about farmers´ mo-tivation to nature protection, therefore the team will be able focus to the new steps: practically applying the most recent findings to find new solutions of the pressing environmental problem (lack of landscape elements in arable landscapes) and social problem (lack of understanding and cooperation). Also DVL will use its experience of 30 years working in cooperations with conflicting interests to develop the partnership between stakeholders in the target areas.
4 Gain knowledge for a transfer to other Czeh regions
Part of the pilot project is also to estimate how far the cooperation can be replicated within Czech conditions. Referring to similar pre-conditions as dispositions in other Czech regions, a functionable model for cooperation to reach more resilient ecosystems would be appreciated by many stakeholders in rural Czechia.
2.3 Meetings with farmers, nature conservationists and mayors to start cooperation and raise awareness
Pilot region Southern Moravia
We have approached 50 subjects who farm in the microregion via email or telephone. Although we aimed to make at least short telephone interviews, many farmers declined the call too soon. Finally, it was possible to gain insights from and explain the benefits of the project to four farmers on the phone and four others at personal meetings. Additionally, 10 other farmers joined round tables.
We have contacted 25 nature conservationists from state authorities (Nature Conservation Agency of the Czech Republic (NCA CR), PLA Authorities, nature conservation departments of Southern Moravia regional office) and NGOs. Longer telephone interviews were made with four of them who later also joined the round tables. We are in contact with five other conservationists who were approached by telephone or email for consultations.
Five gamekeeper associations were contacted and subsequently, we met with five representatives of three associations, first at individual meetings and later at the roundtables.
We also approached approximately 15 local people who we met during the visits to the microregion.The consultant also personally met and further cooperated by telephone and email with a project manager of the LAG Hrušovansko.
Four local organisations interested in nature and/or cultural activities were contacted. However, only one organisation started to cooperate with us. Others were either not interested, too busy with their own agenda or turned out defunct.
Each meeting was preceded by the studying of documents and preparing a map based on the Spatial Landscape Study created in 2018 by Ekotoxa for Znojmo, a municipality with extended powers, which also covers the area of the region. The meetings were connected to the mapping of the terrain and asking local people on the way about their perception of the landscape and introducing the project.
The round tables that brought the stakeholders together for the first time were organised only for invited participants. We have invited participants based on the information we gathered about the area from desktop analysis and communication with stakeholders about the state of landscape, interests, needs and powers of stakeholders. The invited stakeholders always included mayors and/or vice mayors of a village, local farmers interested in sustainable practices and non-productive activities, farmers who could share best practice examples (not necessarily from the project microregion), subjects who farmed on field blocks identified as problematic, nature conservationists and chairmen of gamekeeper associations. These stakeholders usually also represented landowners of the local agricultural land.
Pilot region Hradec Kralove
Among other stakeholders active in the farmland belog hunters, fishermen or bee-keepers. Again, a lot of people pursue all these hobbies at once. We spoke with members of three hunter clubs that manage the majority of microregion land. In particular, hunters from club Lověna Nechanice have been active in recent years in greening of the farmland. Also, we have met with the chairman of the fishing district Mr. Milan Vlk.
We decided to meet also with the public with some knowledge or activities of the Nechanice countryside. Especially meeting the 93-year-old historian Václav Pražák was very unique. As an author, he has published two books about Nechanice and the surrounding countryside that are locally well known.
Meetings with organisations active in nature protection took place after the round tables.
All round tables have brought some ideas, how to improve the quality of the farmland. After round tables all maps were put in GIS systems and for each round table a map summarising all comments from participants was prepared. All ideas were collected with a focus on the most beneficial one. All participants also received an overall evaluation of the round table by email.
The most promising proposals were selected, and we continued to work with them. If proposals were directly connected with farmland, we have discussed them with concerned farmers to see their willingness to accept potential changes within farming. Selected proposals were also presented to competent state authorities (AOPK - the expert body of the MoE). Consultation with them was focused on their acceptance of the proposal from the state nature body view and especially potential financial support from financial instruments of the MoE. This way, we find out that two of the most ambitious proposals could be fully compensated from structural funds. Also, necessary administrative steps before realisation of the proposals were discussed. Subsequently, we invited several experts from nature conservation fields to show them the most relevant project sites.
Both pilot regions
Informative leaflet - informative leaflet that presents the project goals, microregions and individual partners.
