TAIB training summary
Report of the MedWetCoast training course, Mallorca: October 2003
19 February 2004
par Web Team
The Albufera International Biodiversity Group (TAIB) and the Parc Natural de s’Albufera, Mallorca, welcomed Saad El Din Osman, Wissam Emile Farag (Egypt), Hektor Harizaj and Llazar Gjonca (Albania) for the period 12th to 26th October 2003, as participants in the third practical training course to be held at the Albufera Natural Park, Mallorca (Spain) for MedWetCoast wetland managers, technicians and scientists.
A practical courses
The course, organised by TAIB in collaboration with the Director and staff of the Parc Natural de s’Albufera, consisted of two weeks of practical exercises utilising a wide range of ecological and biophysical field methodologies related to monitoring and management of Mediterranean wetland, forest and sand dune systems.
The MWC delegates were able to ask questions of, and interact with, an international team of scientists and specialists in environmental management. Field work was conducted alongside scientists drawn from France (Florent Prunier, consultant ecologist), Spain (Laura Royo, Universities of Vigo & Cadiz, coastal processes; Juana Garau, Balearic government environmental scientist, water quality issues) and the UK (Tony Serjeant and Pamela Hill, Lancashire Wildlife Trust, ecology and public awareness; Martin Honey, Head of Lepidoptera Collections, Natural History Museum (London), biodiversity studies; Nick Riddiford, TAIB principal investigator, biodiversity and management). Macu Férriz (Barcelona) TAIB logistics officer assisted with the coastal processes studies when not ensuring that the everyday needs of the course were successfully met.
The Park Directorate and Balearic Environment Department invited three Spanish delegates to join the MedWetCoast delegates on the course. They were Raquel Vaquer Suņer and Seila Diaz Costas from the University of Vigo and Joana Guiu Moreno from the University of the Balearic Islands. The interaction between the MedWetCoast professionals and young Spanish biologists and environmentalists was a valuable added dimension to the course, and the integration between them all was excellent.
The Balearic Environment Department, in sanctioning TAIB’s activities at s’Albufera over a number of years, recognised the importance of the training element to the extent of sponsoring environmental students and young professionals, and this has become an integral part of TAIB’s operations. Volunteers need to demonstrate a high level of knowledge, ability and commitment in areas such as conservation, biology, ecology, environment and geography and a good standard of English - which is the official operational language of the course (though the TAIB team generally also includes French, Spanish and even Italian and German speakers).
The participants also had the opportunity to learn at first hand the activities and responsibilities of the Park staff, through observation, helping staff collect field data and attending seminars in which staff discussed their activities and the links between scientific investigation, monitoring and management.
The course was organised under a series of headings. These were: human and management impact studies; biodiversity studies; ecological and monitoring studies; park management; programme development; interpretation and education.
The Human and management impact studies comprised coastal processes and erosion of the Park’s foredunes where they meet the sea; and aquatic invertebrate communities as indicators of water quality. Biodiversity studies included surveys of key invertebrate groups, establishing and curating reference collections, herbarium development and curation and demonstration and application of biodiversity monitoring techniques. Ecological and monitoring studies entailed monitoring the structural evolution of reedbeds using vegetation transects and collection of water quality/basic hydrological data, standardised transects for birds, butterflies and dragonflies, systematic light trapping for moths, habitat utilisation and local movements by birds using ringing, and assessing habitat quality for invertebrates.
These activities are described in greater detail on the TAIB website: http://www.fsd.nl/TAIB/mainalbu.html
Seminars and laboratory sessions
It was essential to demonstrate how the field investigations linked with management. Therefore, though the course was largely field based, a series of seminars directed at this issue were organised.
In addition to experiencing Park management first hand, the group participated in seminars in which the Park Director, Maties Rebassa, discussed public use and management issues at s’Albufera; and the Park education team outlined in some detail the environmental education programme at s’Albufera and more widely in Mallorca, and how they were extending this programme into adult education and public awareness activities.
Florent Prunier, assisted by other TAIB scientists led a workshop session on statistics and analysis and their application for field monitoring. This workshop has been designed to remove some of the mystery and fear from the topic, and to build confidence in tackling the issue. The workshop is "hands-on" - with participants invited to work actual examples based on data they had helped collect. The proof of the workshop was the initial expressions of dismay turning to fascination and enjoyment: to the extent that it was almost impossible to drag people away from the computers at the end the session. The participants were also introduced to the biodiversity and conservation management data system which TAIB is currently devising to link all the various projects and investigations together - for the benefit of Park staff, TAIB scientists and participants alike.
