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Commitment to biodiversity is rewarded

In 2020, the coveted Anders Wall Award of the European Landowner's Organization (ELO) is going to the Foundation Prince Liechtenstein, Wilfersdorf Agricultural and Forestry Company, in Austria. The Foundation was awarded this prize at the beginning of June for its extensive commitment in rural areas. Prince Constantin of Liechtenstein, CEO of the Foundation Prince Liechtenstein, and Hans Jörg Damm, Wilfersdorf Agricultural and Forestry Company operations manager, recently accepted the prize in symbolic form. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the official presentation will not be taking place until June 2021 in Cordoba. We talked to Hans Jörg Damm about what the award means to the Foundation and to him personally.

Interview with Hans Jörg Damm

First of all, congratulations on winning this award, Mr Damm.

Thank you! The award is considered very important by the company and also by me personally. It underscores our diverse activities in the rural area. We presented a total of 35 activities, many of which are absolutely pioneering, such as cooperations with BirdLife and the WWF, for instance. I'm personally delighted that the ideas and projects that I've been pursuing and implementing have ultimately borne fruit. It is the first time that a company in Austria has ever received this award.

So why did you decide to apply?

Well, the concept of sustainability has been important to us for a long time. In 2008, for example, we were honoured to accept the DLG certificate for sustainable agriculture from Carl Albrecht Bartmer, who was the DLG President at that time, at DLG-Feldtage. Once again, we were the first company in Austria to receive that certificate. Re-certification takes place every three years and as a welcome additional benefit, you're provided with feedback about the nutrient balance and humus structure within the company, amongst other information.

I would also like to emphasise the Liechtenstein family's commitment. They are very concerned with maintaining natural and cultural heritage and are also willing to invest in accomplishing this. The Princely Family is extensively attached to the land that it owns and is prepared to assume a pioneering role in diverse projects. It has owned its property in the 'Weinviertel' since the 12th century. One of the Princely Family's sons, Prince Constantin, is the CEO of all of the Foundation Prince Liechtenstein companies. My work with him is very much trust-based; he was immediately supportive of the idea to take part in the competition. Prince Constantin is also a member of the Austrian Council for Sustainable Development (UN Agenda 2030) in Vienna.

Briefly describe your company for us.

Gladly. The Wilfersdorf Agricultural and Forestry Company manages the Foundation Prince Liechtenstein's farmland and forests in Lower Austria. We cultivate 3,000 hectares of arable land and manage 3,600 hectares of forests. Our other mainstays are tourism, hunting, fishing and nature conservation as well as letting and leasing. The company is located in Lower Austria's 'Weinviertel', approximately 50 km north of Vienna. A forestry district is situated in Sparbach near Mödling (Vienna Woods). Depending on season, we have 25 to 35 staff working in the company as a whole. On our arable land, we produce winter wheat, durum wheat, winter and spring barley, rape, sunflowers, maize and sugar beet.

A very high percentage of the arable land, 15 percent, is reserved for nature conservation as part of biodiversity measures. The ÖPUL programme, the Austrian Agri-environmental Programme, is running in Austria in parallel with the EU measures. The programme provides for diverse ecological measures; for instance, land can be set aside for ten or 20 years subject to the payment of compensation. The programmes are scientifically supported by ecologists. In addition, we are also implementing a number of voluntary measures without payments such as wild fields, biotopes with watering places or hedge planting. I would particularly like to highlight the leasing of 38 ha to the Auring Hohenau Association as a bird sanctuary, the 'Vogelhochzeit' circular hiking route on the company's land, the transformation of arable land and meadows to form the March-Thaya wetland or the corncrake protection programme, in which meadows are not mowed until very late on in the year. We recently entered into a cooperation with an organic beekeeper, since when up to 1,000 beehives have been located on our land when the rape blooms.

How did you arrive at the idea of taking part in the competition?