Letter of invitation for seminars - press release on CSO website, including the letter of invitation for November seminars in Hrušovany pod Jevišovkou and Nechanice.
Seminar in Nechanice - the article on the CSO website presents a two-day seminar in Nechanicko. Readers can download the presenters' presentations and view photos from the field trips that featured the locations of the landscape feature designs.
Excursion to Saxony - report from the study trip about conservation projects in Saxony led by LPV, supplemented by several photos from the participants and their impressions of the tri
Leaflet of financial database - card flyer with a website (QR code) about financial database Živá půda (“Living land”). See the related tweet about the database here.
All published materials of the project are integrated into the webpage of the CSO (link).
Website of the project - presenting the project area of Hru šovansko, cooperation with the German DVL, information about financing by DBU and activities within the project. Website visitors can also view the Guide for Landowners and Farmers on the website of a related organisation the Partnership Foundation.
Website of the project - introduction of the project and project partners
Dog Walking with respect to nature - disturbing wildlife is a growing issue, especially in terms of farmland birds nesting on the ground. This article aims to raise awareness among dog walkers and offers 10 tips on how to behave responsibly in nature. Shared also on CSO social media ( Facebook and Twitter).
Creating healthy landscape - article introducing the project in a regional press Zpravodaj Nechanicko 2/2021.
Let’s respect nature - a short article aiming to raise awareness about disturbing wildlife by dog walking without a leash in wildlife baby season. It was published in a regional press Zpravodaj Nechanicko 2/2021.
Cooperation of nature conservationists, municipalities and farmers - article in a regional press Zpravodaj Nechanicko 4/2021 about the results of the ornithological survey in Nechanicko region and proposals of landscape features
Residents of Nechanice on rafts observing Arctosa cinerea and other endangered species - article about the study trip to Saxony published in regional press Zpravodaj Nechanicko 3/2022
Both pilot regions
We have succeeded to initiate cooperation where it had not been in place before in both pilot regions. However, as described above, mainly due to the short time frame and social barriers, a formal cooperation structure similar to LPV could not be established yet. Therefore, we would like to continue in developing formal and informal cooperation with mayors, farmers, environmentalists and local clubs, and attract further stakeholders in order to create an independent and permanent cooperation structure in both microregions.
Therefore, we are currently applying for a project which would help us to support these goals through a variety of activities. One of the main activities of the project is to further develop new landscape features. Before we start the realization of biodiversity research and collection of hydrological and climatic data of the area will be preceded. This information helps us to avoid obstacles which can occur during the realisation. This activity could also improve the trust between stakeholders because it brings them together during preparatory work and also during realisation and further maintenance. Preparatory work includes negotiating with landowners when the local people can help. Landscape features has the educational potential also for local farmers who are struggling with drought or erosion.
Additionally, we will attempt to acquire further funding through other available opportunities. In the meantime, we will stay connected with the most involved stakeholders and support them as part of our usual working tasks when possible. Cooperation with municipalities or LAGs on projects dedicated to a healthy environment is possible here. Some of these project designs have already been included in the strategic plans of the municipalities, and some have even been elaborated in detailed studies.
Pilot region Southern Moravia
Thanks to networking, Friends of the Earth became interested in applying together with Ekotoxa and other subjects for a funding of a project which aims to use a cooperative approach to support adoption of organic farming in a geographically defined region. The project was acquired and will be implemented between June 2022 and April 2024. Ekotoxa staff will be able to partly continue the activities in Moravian region thanks to this project. We will use the knowledge from this project to prepare and organise meetings for stakeholders in a region that is to be selected based on the potential to transit to organic agriculture.
Pilot region Hradec Králové
Many of the landscape elements proposed by the participants of the round tables are very demanding in terms of money and workforce. To successfully complete proposed landscape features a feasibility study will precede project documentation. The level of consolidation of the built structures and the continuation of the development of landscape elements will depend on how much time investment we will be able to provide to the project in terms of personnel. Our effort is to maintain the highest possible interdependence and continuity between projects. If we do not receive further subsidy, we plan to develop the project on a voluntary basis using local volunteers or engage local municipalities. Basic co-funding may also be offered through the support of the Hradec Králové region or the Ministry of the Environment of the Czech Republic. We were discussing Operational Programme Employment (OPE) and other co-funding possibilities for landscape features (dedicated to improving water retention) with the Nature Conservation Agency of the Czech Republic (NCA) and with a water management institution such as Povodí Labe.