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iLCP Fellow Michel Roggo 1Frame4Nature: Saving the last unspoiled Swiss river
I was sitting lazily in front of our summer house in Swedish Lapland, enjoying the vacations. And then there was this SMS, sent by a good friend, working for the WWF Switzerland: Hydro power project on the Sense river: what do you think about that?
Sense River? A hydroelectric power plant in it? In the most beautiful Swiss river? I have to admit that my view about all that is perhaps a bit personal … But this is the river I learned to swim in as a little boy, later it was the river I started fly fishing. And most important: it is the last major river in Switzerland without any single dam or hydro electric plant.
So I replied: No Way!
But this SMS really started to perturb my holidays. I couldn’t simply imagine how someone could destroy the last unspoiled Swiss river, and I was really angry about that. My wife started to complain about my obsession, and of course she was right. I had to wait to go back home and to take some action in one way or another.
But what could I do? As I’m specialized in photography of freshwater ecosystems, the answer was easy: go out to that river, make images, get published! So back home I went into the gorge of the Sense river, tried to catch the spirit of this last free flowing alpine river.
Pretty soon the images got published in some Swiss magazines, and then came TV stations, asking to show this river, as did radio stations.
Then came the next step: Together with friends I asked for meetings with politicians, on a local and state level. But of course it was important to show the published images, to add some value to this river. I had meetings with the project promoters as well, and finally there was all around this feeling that we should conserve this river as a monument for future generations. The promoters stopped the project.
So is everything okay? Of course not. There is still the danger of a new project, and the politicians of the concerned Swiss Canton Fribourg are hesitating to protect the Sense river completely. So I continue to point at the Sense river at every occasion: in every speech or book or exhibit about my work I include the Sense river.
So what’s the lesson? Of course, it was important to have the photographs and to work with the media to reach wide audience. But the more important was to contact legislators. As this is in Switzerland, a very small country with a long tradition of direct democracy, this was easy: I simply know some of the politicians at the Canton and District level, and there was absolutely no problem to ask them for an informal meeting. And this is something everybody can do: write or speak to legislators, ask for a meeting!
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