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Friday 19th December, 2014

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1st European Congress for Conservation Biology 2006

The 1st European Congress of Conservation Biology was one of the biggest gatherings of conservation biologists that Europe has ever seen. In fact the attendance, in excess of 1200 people, was so great that the opening ceremony had to be housed in the impressive Eger cathedral.

Those present were impressed to be addressed by the President of Hungary, Laszlo Solyom, and the Minister for Environment and Water Management, Miklos Persanyi; evidence that Hungary is taking its role in conservation very seriously. I don’t remember meeting any of the cabinet, let alone the Prime Minister, at any conservation conferences in the UK!

The topic for the congress was Diversity for Europe and its aims:
  • To expose the diversity of approaches to nature conservation in Europe.
  • To foster exchange between conservation professionals.
  • To explore the challenges of using science to underpin policy decisions.
  • To showcase up to date research and practice in nature conservation.
  • To raise the profile of nature conservation in Europe.

859 abstracts were submitted and 17 symposia ran over the five day conference: I had the great honour of organising and chairing one of these sessions, an owl symposium, in my post as Conservation Officer for the World Owl Trust. I entitled the session: Conserving Strigiformes: the bigger picture.

The organisation of events such as these begins a long way in advance. It was in September 2005 that I began the planning process.

Although it was by the invitation of one of the organising committee for the ECCB that the opportunity arose, a proposal still had to be written and submitted for approval from the Society for Conservation Biology board members.

My aim was to use this symposium as an opportunity for owl conservationists to meet and exchange information on the different methods and approaches that were being employed in order to conserve owls around Europe.


  1. DNA studies of owls: phylogeny, phylogeography and populations. Michael Wink.
  2. Are Northern European predators of voles threatened by declining prey populations? Birger Hörnfeldt, Tim Hipkiss.
  3. Barn owls Tyto alba in Britain: habitat, climate and conservation. Nick Askew, Niall Moore, Jeremy Searle.
  4. Revision of barn owl (Tyto alba) conservation in Hungary: is exterior nest box provisioning the most effective method protecting barn owls? Ákos Klein, Tibor Nagy, Tibor Csörgõ, Róbert Mátics.
  5. Floater dispersal dynamics and survival affects breeding population Persistence: a case study with the eagle owl Vincenzo Penteriani, María Del Mar Delgado.
  6. Barn Owl productivity and conservation in an upland, pastoral environment. Jenny Holden.
  7. Barn owls and major roads: results and recommendations from a 15-year Research project. David Ramsden.
  8. Little owl conservation in a strongly diminished and isolated population Jan Van’t Hoff.
  9. The role of industry and local communities in long-eared owl Conservation. Chris Sperring.
  10. Owl and nightjar trends study for conservation actions Virginia Escandell.
  11. Tawny owls and their habitat: are lessons from habitat-population-relationships of a common species applicable to the dynamics of the rare ones? Peter Sunde.
  12. Owl behaviour and ecological consequences in Spain. Íñigo Zuberogoitia/ José Antonio Martínez Climent. Global Owl Project

Abstracts of the talks can be downloaded in, either:

  1. MS Word format
    Download MS Word document
  2. Or, PDF format (Requires Adobe Reader)   Click here to get Adobe Acrobat Reader
    Download Abstracts document
They are also available from the Owl Trust office.

There was a great deal of focus on agri-environment schemes, invasive species and discussion as to which species groups make the most effective indicators. It was interesting to learn what issues were causing the most concern amongst the European Conservation Community: climate change was another major topic and we learnt about the predicted changes to ecosystems and mass range-changes and extinctions that were expected.

Aside from the lectures and workshops there was also a huge display of scientific posters where hours could be spent learning of all manner of research from “In vitro conservation of Romanian bryophytes” to “Carnivore x people conflict: an exploratory study into the attitudes of local people towards Maned Wolf conservation.”

The trouble with organising so far in advance is that any number of unexpected things can happen.

I didn’t know whether to give my congratulations or to commiserate when Íñigo called to tell me that his wife was pregnant and that neither he, nor his research colleague would be able to make it. One missing speaker was not a disaster however, and it was now too late to change things since the programme books were being published.

Everything else seemed fine until, two days before I flew to Hungary, Nick telephoned, informing me, from the outset, that he owed me vast amounts of beer because he had a job interview and so would have to cancel.

Luckily, I know Nick’s project reasonably well and so he E-mailed his presentation through and we agreed that the best thing was for me to present both his and mine to avoid gaps in the programme.

On arrival at the conference all seemed well. I bumped into a few of the speakers early on and talked endlessly about owls.

However, things were not to remain that way and I received word from Vincenzo Penteriani that he would not be able to attend. This was soon followed by a similar message from Jan van ’t Hoff. Both of these came as real blows since I, and many of the conference attendees had been looking forward to learning about their work.

Since I couldn’t bear the thought of having twenty minute gaps in the programme I began searching for willing volunteers to fill in at very short notice. Thankfully Aniko Zolei stepped in at the last minute and gave a presentation on Tawny Owl population demography.

This filled one gap and, since the other space was after David Ramsden’s talk, and I knew that he might not mind running over a little, I didn’t worry about it too much, I could always start a discussion with the delegates.

The Symposium
Michael Wink gave the opening presentation and, not surprisingly, we were all left hungry for more information.

Birger Hornfelt described his rather worrying findings that vole populations across Northern Europe are declining, posing new problems for the predator species that rely on them, and indeed for those of us trying to conserve them. The reasons for these declines do not appear to be thoroughly understood but may be related to climate change and agricultural practice.

Akos Klein gave an interesting presentation on his research into survival rates of barn owlets reared in boxes compared to those that have access to a large area inside a building. His result might make us all wish to look more closely at box designs and locations.

Chris Sperring came as something of a breath of fresh air when he threw himself into his presentation with all the passion of a stage actor. The subdued scientific minds in the room were suddenly shaken into life and everyone seemed to enjoy the change of pace while being given much to consider as to the role of local people in species conservation and monitoring.

Chris’s talk, together with that of Virginia Escandell, who discussed the changes in survey methodology that were required in order to attract and retain volunteer surveyors, meant that the symposium had a pleasing focus on community based conservation.

It was quite fortunate that the “spare” session did come after David Ramsden since I think that he would have quite happily filled an entire symposium, but he professionally engaged the group and was asked some very interesting questions about his research.

Peter Sunde rounded off the day with an account of his work on Tawny Owls from the angle of using information gathered about a common species, as a model for work on endangered owls.

Those present were congratulatory on the success of the symposium and I felt that all of the effort had been well worthwhile.

Rounding Off
All in all, I think that WOT’s attendance at the ECCB was a sound move with respect to raising the profile of the Trust in the scientific sector. It has taken a great deal of hard work, patience, diplomacy and personal dedication to put the Trust in this position. There is still much to be done but I hope that those working relationships that I forged with other organisations will continue and provide WOT with a good footing to further their work.

Jenny Holden

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