The BBVA Foundation awards recognize the conservation of Western Iberia, the protection of Paraguay’s subtropical forests and the informative labors of ‘Quercus’ magazine

Honors in the 13th edition of the BBVA Foundation Awards for Biodiversity Conservation go to Fundación Naturaleza y Hombre, in the category of Biodiversity Conservation in Spain; Fundación Moisés Bertoni para la Conservación de la Naturaleza de Paraguay, in Biodiversity Conservation Worldwide; and Rafael Serra, José Antonio Montero and Miguel Miralles, the journalists behind Quercus, doyen of Spanish nature conservation magazines, in the category of Knowledge Dissemination and Communication.

19 October, 2018

Two long-running conservation initiatives promoting a sustainable relationship between humans and nature that benefits both the land and its inhabitants have been distinguished in the 13th edition of the BBVA Foundation Awards for Biodiversity Conservation.

The award for projects in Spain recognizes the protection of Western Iberia, a biodiversity hotspot spanning over two million hectares of Mediterranean ecosystem. In the worldwide category, new this year, the award goes to a series of initiatives in the eastern region of Paraguay to involve local communities, particularly young women, in subtropical forest conservation. Finally, the winners in the Knowledge Dissemination and Communication category are the three journalists at the head of Quercus, the doyen of Spain’s wildlife magazines.

The award for Biodiversity Conservation in Spain is bestowed on Fundación Naturaleza y Hombre for its project Western Iberia: Conservation of the Greater Ecosystem in recognition of “its regional and cross-border impact in the conservation of threatened ecosystems and endangered species in a part of the Peninsula especially rich in biodiversity,” in the words of the citation. The jury also praised it as “a landmark initiative in land stewardship and restoration,” which stands out for “integrating rural lifestyles into environmental conservation.”

The BBVA Foundation Worldwide Award for Biodiversity Conservation, inaugurated in this edition, has gone to Fundación Moisés Bertoni para la Conservación de la Naturaleza de Paraguay for its project Mbaracayú: Conservation, Female Education, and Sustainable Tourism. The jury remarked in its citation that “in a context of rapidly vanishing humid subtropical forest, the project stands out for its innovative character and commitment to the skilling and integration of local communities, with a particular accent on promoting women’s involvement in biodiversity conservation.”

The winners of the award for Knowledge Dissemination and Communication in Biodiversity Conservation in Spain are journalists Rafael Serra, José Antonio Montero and Miguel Miralles “for their ongoing labors of communicating nature at the head of Quercus, the doyen of Spanish nature conservation magazines,” the citation affirms. “At a time when specialist environmental publications confront serious difficulties,” the jury adds, “Quercus’s reporters have served as a nexus enabling the work of the scientific community and organizations concerned with biodiversity conservation to be relayed to society in a manner both rigorous and accessible.”

The protection of nature is an ongoing priority for the BBVA Foundation, which supports knowledge generation in ecology and conservation biology, conservationist action based on scientific evidence, and the indispensable accompaniment of social awareness-raising in this sphere. The threat of the “sixth great extinction” looming over the planet means we depend more than ever on the people and organizations working to achieve meaningful, lasting outcomes in nature conservation, like the winners of these BBVA Foundation Biodiversity Conservation Awards.

Established in 2004, the awards were previously organized into two categories for projects in Spain and Latin America. In the present edition, however, this last category has been scaled up to encompass conservation projects throughout the rest of the world, reaffirming the BBVA Foundation’s engagement with biodiversity conservation at global level. Finally, a third category is reserved for educational and communicative labors in this terrain so vital to the future of life on Earth. The jury deciding the awards, funded with a total of 580,000 euros, is made up of expert scientists, communicators and representatives of NGOs (see list below) who bring to the table complementary backgrounds and viewpoints in the conservation field.

The awards in their time have found their way to a diverse set of winners, including major ecologist and naturalist organizations like WWF and SEO/Birdlife; associations concerned with a particular genus or species, like the Fundación Oso Pardo in Spain, the Program for the Conservation of Mexican Bats or the Southern Right Whale Program in Argentina; interventions on specific ecosystems, like the wetland campaigns of Fundación Global Nature; and public agencies performing an essential role in the defense of nature, such as environmental police force SEPRONA or the Environmental Prosecutions Division.

