Dr Jan Čeřovský, a leading Czech botanist and nature conservationist, and a former Vice President of IUCN, passed away on 7 September at the age of 87, having made an immense contribution to nature conservation.
Dr Čeřovský was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, in 1930. From an early age, he demonstrated a particular interest in the natural environment, and at 17 became a member of the Czech Botanical Society. His postgraduate studies in geo-botany and nature conservation, conducted at the Faculty of Science of the Charles University in Prague, led to his PhD in 1961, and to the award of the degree of Doctor of Natural Sciences in 1967. For most of this career, he was associated with the Czechoslovak State Institute for Historic Preservation and Nature Conservation, based in Prague.
A leading figure for IUCN and environmental education
Dr Čeřovský was appointed as Deputy Chair of the IUCN Commission on Education (now the Commission on Education and Communication) from 1966 until 1969. During this period, he chaired UNESCO’s Education Commission at the 1968 World Biosphere Conference of governmental experts, which resulted in the first international elaboration of the concept of environmental education. It described education as a life-long process both within and beyond schools, and integrated across the education curriculum.
In 1969, Jan was appointed as the first Education Executive Officer in the IUCN Secretariat, where he was responsible for setting up national and regional environmental education committees and coordinating their activities.
He returned to Czechoslovakia in 1973, during a period of political reform where he was appointed as the Head of the Research and Development Department of the State Institute for Historic Preservation and Nature Conservation. He remained in this role in its successor, the Czech Agency for Nature and Landscape Protection until his retirement in 2002.
In 1988, he was elected to be a member of the IUCN Council, and in 1990, was appointed one of the Vice Presidents of IUCN, a role he kept until 1994. Since 1996 he has been an honorary member of IUCN.
“Dr Čeřovský was a generous gentleman who was always keen to help and share experiences. For me, he is ‘the Last Mohican’ representing the generation of professionals that created roots for modern nature conservation in Central and Eastern Europe,” says Michael Hošek, current IUCN Councillor, adding that “he was one of few who were able to bridge cooperation between Eastern and Western Europe during the Soviet Union period.”
Jan and the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas
Jan Čeřovský was also an active member of WCPA, where his major contribution concerned the fostering of professional ties and conservation across international boundaries in Europe. In 1996, he organised, together with IUCN, a workshop entitled “Biodiversity Conservation in Transboundary Protected Areas in Europe”. One of its recommendations was that IUCN should organise a Parks for Peace International Conference, which took place in South Africa in 1997, the first global conference on this theme.
“This was the occasion where, as a young professional, I first met Jan Čeřovský, and indeed worked with IUCN,” recalls Trevor Sandwith, now Director of IUCN’s Global Protected Areas Programme. “The inspiring vision of nature conservation at the heart of peaceful cooperation and resilience that would help to address reconciliation of regional conflicts really caught on. People like Jan had lived through momentous changes, and here was a way in which communities and societies could help to make a difference”.
The Parks for Peace Conference led to the establishment of WCPA’s Transboundary Conservation Specialist Group, now the authors of international Best Practice Guidelines on this subject that are relevant all around the world.
WCPA in Eastern and Central Europe benefitted hugely from Jan’s contributions, and especially his experience in working across the boundaries of the former Soviet bloc.
“Dr Čeřovský was a distinguished and active member of the IUCN WCPA. His contributions to the establishment of comprehensive and effective network of protected areas at the European level were complemented by his efforts to share the international standards of conservation at the national level. This was not an easy task, especially during those times with very different political systems,” says Andrej Sovinc, IUCN WCPA Regional Vice Chair for Europe.
A leading author
Jan’s legacy lives on also through his prolific writing. From 1956 to 1959, he was the establishing chief editor of the Czechoslovak magazine ABC for Young Technicians and Biologists, a high quality magazine that influenced generations of young people in Czechoslovakia. He also wrote an extensive history of the International Youth Federation which contains many personal memoirs and contributions, and contributed to the compilation of the history of the IUCN Commission on Education and Communication, in which he had played no small role. His memoirs, published in 2015, entitled “How We Were Saving the World: Half a Century in the Service of International Nature Conservation”, paint a frank and humorous picture of the work of IUCN.
Jan holds a number of foreign and domestic awards and medals, including the 2007 Alfred Toepfer Medal awarded by the EUROPARC Federation. In 2009, he received the Prize of the Minister of the Environment of the Czech Republic. Valued by one and all, Jan will be remembered fondly by all those who have known him, and who have benefitted from his life’s work.
IUCN, the Commission on Education and Communication and the World Commission on Protected Areas extend our deepest sympathies to Jan’s family and colleagues.
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