On 3 February, our highly esteemed colleague Birgit Elands passed away after a courageous but unequal struggle with cancer.
Birgit has been working for the Forest and Nature Conservation Policy group (FNP) for more than 20 years. She started in the EU/FAIR funded project ‘Multifor (Multifunctional Forestry as a Means to Rural Development)’ as coordinator and researcher. After the project, she continued to work in the group as Assistant Professor, working on human-nature relationships in The Netherlands, Europe and Southern Africa. Birgit has published many well-cited scientific papers about biocultural diversity, nature-connectedness, leisure, stewardship practices and cultural and spiritual values of nature. Next to scientific research, she was highly motivated to teach and she inspired students to understand the social impact of nature conservation practices, and the need to strengthen inclusiveness of these practices. She was convinced that education, as well as stimulating real-life engagements with nature, was important to sustainable transformations. Even in her final days, she urged us to keep working on engaging young people with our natural environment.
Her colleagues at FNP remember Birgit as an extremely kind, warm and engaged person, being as much a friend as a colleague to many. She was highly dedicated to her work as lecturer and researcher, and to FNP as her working environment. She was always interested in the person behind the colleague or the student, and always willing to help out, also in difficult situations. She always tried to do justice to everyone, even in cases where contradictory interests were present.
When a few colleagues visited Birgit recently, it was not her own illness that was central to the conversations, but our lives, our shared history and the future of our chair group. That is also where she will remain with us: in the themes she has introduced, in her articles that students will continue to read, and in the importance of social interaction which Birgit valued highly, also when working under pressure. She will continue to inspire us, as she has done before.