Projects in Spain: Pursuing the balance of the dehesa

“The dehesa is a landscape built by man over the course of the centuries,” relates Carlos Sánchez, the president of Fundación Naturaleza y Hombre. Since 2003, this Foundation has been implementing a project across some 2.5 million hectares in the provinces of Salamanca, Cáceres and Zamora and the center of Portugal harboring species like the cinereous vulture – 1,000 pairs, almost half the Spanish population, the black stork or the Iberian lynx, as well as a multitude of habitats, including holm oak dehesa, riparian woodland, rocky outcrops and Mediterranean temporary ponds.

The region takes in multiple protected areas at European or national level. Sánchez, however, advocates a global approach which acknowledges that human coexistence with the species around us “forms a continuum” in time and space. Among the foremost challenges are population ageing and depopulation: “From a human standpoint, Western Iberia is a space where towns and villages are few and far between,” he explains. “Overall, population density falls short of 20 inhabitants per km2, with negative rates of growth.” Land abandonment risk traces to the existence of widening imbalances, with some zones suffering management problems on account of intensive livestock farming, and others at increased risk of wildfires, for instance, due to a lack of inhabitants and proper maintenance.

The work of Fundación Naturaleza y Hombre “is focused on recruiting the support of owners (municipal and private), the direct managers of the land, by educating them in the values of the Iberian dehesa and the importance of implementing a model that fits the terrain.” One notable collaboration entailed interventions on the estates of members of a Western Iberian Landowners Club to minimize the environmental damage associated with farming, livestock and hunting activities. These included pond creation and restoration, rejuvenation of the dehesa, improvements to riparian woodland, mitigation of the effects of oak decline disease (la seca), recovery of black stork habitats, the provision of carrion to cinereous vulture feeding places, improvement of feeding resources for the Iberian lynx and the designation of new biosphere reserves.

“The result of this intense effort is a model that curbs rural abandonment by monetizing the natural resources of the dehesa, promoting the use of wild livestock and nature tourism, and stepping up the fight against wildfires and climate change,” says Sánchez.

Projects worldwide: Training women to promote conservation

The Mbaracayú project, run by Fundación Moisés Bertoni para la Conservación de la Naturaleza de Paraguay, was launched in 1991 in the Mbaracayú Forest Nature Reserve, declared a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve – the first in Paraguay – in the year 2000. A remnant of high, humid subtropical forest affected heavily by deforestation, the Mbaracayú Reserve is currently “Paraguay’s most scientifically documented in its biological diversity, and one of the best known sites among the ecosystems representative of the Alto Paraná and Cerrado Atlantic forest,” in the words of Fundación Moisés Bertoni.

The Foundation’s goal is “to conserve and protect the Mbaracayú Forest Nature Reserve to perpetuity,” by promoting the “sustainable development” of the surrounding area. This land is inhabited by 220 families of the Aché people, the only indigenous community considered native to the Mbaracayú Forest. Its members enjoy a vested right to use the Reserve for fruit gathering and the hunting of animals with traditional weapons, while sustainable tourism has provided a window for their culture, crafts and customs.

The reserve’s area of influence is also home to 3,000 peasant families. In this case, a balance has been sought between human action and forest conservation through the launch of food safety activities, forest reforestation and conservation, improvements in livestock yield and, most notably, training in development-friendly conservation measures aimed particularly at young local women.

Between 2009 and 2017 some 250 low-income women from peasant or indigenous communities graduated from the Mbaracayú Education Center with a diploma in environmental sciences. “Educating women as agents of change is fundamental to conserve biodiversity and protect the forest,” according to Fundación Moisés Bertoni. “Sociological studies show that, given the power, women choose to invest in the family, with notable benefits for the welfare of their communities.”

In the words of its Executive Director Yan Speranza, “in 30 years of work we have managed to integrally conserve the largest virgin forest remnants of one of the region’s most endangered ecosystems, where over 93% of the original forests have been lost.” Its approach sees conservation “not merely as protection, but as part of a development model that also prizes the creation of social and economic value,” Speranza continues. “This means working extensively outside the Reserve if we hope to permanently conserve the protected area; it implies a continuous process of environmental, social and economic value creation across the length of the territory, involving all possible actors.”

