Support for nature conservation has a tradition in Switzerland

Interview with Daniel Wirz, Pro Natura, Head of Communications

Environmental protection and nature conservation is a topic of increasing interest. According to the “Swiss Foundation Report 2020”, there are currently 777 environmental or nature conservation foundations in Switzerland. Of these, 43 percent were created in the past 10 years.

Daniel Wirz, how important is philanthropy to the field of environment and conservation.

For issues and projects in environmental protection and nature conservation, philanthropic work is very important. Without philanthropy, our natural world would be a little worse off. It has an old tradition in nature conservation, for example. Pro Natura was founded as the Swiss Federation for Nature Conservation (SBN) in 1909 with the aim of realizing the Swiss National Park. The pioneers of nature conservation had already recognized the need to create space for nature under pressure.

Who are the key players in the fields of environment and nature conservation?

There are a lot of Swiss people who are enthusiastic about nature conservation. They fund important work with donations and they volunteer in very large numbers. So they perform many individual assignments or entire work assignment weeks. With the work assignment, you go on “vacation” for a week, do physically hard work in a nature reserve, and pay something for room and lodging. And not to be forgotten are all those who design their own private gardens close to nature. In doing so, they support biodiversity. They do not put any imported plants that don’t benefit the nature in Switzerland. There’s a lot of people who actively support this cause.

What about research?

Science and research are central to nature conservation. We work with causal chains that are complex and evolve over long periods of time – sometimes in local contexts, sometimes in global ones. The climate crisis is bringing further changes. For example plants suddenly appear in places where they’ve never been before. Or special butterflies suddenly appear in large numbers where they were extremely rare before. Other species are disappearing. Unfortunately, there is a dangerous phenomenon in research itself, eg. in insect research: Not only the insects are becoming fewer and fewer, but also the insect researchers themselves: The specialists are disappearing, problems with up and coming scientists are becoming apparent. With the Federal Office for the Environment, the state is another important player. And politics, through parliament, sets the framework. This is also increasingly problematic; keyword revision of the hunting and protection law, where protection has largely fallen out. And last but not least: an important part as ambassadors for nature is played by the Swiss environmental protection organizations.

How well does environmental philanthropy work?

Basically, it works very well because you can show the donors what is done, when they invest in nature conservation in Switzerland. Pro Natura is more than 95 percent active in Switzerland. Only a very small part of our funds flows abroad. However, nature conservation knows no boundaries. There is a good example of this in Basel. If the projected port basin 3 and a new container terminal were to be built, a nature reserve considered very important by the federal government – the largest contiguous dry meadow and pasture area in Switzerland – would be sacrificed. This area has a very important bridging function towards Germany to ensure the exchange of species across national borders. The sense of direct, hands-on conservation work makes sense to many people. So is the benefit of raising awareness: with environmental education, even children are taught what nature is, what it does and how it works. People are increasingly interested in nature conservation and environmental protection. Membership development is correspondingly positive. Today, Pro Natura has around 170,000 members.

And where are the biggest challenges in promoting the environment?

In nature conservation, everything takes a lot of time. This is one of the biggest challenges. We notice this in politics. Polarization is on the rise and people are constantly caught up in the election campaign – the longer-term concerns are coming short. A typical example is the renaturation of a section of the river Bibere in Ferenbalm. One day a farmer had beavers in his field and with them a lot of water, which the beavers diverted. The farmer approached Pro Natura and with the help of a major donor, cultivated land was restored to a floodplain landscape, with the beaver as the master builder. Ten years have passed from the decision to the realization with all the details.

The climate problem as a dramatic, comprehensive threat has a long-term effect. And yet it is difficult to define and implement effective measures – even though the current year has taught us that it is very much possible to take drastic measures. This is a big challenge. Then there are numerous abstract issues in nature conservation, such as biodiversity or species extinction. Within the history of the earth, we are currently in the sixth great extinction of species. The first, which was triggered by mankind. However, many people in Switzerland have the feeling that nature is actually doing well – which is unfortunately not true.

What is currently being done to address these challenges?

First, a lot of awareness work. The political stage is being used more and more often and sometimes at very short notice. It is important not to create additional barriers to conservation. With environmental education, we specifically approach children and young people in order to convey the value of an intact nature as well as possible. And of course we are active in practical nature conservation with a wide variety of projects to enhance habitats and stop species loss.

What do you personally donate to and what is your motivation?

I myself donate to various environmental organizations in Switzerland. Smaller projects such as the Seebachtal Foundation in Thurgau are also close to my heart. Social justice is an issue that concerns me. That’s why I donate to Caritas or the Unabhägige Fachstelle Sozialhilferecht. And I know the issue of disability well because one of my sons is confined to a wheelchair. The Stiftung Cerebral or Pro Infirmis can remove many obstacles!


Daniel Wirz

Daniel Wirz (54), Swiss citizen. dipl. PR consultant and dipl. NPO/Association Manager VMI, first worked in retail trade and in the machine industry before starting in the NPO sector in 2005. There he gained important experience at Pro Senectute and Caritas before moving to Pro Natura in 2018. The passionate recreational photographer lives in Zurich and works in Basel.