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Projekte/Wiki Loves Earth 2015/Barbara Reitler

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Barbara Reitler
WLE liaison at the Austrian Alpine Club

Barbara Reitler, Österreichischer Alpenverein

Austria has unique natural monuments and valuable nature conservation sites, but who is aware of them? Often they are insufficiently marked, sometimes their limits and their environmental protection status is elusive even to experts. As part of Wiki Loves Earth (WLE), we aspire to raise awareness of our natural heritage via Wikipedia and to furnish the information necessary for this purpose. And since a strong rope team always accomplishes more, we cooperate with people who know the most gorgeous nooks of Austria like the back of their hand. One of them is Barbara Reitler from the Austrian Alpine Club who supported our WLE photo jury in 2015.

As a nature conservation organisation, the Austrian Alpine Club also acts as mentor and partner to Alpine national parks and other conservation areas – what characterises your volunteers in this context and what interfaces are there to the Wikimedia Community?

Like Wikipedia, the Austrian Alpine Club also depends on the voluntary commitment of individuals – and has done so for more than 150 years. Of course 500,000 Austrian Alpine Club members are not a homogenous mass; instead they reflect the diverse interests and specific strengths of the individuals in that number. Since there are many issues requiring work in the Club's individual sections, everyone can look for a job that suits their specific interests – while benefiting from the complete range of offers available in a large community.
What unites them all is, of course, a love for nature and outdoor exercise. Many of our members are also passionate photographers and capture many impressive sites of natural beauty while out and about throughout the year. Of course it would be wonderful to make these treasures available to a wider public – under free licences.

What contribution can free knowledge make toward nature conversation and environmental protection in Austria?

Access to knowledge is an important factor for any form of emancipation. It allows, for instance, laypeople to educate themselves about topics that are or previously were a mystery to them. And if, into the bargain, it is all straightforward and comprehensible as well and freely accessible and trustworthy at the same time, then it becomes twice as easy.
Let's take, for example, the Aarhus Convention: an international agreement that regulates access to information on the one hand, but also public participation in decision-making procedures and access to courts in environmental matters on the other – and grants all individuals rights with respect to environmental protection.
Now let's assume I was affected by a development project, did not know much about environmental law etc., but did not want to be reduced to watching helplessly as others make the decisions and present me with accomplished facts. Then I would look around in the internet and research my options, stumble upon the Aarhus Convention that is still more or less unknown to the general public and realise that I, as a private individual, also have the right to be heard with respect to such environmental issues.
The more people know about the means at their disposal to preserve our world, the better.

What makes Wikimedia Österreich a great ally in your work?

People attach proportionate value to what they cherish and hold precious – and they stand up for it. The same holds true for free access to information as well as to matters relating to the protection of nature and the environment. Creating awareness plays a crucial role in this context and is, of course, an overarching objective for us as an environmental organization advocating, in particular, the protection of a natural habitat as complex as the Alps.
Our biodiversity monitoring project to this effect, carried out by laypeople under the heading of "Vielfalt bewegt! Alpenverein", was launched in 2015. It aims to contribute to the preservation of Alpine biodiversity and to enhance our knowledge of how things are connected. And again, we depend on the dedication of our volunteers: Determining how biodiversity develops over time requires the regular and systematic monitoring and documentation of appropriate animal and plant species (indicator species). Currently, we are presenting 17 different species that occur above the treeline and about which data is scarce. Even if, over the years, just 1% of the more than 500,000 Alpine Club members who are passionate about the environment can be successfully inspired to observe animals and plants actively, this would translate into an additional 5,000 multipliers carrying knowledge about the biodiversity of the Alps out to a wider audience, thus contributing vitally to the building of an awareness for native Alpine flora and fauna. As soon as there is data (e.g. distribution maps, photographs, observations), it will be made available freely on our website. Most notably, it is difficult to find information on rare and endemic species. Our project can help close this gap. At the same time, for our species identification profiles, we used images with Creative Commons licenses, for which we were very grateful!

Many readers of Wikipedia are unaware that there is a community of authors, photographers and coders or Wikimedia associations behind this website who support them in their work. How would you describe the community and cooperation with this community to these people in a nutshell?

A luxury that democracy can afford is for everyone to decide for themselves whether or to what extent he or she is willing to participate in said society, beyond legal or social obligations. Of course not every member of the Alpine Club will automatically take on a function – but the Club just wouldn't be around if it weren't for this commitment! The same goes for a platform like Wikimedia: If people are no longer willing to invest their time, a unique project is doomed to failure. To ensure this does not happen, people need to be aware of the fact that they are more than consumers – and that they should participate according to their capacity.
The Wikipedians I had the pleasure to meet were all absolute idealists – and experts as well. They were involved with a degree of ambition and enthusiasm that clearly provided them great satisfaction, a trait that puts me very much in mind of my colleagues at the Alpine Club. Without any monetary incentive whatsoever. It is these idealists, who are the very life and blood of such projects, and we must keep this in mind and their contributions should not be taken for granted.