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Carles Castell: "We cannot have development without conservation"

Carles Castell is currently Head of the Land Planning and Analysis Office, organizing local and regional projects for the analysis and planning of natural spaces.

Carles Castell is currently Head of the Land Planning and Analysis Office, organizing local and regional projects for the analysis and planning of natural spaces.

"We cannot have development without conservation"

"We cannot have development without conservation"

"Conservation will be impossible if society does not see it as an important element of progress and part of our future."

"Conservation will be impossible if society does not see it as an important element of progress and part of our future."

08/08/2011

Institucional

Current theories on the planning and management of natural areas focus increasingly on the need for land planning policies that treat territory as a system in which every component has its function. This was one of the main ideas presented by the biologist Carles Castell, Head of the Land Planning and Analysis Office of the Barcelona Provincial Council, at a recent talk organized by the UB's Faculty of Biology and the Institute for Research on Biodiversity (IRBio).

Carles Castell Puig is a doctor of biology (specializing in ecology) and holds master's degrees in environmental management and management functions from the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB). He spent ten years as a researcher at the Centre for Ecological Research and Forestry Applications (CREAF), where he was involved in various projects on the dynamics of Mediterranean terrestrial ecosystems, focusing particularly on their response to perturbations. His work during this period led to the publication of numerous scientific papers and popular science articles. Since 1994 Carles Castell has worked for the Natural Spaces Area of the Barcelona Provincial Council, where he has carried out research and follow-up projects on the management of natural parks and, more recently, the planning of protected natural areas. He is currently Head of the Land Planning and Analysis Office, organizing local and regional projects for the analysis and planning of natural spaces. Castell is also Secretary-Treasurer of EUROPARC-España, the Spanish section of the EUROPARC Federation, and a lecturer for several postgraduate and master's courses.

 
Land management and conservation of natural areas... What are the challenges in reconciling the natural, economic and social values of land in Catalonia?
 
Our main challenge at the moment is to create a framework approved by all agents involved in land management and conservation. We must look increasingly to move away from a single, sector-specific model, which will always produce biased, incomplete management. We need to find new formulas for cooperation between public bodies and between the public and private sectors, to find ways of working together under a common, consensual project that defines the potential of each area of land. This is the only way to ensure that efforts are channelled in the right direction. Those working in the management of natural areas are tired of feeling – justifiably so – that resources are lacking for conservation at the same time as public money is often ploughed into initiatives that may even work against the interests of protected areas. There is only one answer: to agree on a route-map and to make effective use of the resources available to us and our technical management capabilities to move things forward.
 
What is distinctive about land management in the Mediterranean region?
 
The Mediterranean has an enormously rich natural heritage. This is not my personal opinion; it can be seen in all of the maps of the world's biodiversity hotspots. We have a highly diverse and valuable region. This makes it a very interesting place in terms of management, but it also means that we have a huge responsibility. The region has been shaped by man for thousands of years, with many natural assets linked to the activities of our ancestors, which formed the landscape we see today, and where different processes overlap: the life cycles of species, ecological flows, management of anthropic activities... It is a frontier zone that is highly sensitive to the effects of climate change, a changing framework that evolves at a staggering rate. We must face the challenge of conservation from a global perspective and develop integrated solutions with others: we are not just talking about remote national parks, we are also dealing with conservation assets linked to crops, forest management and the use of natural resources. Land managers need to sit down together and pull in the same direction. They must make sure that people see conservation not as an obstacle to wellbeing and quality of life but as an essential part of rational development.
 
What does the future hold for conservation of the natural parks managed by the Barcelona Provincial Council and for biodiversity in municipal areas around the province?
 
