Private Land Conservation Ambassador

Oriol Baena Crespo

Oriol Baena Crespo, Land Stewardship Agreements technician at the Catalan Herpetological Society (SCH).

Oriol studied environmental sciences in Barcelona and Ecology in the Netherlands. He considers himself a European citizen and a nature specialist.

He always had a strong interest in topics like nature conservation, agriculture, access to land and rural structures. He has been dedicated to those crucial topics for already eight years.

Oriol has been part of the SCH board since 2010 and working there since 2019 as Land Stewardship Agreements technician. He manages around 50 ha of land for the organisation. From cropland to rivers, ponds to grasslands to forests. SCH takes care of diverse landscapes with particular attention to aquatic habitats.

The Catalan Herpetological Society is a non-profit organisation founded in 1981; it is dedicated to studying and conservating amphibians and reptiles in Catalonia and its surroundings. But to protect the species, the land, nature, and habitats must be taken care of. The SCH has thus a holistic approach.

We collaborate with scientific and conservation institutions and support private initiatives. At the same time, we take part in conservation projects for vulnerable or endangered species of our herpetofauna.

Oriol-field survey-theatened-species
Standardised field survey methods are essential to understand threatened species’ population trends properly. © SCH
Rana temporaria is one of the species surveyed by SCH and most threatened by climate change. © SCH

Marie Orban, ENPLC: “Thank you, Oriol, for being part of the ENPLC community. SCH's role and activities are unique and inspiring. Could you describe what you do?”

Oriol Baena Crespo: “The SCH brings together both amateur and professional herpetologists to increase scientific knowledge and improve the conservation status of our herpetofauna. Awareness raising is critical as these species are not properly known, and uncertainty can scare people. Our activities focus on three pillars:

Scientific Research

Species and land conservation

Educate and raise awareness

1) Science

“We try to enhance the presence and protection of our herpetofauna. For that, we need solid scientific knowledge. In a nutshell:

  • we monitor the species and population,
  • promote activities such as courses, conferences and field trips.
  • encourage communication between the members of our association.
  • And award prizes for research and herpetological conservation projects.”

Boost volunteering in hands-on conservation actions is one of the main focuses of SCH. © SCH

Oriol Baena Crespo: “In 2020, the European Commission published a statement on amphibians. Long story short: the situation is worrying. According to the EEA Report Number 10, many terrestrial habitats are severely impacted by agriculture, especially grasslands and freshwater habitats, heath and scrub, bogs, mires and fens. This is also the case for most species groups, including reptiles, molluscs, amphibians, arthropods, vascular plants and breeding birds.

Amphibians have the highest proportion of deteriorating trends (close to 50 %). Around half of their assessments show further deterioration, decreasing population sizes that are reported for approximately 30 % of amphibians species groups.

But that’s not all. Amphibians are also affected by animal diseases to an exceptionally great extent. Amphibians are susceptible to temperature and changes in precipitation because of their central position in food webs, their strong dependence on aquatic and terrestrial systems, and their moist permeable skin acting as a sensitive respiratory organ (Olson and Saenz, 2013).

At SCH, we firmly believe that we all are in charge of conserving not well-protected animals and have the responsibility and a role to play.”

Standarised field survey methods are essential to properly understand population trends of threatened species. ©  SCH
The beauty and visual uniqueness of the amphibians is an asset. A marbled newt (Triturus marmoratus) with its pure green during a survey in Catalonia. Photo credits: SCH

2) Conservation

Land stewardship is a legal tool, providing organisations with the opportunity to manage land where there is a private or public ownership.

We are implementing stewardship agreements and we encourage volunteering and training for civil society to reach our goal.

Oriol Baena Crespo: “In our work, we at SCH found that degraded natural spaces can accommodate more biodiversity than they currently do. To help that, we contact the owners and try to sign a land stewardship agreement, a contract that regulates how the property will be managed in the coming years, as well as the rights and duties of each party. We carry out adaptive management in these areas and implement the conservation of reptiles, amphibians and their habitats. This allows us to involve volunteers in the management of natural areas. Volunteering citizens understand how difficult it is to manage land. And the owners see the interest of citizens in the nature their land provides. It’s a good way to learn from each other.  And it makes the conservation effort stable. The SCH role here is to ease things for everyone. For the owners who still own the land but don’t need to maintain it. For the volunteers who are in contact with nature but don’t need to bother with administrative tasks. We take care of all the practical aspects.”

We are a bridge between the owners & volunteers. The land stewardship agreement is a win-win situation for all. We end up with more protected areas for the species, more nature for people, less work for the owners.

A group of volunteers restore a pond near Barcelona. © SCH
We try to foster diversity from a societal and conservation point of view.

70% of our members are based in Barcelona and its surroundings. But we wanted to include farms in remote places as well.

We cooperate with local organisations to have a rural and regional approach.

We have farms in mountain areas, farms with Mediterranean landscapes, and one spot is near a river.

The staff of SCH in an amphibians identification course for forest guards. © SCH

3) Education and awareness

Oriol Baena Crespo: “Amphibians are the most endangered group of vertebrates in the world. To raise awareness of the vulnerable situation of our herpetofauna and the importance of biodiversity, we have built a pond, created a card game about reptiles and amphibians and generated a wide variety of materials and resources accessible to environmental education. We also run reptile and turtle identification courses. We reached 300 people in person and much more through our web and social networks with these activities. We work with children as they represent our future. But older adults are also a key target group for our activities such as land stewardship. Older people are ready to connect with nature through action. Children are amazed by the beauty of the animals and the curiosity of these unknown species. We need everyone to advance the protection of reptiles and amphibians. Environmental education is a critical element of nature conservation.”
A common water-crowfoot (Ranunculus aquatilis), they are essential to preserve optimal amphibian populations. Photo credits: SCH
One activity organised by SCH to introduce amphibians and reptiles to children through games in the wild. Photo credits: SCH


The news items collected on this blog have been written by project partners of the LIFE ENPLC project.