A vision of nature-friendly farming

    For four decades, Markus Jenny worked in service of ecological and bird-friendly farming, making a lasting impact. He is now going into retirement.

    Mad about hares! Brown hares find suitable habitat again in ecologically restored areas, not least thanks to Markus Jenny’s tireless work.
    Mad about hares! Brown hares find suitable habitat again in ecologically restored areas, not least thanks to Markus Jenny’s tireless work.
    Photo © Markus Jenny
    During his long career, Markus Jenny was concerned with many farmland species – the Eurasian Skylark is a particular favourite.
    During his long career, Markus Jenny was concerned with many farmland species – the Eurasian Skylark is a particular favourite.
    Photo © Markus Jenny

    Almost 40 years ago, Markus Jenny began his doctoral thesis at the Swiss Ornithological Institute on the ecology of the Skylark, with the aim of better understanding the species’ range use, feeding ecology and population dynamics. Even then, his curiosity went far beyond generating knowledge: he wanted to find solutions for nature-friendly forms of agriculture and implement them. This made him the ideal choice for director of the Swiss Ornithological Institute’s project in the Klettgau region (see opposite). His persuasive and open manner won the trust of many farmers, whom he motivated to establish set-asides, grass margins and other structures. Markus was always available when farmers faced problems, and he often knuckled down in the fields himself. Thanks to his commitment and with the help of appropriate compensation payments, the share of ecologically valuable habitats in the Klettgau soon increased substantially.

    Markus frequently surprised his collaborators with unconventional ideas. For example, he began planting emmer and einkorn in the Klettgau in the 1990s – old wheat varieties that had almost been forgotten. But planting and harvesting wasn’t enough; the harvest had to be turned into marketable products. That’s how Markus became the co-founder and president of “IG Emmer und Einkorn”, devoting himself not only to conservation and farming, but to questions of food processing and marketing. His enthusiasm drove this project and many others as he continually developed new ideas, proposed solutions and brought his partners on board.

    While on holiday in the early 2000s, Markus bumped into Hans Luder, the then president of IP-Suisse. They spent long evenings in conversation, eventually laying the foundation for the close partnership between IP-Suisse and the Swiss Ornithological Institute. Markus came up with the idea of a point system to assess biodiversity on a farm. Today, this point system underpins the IP-Suisse label and has been pivotal in encouraging farmers to integrate ecological measures into their work and achieve measurable results.

    Anyone working in nature conservation and farming will inevitably come into contact with agricultural policy and policy instruments. Markus shared his extensive knowledge and experience in numerous committees. He played a key role, for example, in shaping the ordinance on ecological quality and the habitat network programme. He never tired of reminding his interlocutors how important it was to contend with the complexity of the agricultural and food production system as a whole and to align production with agro-ecological principles.

    Thanks to his broad knowledge and talent for getting the message across, Markus is a popular guest speaker. He has given countless talks to diverse audiences, from local conservation groups and hunting associations to expert committees at international conferences. He was never afraid to take the bull by the horns, addressing sensitive issues and drawing attention to shortcomings. At the annual meeting for volunteers in 2011, he was the one to bring up the effects of meat consumption on nature and ask participants to take a critical look at their own eating habits – a topic that has since become widely discussed.

    When Markus retires at the end of April, we don’t picture him putting his feet up. Too numerous are his interests, talents and passions. We wish him continued joy in his pursuits in nature!