Life on Land - WUR Sustainable Development Goal

15. Life on land

In the Planet Earth Management research by WUR, the perspective is the earth and its resources for mankind.

Wageningen University & Research focusses its research on two aspects of life on land. On the one hand, the emphasis is on the impact of human actions on the intrinsic and utilitarian values of the earth’s ecosystem. On the other hand, it is on maintaining the resilience of planet Earth by guiding societal choices to be made in land, water and sea management.

All across the globe, animals are under threat. Their habitat is decreasing due to human settlement, agriculture, mining and industry. Wageningen scientists conduct field research to find better ways for humans and animals to coexist. They conclude that to conserve more nature, we must relinquish our unlimited economic growth.

Living with untamed nature

‘In nature conservation, we have recently seen a large upsurge of poaching, violence and militarisation. In African nature reserves, for example, but also in Brazil, people endeavouring to protect the Amazon are being killed. This is a very depressing development’, says Bram Büscher, professor of Development Ecology. Currently, nature reserves constitute 17 per cent of the earth’s surface area. However, human activity and climate change threaten many of these parks, as well as nature in general. Given the stream of negative news, Bram Büscher decided in 2016 to take a positive approach to the issue of nature conservation. In collaboration with his colleague Robert Fletcher, he developed a broad perspective on nature conservation. Their book The Conservation Revolution was released in February.

Humanity is unable to see the consequences of its actions, the professor underlines. ‘We are toying with the balance of life. The time has come for a more profound reflection on nature conservation and how political and economic systems can contribute.’ Büscher and his colleagues collaborate with the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (Dutch acronym PBL) to formulate scenarios for the future of nature conservation in the Netherlands, in which economic growth is disregarded as a determining factor.

There is much national, and international interest in his perspective on nature conservation among environmental organisations, scientists and governments, Büscher has noted. ‘The public is open to a positive narrative that focusses on feasible ideas. Besides, this is a scientific breakthrough. It is the first time we have considered nature conservation from such a broad perspective while considering the role of nature within economic development. We are unifying many different dimensions.’

Technology in the fight against poaching

Every day, rhinos are killed in Africa for their valuable horns. Rhinoceros horns are considered a status symbol and are a traditional medicine in Asian countries such as China and Vietnam, and are more expensive than gold or cocaine. As a result, rhinos are threatened by extinction. There are currently some 25,000 rhinos in Africa, 80 per cent of which in South Africa. In South Africa alone, three rhinos are killed by poachers each day. In the fight against poaching, game parks such as Kruger Park use drones, smart fencing and a massive deployment of the military. Wageningen ecologists study new ways to protect rhinos in African game parks.

Wageningen scientists launched the idea of equipping zebras, impalas and wildebeest with GPS transmitters. The underlying idea being that the sudden fleeing of the ever-vigilant ungulates would reveal the presence of poachers. The energy-efficient tracking collars register the location and movement of the animals. If a disturbance is detected, the system issues a warning, alerting the park rangers. The first research results for this future scenario are promising.