Welcome to IENE 2012
by Andreas Seiler
A safe, efficient and sustainable transport system is commonly believed to hold a key to a prosperous future. Undoubtedly, economies, markets and societal structures depend heavily on the transport of people and goods, and this at growingly larger scales. European transport policies therefore aim at unifying transport areas, developing green corridors for fast intermodal transport, and demounting legal, technical and physical barriers to ensure efficient mobility in the future.
This is not surprising; in fact, movement is an intrinsic property of animal life. Without sufficient mobility of individuals, genetic exchange will cease, populations crumble and species die out. If we seek to halter the loss of biodiversity, we must safeguard the natural transport between populations and habitats across the landscape. Eventually, European environmental policies now aim at developing a network of protected areas and other landscape linkages that together shall constitute nature’s backbone in the landscape, i.e. the green infrastructure.
Ironically, green corridors (for vehicle transport) and green infrastructure (for wildlife) do hardly go well along. Every so often, both networks intersect or compete for the same spatial resources, with roads and railroads mostly being victorious. Transport infrastructure exerts numerous adverse effects on nature: Traffic is responsible for the annual loss of hundreds of millions of mammals and birds in Europe. Noise and exhaust toxins degrade habitat quality far into the adjacent landscape. And the physical imprint of transport facilities disintegrates natural and human living spaces alike. All this is well documented, and quite alarming indeed. But it is not inevitably a reason for despair!
There is a quickly growing body of experience on mitigation options that allow us to minimise negative impacts, avoid irreversible damage, compensate for unavoidable effects, and even provide beneficial services for wildlife. There are technical means and biological knowledge to safeguard ecological functions across transport infrastructure, to build safe crossings for wildlife and integrate green areas alongside transportation corridors. When managed appropriately, road and rail verges can not only shield adjacent habitats, they may also provide valuable refuges for certain rare species. Ideas for ecological adaptations of transport infrastructure are many. The devil, however, hides in the detail: Even with the best intentions, mitigation measures are often deprived of their full functionality because of failures in communication or lack of adequate expertise. Barriers for implementation range from people’s attitudes and lacking awareness to legal constraints in planning processes. There are also critical issues that still need to be resolved, for example concerning design, efficacy and placement of mitigation measures, cost-effective management techniques, or adequate indicators for assessment and evaluation of impacts.
In order to fill these gaps, we need international collaboration in research and an exchange of knowledge between disciplines – and this is just what the Infra Eco Network is all about. IENE and its conferences and workshops provide an interdisciplinary forum where the sectors of environment and transport, science and practice can interact for a sustainable transport system.
The IENE 2012 international conference puts a headlight on the conflict between built-up and natural infrastructures: How can we ensure the functioning of ecological processes across the landscape while simultaneously thriving for a more efficient and safer transport system? These two interests do not necessarily clash. During the conference, we will learn about various approaches to integrate ecological concern with transport plans and policies. Many countries are already working on ecological networks and defragmentation programmes. There are also multiple examples of measures taken to prevent mortality, overcome barrier and reduce disturbance effects on wildlife. These illustrate that such solutions can be inspiring and attractive, and that they can create additional values for ecology, culture or recreational activities.
However, we must not forget that there are limits to mitigation. Not all impacts can be avoided, reduced or compensated for; there will always be a net loss of natural qualities. In certain areas and for certain qualities, any further exploitation due to roads and other infrastructure should be avoided and nature should be allowed to prevail. This requires increased public awareness and acceptance for such measures. Communication and public involvement are key issues in this endeavour, and the IENE 2012 conference offers several opportunities to learn from practical examples and discuss further actions.
Yet again, international and interdisciplinary collaboration is essential even in this respect, not only because all countries struggle with very much the same problems and result in the same measures, but also because we share the responsibility for our joint environment.
The Infra Eco Network is therefore very grateful for the support of the German Ministry of Environment, the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation, and the Swedish Transport Administration, who enabled us to arrange this conference. On behalf of IENE, I also thank the German Ministry of Transport and the Federal Highway Research Institute for their interest and cooperation, as well as all other organisations and individuals who helped in the planning and organisation of the conference and its field excursions (e.g. Foundation for Nature Protection Schleswig-Holstein, BUND-Friends of the Earth Germany, Foundation for Natural Landscapes in Brandenburg).
I express special thanks to our keynote speakers and all other authors who share their expertise at the conference. We are very pleased by the broad participation in this event: with 199 presentations from over 33 countries worldwide, in 23 sessions and 13 workshops, I am confident that our endeavours will show effect.
Again, a warm welcome to the conference,
IENE 2012 programme committee