The monitoring programme implemented by TAIB follows the methodology set out in the MedWet Guide Monitoring Mediterranean Wetlands. We were again able to call upon the editor of this guide, Pere Tomās Vives, to speak to us on this subject. His presentation Monitoring Mediterranean wetlands, the MedWet approach used actual examples from other sites and placed the Albufera work in its Mediterranean-wide context.
A feature of the course was a set exercise in which the participants undertook their own investigation leading to a poster presentation of their results. The course members were divided into two teams and each team asked to choose a conservation or management topic which they had identified as of importance to the Park. They were asked not only to investigate the issues relating to this topic, but to express their findings in a poster which could be used as an interpretation tool for public awareness - for instance in the Park’s information centre. The teams were provided with the use of a digital camera to assist them in this. They were also asked to make a powerpoint presentation which demonstrated how they reached their results and the problems they encountered on the way. Course members were then encouraged to fire questions about the investigation, and comment on the effectiveness of the posters - with suggestions for improvements.
The results were impressive. Hector, Saad and Seila chose to focus on protection measures for the coastal dunes. Their poster was effectively an advice code for visitors steering them away from damaging activities in the dunes. It was attractive and well thought out, and with a little editing and streamlining could be used for public awareness purposes. Llazar, Wissam, Raquel and Joana chose a similar theme, but concentrated more on issues of erosion and management. This led to a more complex poster which required further refinement. However, with that additional refinement it would again make a good public awareness poster, though probably organised as a series of three.
Inevitably, bearing in mind the length of the course and the familiarisation process prior to understanding the conservation issues at the Park, the two teams had only a short space of days to undertake their investigations and put together the presentation and poster. The professionalism and experience of the MedWetCoast delegates was clear in the quality of the results, and there is no doubt that the further improvements and refinements referred to above could have been achieved if more time had been available. Irrespective of the results, this was a very useful exercise as it drew out the participants’ skills and abilities and incorporated such elements as recognition of and direct involvement in key issues affecting the Park, team working, linking investigation with management and interpretation, and addressing the issues succinctly for public awareness purposes. Work is planned in spring 2004 to put the finishing touches to these posters to bring them to a standard suitable for use in the Park’s interpretation centre.
Though the course is focussed on the wetland of s’Albufera, free days are built into the programme. One is designed to allow course members to "do their own thing" whilst an excursion is offered for the other - specifically to show participants a little more of the beautiful island of Mallorca. The four MedWetCoast delegates chose to hire a car on their free day and took themselves off to the mountains in the north. They covered the entire mountain range - and much more - and had a very enjoyable and fruitful time, as their smiles and photographs demonstrated. The excursion day was spent in the south of the isle, taking in some of the beautiful towns, bays and beaches as well as calling in at Mallorca’s other major wetland, which includes a working salt-pan, at Ses Salines de Campos. Bicycles, hired for the course, were put to good use by MedWetCoast delegates during other free time to visit the shops and tourist facilities along the coastal strip north of the Park at nearby Alcudia.
The course covered a lot of ground in two weeks. Participants were exposed to field methodologies for addressing issues such as local and global impacts on the environment, monitoring techniques designed to advise and guide management, and simple biodiversity studies designed to improve understanding of how the local ecosystem functions. Other topics covered included preparation of protocols and field data sheets for the collection of data; demonstrating how to establish and maintain good records through a database model and how to analyse those records meaningfully; the importance of the records for management planning and implementation; requirements and techniques for the establishment of reference material for plants and animals; and the opportunity to interact with Park staff on issues such as management, interpretation for tourists, participation events for local communities and the Park’s very important environmental education programme.
The four MedWetCoast delegates are to be congratulated for their efforts throughout the course. They participated in all the activities with enthusiasm and interest, and also made serious contributions themselves. One particular bonus, assisted by access to the internet, digital cameras and power point presentations, were seminars in which they presented their own sites and work, discussed the management and public awareness issues which confronted them and the ways they dealt with them.
It was a very happy course made all the more memorable by a wonderful finale - a celebratory meal in which scientists and course members were joined by Park staff in a jovial and entertaining paella evening.
P.S. Nick Riddiford
P.S. Nick Riddiford TAIB