In order to do the right thing when it comes to nature conservation, we need research. It investigates how nature can be promoted in our heavily used landscape. The H&W Research Award is intended to recognise practical nature conservation research and draw attention to particularly exciting results.

Protecting nature may seem simple: creating ponds, thinning out forests, sowing flower meadows - these are a few supposed patent remedies. However, research and innovation also play a key role in progress in this sector. Thanks to dedicated researchers, it is now recognised that natterjack toads are ideally supported with large, shallow spawning waters, because in small ponds and puddles the many tadpoles compete with each other, grow more slowly and survive less well. We also know today that young hares are only sufficiently protected from predators in the centre of loosely sown cereal fields or large wildflower strips, so that a viable hare population is possible. The minimum quantities of deadwood required by certain forest organisms would certainly be less recognised in practice today if there had been no research into this. Practical nature conservation research means that its findings typically lead to clear recommendations on how certain species or habitats can be preserved, promoted or restored. Good advice is important and urgent here. Hintermann & Weber AG would therefore like to support this branch of research, not least because we ourselves draw on such findings in our activities. In 2003, to mark the 20th anniversary of our company, it was decided to award an annual prize for outstanding, original and particularly practical research. Since then, the prize has been awarded 19 times. Here we present the two most recent award-winning projects. We would then like to draw attention to some of our own mandates and projects in which we carry out practical research work.

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Renaturalisation methods for grassland

Pastures and meadows have characterised the landscape of Central Europe for centuries. However, the use of fertilisers has transformed many of these "grassland" areas into highly productive but species-poor meadows over the past century. Effective methods for restoring species-rich grassland are therefore needed. In his dissertation, Daniel Slodowicz from the University of Bern presents new, application-orientated findings on this topic. His work was honoured with the H&W Research Award 2022. In an elaborate field trial at 48 locations, he tested the advantages and disadvantages of various methods for sowing species-rich meadows - still the most common type of meadow in Switzerland in the middle of the last century. The methods tested were not new. However, little was known about the factors that play a role in the quality of the new meadows. The results of the trial now provide clear arguments in favour of using fresh cuttings from a high-quality donor meadow instead of a commercially available seed mixture. This is the only way to ensure that not only plant species but also invertebrates are immediately introduced to the new area. An average of nine invertebrate individuals per square metre were transferred with the cuttings, mainly beetles and spiders. These and other results of the prizewinner's work will help to further improve the quality of newly created meadows. Diverse meadows with a wide range of flowers and food plants are of great importance, not least against the background of insect mortality. You can find out more about this work here: Daniel Slodowicz.

Risk areas for the bearded vulture

Large, diurnal birds of prey are at a particularly high risk of colliding with the rotor blades of wind turbines. In Switzerland, the bearded vulture is heavily affected by such accidents. Even after its successful reintroduction, it is still considered " critically endangered". Thanks to the research work of Sergio Vignali from the University of Bern, it is now much more precisely known where the bearded vulture comes into conflict with wind power and where this is rather unlikely. His predictions were based on the position data of 28 bearded vultures that were tagged, as well as information on wind conditions, slope inclination and orientation and food supply. With this extensive database, the 2023 award winner succeeded in modelling the actual use of airspace by the bearded vulture on a small scale. The risk maps generated by the author are based on exciting correlations. They show that high-risk flights below an altitude of 200 metres are concentrated on steep, south-facing mountain slopes with strong updrafts, where ibex carcasses can also be expected. According to modelling, the area with potential collisions covers 31 % of the area of the Swiss Alps. Sergio Vignali and the co-authors, including representatives of the Pro Bartgeier Foundation and the Vulture Conservation Foundation, provide a fact-based decision-making aid for the controversial planning work for wind turbines. It can significantly support the search for compromises between nature conservation and climate protection. You can find out more about this work here: Sergio Vignali.

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Research and knowledge at H&W

The two award-winning works are examples of how researchers can use their conclusions to help find better solutions or objectify conflicts. We would also like to take on this role in our own work. Therefore, we consider research and increasing knowledge to be one of our core competences. We are currently working on various projects aimed at gaining specialised knowledge. Here are a few examples: On behalf of a group of six cantons, we have been leading a five-year study since 2021, which aims to show the advantages and disadvantages of pre-mowing or pre-grazing on fens and dry meadows. This refers to additional utilisation at the beginning of May, before the maximum vegetation sprouts. Also designed as an intercantonal management experiment is a project to promote special flora in vineyards. Since 2020, on behalf of the Federal Office for Agriculture FOAG and several cantons, we have been comparing the effect of alternative soil tillage and revegetation methods on the typical vine flora and the range of flowers in the lanes between the vines. Both studies are still ongoing. Positive consequences can already be seen in a third example: Around 200 nesting boxes have been installed in selected breeding habitats since 2010 as part of the action plan to promote the common redstart on behalf of the Basel-Stadt municipal garden centre. Thanks to ongoing documentation of the breeding success in this and other projects, the construction types with a high predation risk were recognised and replaced with safer ones. As a result, the breeding success per clutch increased from an average of 3.5 to 4.5 young birds. This case illustrates the benefits of practical research very clearly.

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