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Environment

Alternative Nobel fuels conservation mission in Eastern Europe, Central Asia

German biologist Michael Succow is dedicated to creating nature reserves in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Receiving the Right Livelihood Award in 1997 has assisted him in continuing his quest.

Michael Succow

Succow has established many nature reserves

67-year-old biology professor Michael Succow is making a stopover in his hometown of Greifswald in north-eastern Germany. He has just returned from Kiev, and he is very excited about the latest developments in Ukraine.

The country is planning to establish at least 47 national parks, with semi-deserts, coastal mountain ranges, flood plains, marshes and steppes. The Ukrainian parliament has already given the program a green light.

"A lot is possible there at the moment," Succow told Deutsche Welle. He has already explored the potential in various Ukrainian regions to establish EU-standard nature reserves.

The wilderness near the border to Belarus with its "unbelievably beautiful, huge marshes" would be, according to Succow, is a good place for a classic nature protection area.

At the same time, the steppes of central Ukraine would be suitable for a biosphere reserve, in which human activity would be steered to be in harmony with nature.

"The mayors and regional officers tell us large areas are free - we can take them for the nature reserves," he added.

Opportunities to seize

Succow makes it clear that he will not let an opportunity like this go to waste, and that he will do everything in the coming weeks to obtain funds for the projects - whether from the German environmental ministry, the European Union or private investors.

A rubber boot with a Belarusian marsh in the background

Marshes are an important natural feature in Belarus

Succow's own non-profit foundation, with many committed young members - some of whom are his former students - is going to provide scientific support.

It is also helping out with another project: the re-establishment of marshes in Belarus, which not only decorate the local landscape but also contribute to climate protection by absorbing carbon dioxide and creating a habitat for plants like reeds.

A focus on marshes

Marsh areas in Belarus are of particular importance to Succow, and he is satisfied with the level of cooperation between him and the county's authorities. Together with the "greatly skilled Belarusian experts," the Michael Succow Foundation is working on bringing 40,000 hectares of marshes back into existence.

Succow has also noticed a growing awareness of ecological problems in Russia. He believes that the elimination of peat regions in the former Soviet Union showed how destructive this once-celebrated from of land reclamation can be.

In 1997, Succow received the Right Livelihood Award, also known as the Alternative Nobel, for his efforts to create nature reserves.

Today he describes himself as a "sales agent for nature." He has used the prize money to fund further projects, such as the first national park in Turkmenistan, which is due to be opened by the country's president, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, in the spring of 2011.

The prize that broadens horizons

Three women in a street in Baku, Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan responded positively to Succow's nature reserves

The Right Livelihood Award opened new doors for Succow, putting him in contact with some powerful figures of Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Succow discovered a deep love for nature in some of these influential people, including Azerbaijan's former president Heydar Aliyev.

Ten national parks have since been created in Azerbaijan, and the country draws so much wealth from its oil and gas reserves that the parks are in no danger of becoming too expensive to maintain. Meanwhile, in Kyrgyzstan, a lot of Succow's work was destroyed due to civil unrest.

Succow's focus on former USSR republics is no coincidence. He can speak Russian and in 1990, as East Germany's vice secretary of nature, conservation and water, he successfully persuaded the Council of Secretaries on their last meeting before the German reunification to declare about 7 percent of the country as national parks and biosphere reserves. These areas are still under protection today.

Unpopular with hunters

Succow still has six more trips planned for this year, including one to the Russian city of Kaliningrad. In this region he is becoming increasingly unpopular with hunting tourists from Russia and Western Europe.

He is taking the Romincka Forest, an area favored by them, and turning it into a nature reserve. However, the Russian authorities seem to be on his side - a feasibility study is already underway.

Author: Bernd Graessler (ew)
Editor: Cyrus Farivar

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