At the moment we are facing the challenge of integrating parks into the surrounding territory, by which I mean ensuring that our work is not only confined to protected areas. Natural systems do not respect the boundaries we impose and, particularly in times of economic hardship, it is increasingly important to go that step further, to look for new partnerships and bring our work closer to the rest of society. Parks must be more accessible; people should know more about them and feel attached to them... Parks are our allies, not barriers to our aspirations. Conservation and development are not anti-ethical pursuits – quite the opposite, in fact. This must be made clear to the public: we cannot have development without conservation. We have often been guilty of over-simplifying, of valuing parks only for their importance as protected areas, without looking at the wider perspective. The park model must help us to transmit these values of coherent planning and management of natural systems. Conservation will be impossible if society does not see it as an important element of progress and part of our future. We need to make a combined effort to dispel the myth that parks, and conservation in general, stand in the way of development. There are many studies with social and economic aims that demonstrate the enormous value – financial, in this case – that can be derived from the conservation and rational use of our natural heritage.
 
What types of projects does the Land Planning and Analysis Office undertake?
 
We carry out projects that focus heavily on conservation, public land use and socio-economic development. In the field of conservation, many of the projects involve specific interventions designed to improve natural habitats, recover species and manage forest areas. We go further than passive protection and work directly with the natural surroundings, identifying areas in which intervention is needed to improve the conservation of a river, a forest or an open space, for example. This brings us to another area of our work, the conservation of natural heritage: this includes projects such as restoration work on the monastery of Sant Llorenç de Munt or Montesquiu castle. There are also projects with a more socio-economic focus, which are concerned with those who live in protected areas, for example providing infrastructure to improve their quality of life, securing subsidies for specific activities, and so on. Then we come to the organization and management of the public use of parks and natural spaces. Given their proximity to the metropolitan area of Barcelona, our parks receive a large number of visitors, so certain facilities are required, such as information centres, car parks, exhibition spaces, marked routes, guidebooks and leaflets, etc. Intense management is therefore needed to guarantee visitors an enjoyable and interesting experience and to minimize the impact of public use on the natural surroundings. Finally, we also manage cultural initiatives linked to school activities, public events, the promotion of local produce in restaurants in the area...
 
What is the Territorial Information System for the Analysis of Open Spaces in the Province of Barcelona (SITxell)?
 
SITxell provides an overview of the territory that enables us to establish priorities in our work with natural areas. For example, the system has revealed certain important areas that do not form part of the network of natural parks, allowing us to carry out conservation actions in areas that are not protected but are highly valuable nonetheless. This has helped local authorities to take greater responsibility for these areas, alongside initiatives managed by the Barcelona Provincial Council and the Generalitat. As well as this, each park needs more detailed attention. One of the mainstays of our work is the conservation strategy for the network of natural parks, under which experts from a range of disciplinary areas conducted a diagnostic analysis to create a list of some 1400 elements requiring conservation, of which 150 are considered priorities. The knowledge that our network contains some particularly valuable species helps to establish these priorities for our projects and supports work to improve their habitats.

What can universities – and the UB in particular – do to support biodiversity conservation?
 
In our case, there is no limit to what we can do. It is unnecessary for those involved in the planning and management of natural spaces to look for certain types of information when these are probably already available at universities. Even if this is not the case, the people in the best position to carry out this research are university experts. The basis for the work of SITxell, in fact, is the series of agreements with experts from the higher education sector, which creates a bridge between public administration, university research and conservation management. In our projects, we work with the following academics and their teams in a number of fields: Jordi Carreras (Dept. Of Plant Biology) for geobotany, flora and vegetation; Joan Real (Dept. Of Animal Biology) for the protection of Bonelli's Eagle; Maria Rieradevall and Narcís Prat (Dept. of Ecology) for fluvial sites; and also with experts from the Centre for Ecological Research and Forestry Applications (CREAF) for forestry issues and landscape ecology.
 
 
What are the keys to improving the conservation of natural areas in Catalonia?
 

First of all, public authorities must understand that natural area management is a cross-disciplinary task. Everyone involved must assume their share of the responsibility and join forces towards a common goal, and all parties must make the most of their capacities and the resources at their disposal. Secondly, we must be able to transmit to society that we are not talking about conserving a particular endemism or ecological process; we are talking about our quality of life, about knowing how to manage our immediate surroundings in the right way. Taken as such, it is much more than conserving a stunning natural park that we visit every few years. Therefore, to carry out this task we obviously need the implicit support of the public, for people to consider natural areas as things that belong to them. This is the only way to involve society in the process – to present a coherent model and pressure the government to put in the work that is re

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