Solvay colleagues mobilize to protect precious habitats

Solvay’s toxicologist Albert Berends has been observing birds and maintaining natural reserves in Belgium for decades! As a volunteer for Solvay Citizen Day 2021, which is fully focused on actions to preserve biodiversity, Albert is happy to share his passion for biodiversity and explain how we can all help protect it.

Hiking boots on, binoculars hanging around his neck, smartphone in the hand. When he’s not assessing the toxicity of Solvay products to ensure they are safe for consumers and the environment, Albert Berends becomes a “birder.” Like millions of other people around the world, he roams around local natural reserves in the hopes of spotting an elusive bird – or rare plant – species.

“Sometimes it’s a bird I’ve never seen, sometimes new plants. If I see anything I’ve never come across before, I take a picture and use an app on my smartphone called ObsIdentify which tells me what species it is. Sometimes, I’m also recording my observations on a specific website called Waarnemingen.be,” Albert explains.

Waarnemingen.be is an initiative led by Natuurpunt, Natagora and Stichting Natuurinformatie – three NGOs aiming to protect biodiversity in Belgium. By uploading his photos and observations, Albert feeds a large database which is then used by these NGOs to get more insights into the likes of species distribution, migration patterns, mortality, etc. This is called Citizen Science. Many experts consider it key to help governments take appropriate measures that will help safeguard ecosystems.

By using the website, Albert also gets to see how fruitful his observation session was. He and other observers can look through their contributions and find out whether the species they spotted are common, rare or very rare. Tens of thousands of photos and sounds are uploaded every day with their exact location.

Actions on some Solvay sites are already helping preserve biodiversity. Nature is resilient, but we must give it space in this urbanized world where agriculture is more and more industrialized.

Albert Berends, Toxicologist, Solvay

Little steps to make big leaps for our ecosystem

So is it really more difficult to spot interesting species now? “The decrease in biodiversity is particularly visible in agricultural areas,” Albert notes. “Pesticides, fertilisers, scarcer freshwater resources, monocultures and other agricultural practices have caused common bird species like lapwings and larks to become rare sightings.”

But not all hope is lost. With a group of five to ten volunteers, Albert regularly works in a Natuurpunt-protected wetland to help local species thrive. There, he found some reason to be optimistic. “We see recovery or species coming back. For certain species this actually applies to the whole country, from the once disappeared peregrine falcon which can now be seen even in Brussels to wolves returning to the Netherlands and Belgium. Likewise, actions on some Solvay sites are already helping preserve biodiversity. Nature is resilient, but we must give it space in this urbanized world where agriculture is more and more industrialized,” he says.

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Albert feels strongly about the role citizen science can play in safeguarding biodiversity, and he’s not alone. Hiring professional scientists to engage in large-scale environmental monitoring costs a lot of money, so motivated citizens helping with ground-based monitoring efforts can really help make a difference. In a report published in 2020, the European Commission itself insists on the importance of citizen science and provides recommendations to improve its uptake. Meanwhile, the Global Biodiversity Information facility (GBIF) already contains nearly 500 million records from citizen science data projects. So, why not add your observations to the list?