Dissemination and Communication: Quercus magazine, a pillar of conservation reporting

Since its first issue was launched almost forty years ago, in December 1981, Quercus has grown to be Spain’s most influential communications medium in the realm of biodiversity conservation. And it continues to enjoy undisputed prestige among all lovers of nature. Indeed the jury describes Quercus as the “doyen” of the Spanish environmental press. Month after month, its pages offer an informative digest, in plain, accessible language, of the latest research in ecology and conservation biology, based always on irreproachable scientific sources. Not only that, its national and world news coverage allows its wide readership to follow the movements of all the principal actors on the environmental stage, from public institutions to non-governmental organizations by way of universities and research centers.

For director Rafael Serra, the magazine’s subtitle – Observing, studying and defending nature – is what best sums up its editorial policy, and reveals the key to its success: “It’s a mixture of observation – that is, people who go out into the country, see something curious and report it to us; study – we publish fairly weighty articles on biology applied to conservation ends, but try to make them lively reading; and finally, defense – an unstinting commitment to nature conservation.” The rigor and sheer enjoyableness that characterize Quercus – qualities singled out by the prize jury – have won it a fiercely loyal readership that has stayed with it through its 37 years of life, and whose numbers include both professional and amateur naturalists, technicians and consultants, members of conservationist organizations, politicians and planners dealing in environmental matters, university teachers and students, environmental education monitors and anyone keen to learn more about wildlife and natural spaces.

Looking back on his thirty years with Quercus, Serra observes that the loyalty of its readership is evidenced by the unusual fact that “it has the same number of subscribers as newsstand buyers. It is extremely rare for a specialist magazine to have subscribers make up half of its readership, and that is the most powerful support at our disposal. If it wasn’t for them, the magazine would quite simply cease to exist.” Serra further defines this public as “small but intensely loyal, slow to make the jump into the digital sphere, and still romantically attached to paper,” adding that “although we have made considerable progress with our digital edition, and even have our own online newsstand where you can download the publication, the print magazine is still very much the star product.”

The jury praised Quercus for sustaining its invaluable informative labors “at a time when specialist environmental publications confront serious difficulties.” Serra, in fact, believes the magazine’s survival owes to the “personal insistence, maybe even pigheadedness” he shares with his two co-winners of the award: editor-in-chief José Antonio Montero, almost 30 years with the magazine, and designer and coordinator Miguel Miralles, there for some 20 years. The three laureates are not only in charge of Quercus’s editorial content, they also became partners and owners in 2008, taking over the magazine at a point when the financial crisis and plummeting advertising revenues had persuaded the previous owners to abandon the publishing business. “It was a rough ride,” Serra admits, “but our readers’ loyalty has kept us going so far.”

Despite the undoubted difficulties facing the news business, Serra is upbeat about the future, pointing out that “public interest in these issues has grown strongly in Spain.” The Quercus director offers a final reflection: “Our country is home to an exceptional flora and fauna, and that is reflected in the prestige and publications of our scientists. We try to pull this all information together and convey it in a language that is easy to understand. And fortunately society is starting to wake up to the importance of these topics.”

Jury members

The jury in this edition was chaired by Rafael Pardo, Director of the BBVA Foundation. Remaining members were Araceli Acosta, Chief Press Officer at the Ministry for the Ecological Transition; Alberto Aguirre de Cárcer, Director of daily newspaper La Verdad, Murcia; Caty Arévalo, Head of Communications at the Ministry for the Ecological Transition; Marta Barluenga, tenured scientist at the Spanish Museum of Natural Sciences (CSIC); Miguel B. Araújo, research professor at the Spanish Museum of Natural Sciences (CSIC); Javier Benayas, tenured professor in the Department of Ecology, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid; Marta Coll, researcher at the Institute of Marine Sciences (CSIC); Juan Carlos del Olmo, General Secretary of ADENA/WWF Spain; Jesús Muñoz, scientific researcher at the Real Jardín Botánico (CSIC); Josep Peñuelas, principal investigator in the Global Ecology Unit at CREAF (Centro de Investigación Ecológica y de Aplicaciones Forestales, CSIC); and Antonio Vercher, Chief Public Prosecutor for Environment and Land Planning.