The starting point was the production of a brochure that we published in the spring of 2019 and distributed to our stakeholders and customers. The topic was 'safeguarding.managing.conveying BIODIVERSITY'. I've been following the presentation of the Anders Wall Award for some time but hadn't been able to decide whether or not to take part until then. When I had the brochure in my hands, I thought it was the perfect basis for applying. That proved to be true, but the majority of the documents still had to be compiled. Finally, we sent off an extensive application covering over 20 pages of material for the submission in the late autumn of 2019.

Did you win the prize for a specific project or was the award given for the Foundation's overall focus?

I think it was the sum total of all of our measures and that fact that we are pursuing the concept of sustainability so consistently. We are also responsible for the Sparbach Nature Park in the Vienna Woods, for example. It was the first and is the oldest of the total of 40 nature parks in Austria. We offer its 80-90,000 visitors per year a varied educational programme consisting of nature and cultural topics. In the spring of 2019, the project was awarded the Austrian Ecolabel for Educational Institutions by Austria's Federal Minister for Agriculture, Elisabeth Köstinger, at the agricultural trade fair in Wels. In addition, our forestry company was presented with the State Award for Exemplary Forestry by the Ministry of Agriculture in 2017. That shows and delights us that our commitment is being acknowledged. In the area for which I'm responsible, we are also constantly preserving historic buildings such as Wilfersdorf Castle or Liechtenstein Castle near Vienna.

Will you continue to apply for such awards in the future?

It there's a good match, certainly. Of course, it's also part of our strategy to inform the general public when we implement projects like these. Ours is a very big company, and we want to show the public what we do. For example, we've already implemented an EU LIFE project together with the WWF. Specifically, 30 hectares of floodplain forest were taken out of use and transformed into a bird sanctuary. In cooperation with the Republic of Austria, we are documenting how forests develop without human use in a natural forest reserve. We are receiving compensation for the respective loss of use. My motto is 'The whole thing is only appreciated if it has a value.' You have to have an open mind for such projects and invest time and labour. Cooperation only makes sense if both parties meet each other half-way. That's when good compromises between nature conservationists and land managers prove successful. We are both!

Mr Damm, you've been a DLG member for 25 years now. How did you come to join DLG?

I have a forestry background and subsequently developed a great interest in agriculture. At various congresses and seminars, I quickly noticed how professionally organised DLG is and that it's an important institution with a wealth of agricultural know-how. The 'DLG-Mitteilungen' are an important medium for me and make compulsory reading for running the company. I also hold the newsletter in very high regard.

For the past 25 years, I've also been a member of the Club of European Arable Farmers, which is a great platform made up of around 120 European farmers. For instance, we have a WhatsApp group that provides me with regular reports on the weather or harvest yields from a number of farms throughout Europe. I have been able to take on board a lot of new information during the annual excursions in Europa as well as the USA and Turkey. I myself was recently enable to organise an EAF excursion to Austria which took place over several days. You get involved and reap the rewards. Through this network, for example, I can obtain information about buying a combine harvester or a special machine that a colleague in Germany or Poland is already using.

Mr Damm, thank you for talking to us and continued success with your biodiversity measures on the Foundation Prince Liechtenstein's estate!

The questions were asked by the agricultural journalist Ms. Sontheimer.

Hans Jörg Damm

Hans Jörg Damm studied forest management at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna and then completed a one-and-a-half year postgraduate course in business management at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland while working. He has been working at the Foundation Prince Liechtenstein since 1989 and has been responsible for the Wilfersdorf Agricultural and Forestry Company since 1996.

Anders Wall Award

The award was established to pay tribute to private individuals and companies that make an extraordinary contribution to rural development within the European Union. The award is endowed with 20,000 euros and is presented once a year. The selection criteria are:

  • Preservation and improvement of the landscape
  • Provision of biodiversity
  • Preservation of the cultural heritage of the landscape
  • Contribution to sustainable local economic development
  • Activities at local, national and/or European level