Bernard Baerends: „Only by joined forces”

Almost four years ago, in September 2019, Bernard Baerend took up the position as Executive Secretary of the Common Wadden Sea Secretariat (CWSS). Now, end of June, his term has come to an end, and he will return to the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Quality. “As Chair of the Wadden Sea Board I would like to thank Bernard Baerend for the excellent job he has done during the last four years as Executive Secretary of the Secretariat for the Trilateral Wadden Sea Cooperation”, says Anne-Marie Vægter Rasmussen. “In that capacity he has served the Board very well and I have enjoyed the close and fruitful collaboration we have had. Bernard is thus leaving CWSS in a very good shape. Deputy Executive Secretary Sascha Klöpper will serve as interim until a new head of CWSS will take office. He and the CWSS team will ensure that all tasks assigned are carried out as planned in the meantime.” As Baerends is leaving, we asked him a few questions and took stock of his term.


Looking back at the past 4 years, what topics and priorities defined your term as Executive Secretary?

One of the key priorities, without a doubt, has been the development and adoption of our SIMP (single integrated management plan). The plan is a milestone document on joining forces and improving the collaboration of Wadden Sea stakeholders across the borders and to meet future challenges together. Another main topic was the Partnership Hub. As Chair of the Operational Team Partnership Hub, I felt a special responsibility to its further development. Getting the Hub up and running takes time, but I have found that is necessary and absolutely rewarding to engage with stakeholders beyond the TWSC – an approach truly worth carrying on. Further, the work on the Wadden Sea Flyway Initiative has intensified in the past years and I am very proud of CWSS granted and taking the lead in preparing an internationally far-reaching project on climate resilience of the flyway with impact both to the birds and humankind. Another priority was the ongoing issue on realising a functioning TMAP (Trilateral Management and Assessment Programme). In the last four years we have continuously put this topic on the trilateral agenda, strongly supported by the German presidency, and it will remain a fundamental and pressing issue in future.


What moments are you most proud of? And are there any regrets?

There are indeed several of these moments. The Wilhelmshaven Conference 2022 is high on my list. During the event we as CWSS had the opportunity to take stage and demonstrate our work, such as on the Quality Status Report, SIMP, Partnership Hub with its advancements on the shipping-ports and dark sky initiatives, and direct outcomes of the recently concluded PROWAD Link project. I am also particularly proud of CWSS successfully moving the 2021 International Scientific Wadden Sea Symposium from a very large life event to a virtual space within a very short period of time. A brilliant achievement, I must say, we concluded together with our co-organisers from the National Park of Schleswig-Holstein and the BMUV. Having been involved in the establishment of the Trilateral Programming Committee Wadden Sea Research I also fondly look back on the improvements we realised in connecting science across the regions and disciplines, which was also instrumental for the recently launched bilateral Wadden Sea research call. A great personal moment for me was also taking the stage at the 2022 Oceans Conference in Portugal. It was an immense honour and high recognition of our work that we were invited by the Portuguese government to take active part in such a globally significant event. I would also like to take this opportunity to express the joy I had being part of the CWSS family. I’m very proud of the way we act as team! It is only by our joined forces that I could always rely on, I can commemorate so many nice and rewarding moments.

One regret I have to name when looking at my term is that we did not succeed creating a Wadden Sea World Heritage foundation after so many years. I still think it is a valuable instrument to enhance the protection of the Wadden Sea World Heritage Site via all kind of projects we are now missing out, but also to increase the sense of ownership by many others.


What challenges did you not expect to come across?

Before taking on this position, I had spent years on the side of a TWSC member organisation, the Dutch Ministry of LNV. So, I felt rather well-prepared. However, I underestimated how demonstrating the need for the trilateral approach of the TWSC is a relentless and endless challenge. Even as one World Heritage Site I had to discover that it is not automatically taken for granted that the trilateral approach stands first. Another challenge that none of us expected was Russia’s attack on the Ukraine. One of the very immediate consequences for our work was that we had to stop our cooperation with our esteemed colleagues of the Eastern Arctic. Still, we succeeded in continuing with the overall flyway work. Referring to our connections with the Yellow Sea, it is a very interesting challenge for the CWSS to find the right balance between how we are cooperating internationally following the ideas of the World Heritage Convention while in the framework of the overarching political developments.


Do you have any recommendations for your successor?

Well, I like the saying “Never rule from beyond your grave”. But if I have to say one thing, then it’s to keep the spirit high for and in this highly motivated team of CWSS.


To your understanding, what are the major challenges for the Trilateral Cooperation in the next 4 and next 50 years?

In near future, I believe we must use signal of the upcoming State of Conservation Report on the Wadden Sea of the World Heritage Committee to deliver tangible results on reducing pressures on our site’s ecosystem. I see the SIMP as THE instrument to guide this process.

In the long-term, I think that we should keep up the spirit and the ambition to be a leading lighthouse on a worldwide scale on how we work together to live up to the World Heritage title. With a 45-year history as cooperation, we should also have the courage to challenge each other to meet the highest standards, which also implies sometimes being critical towards each other. And practicing what you write. I truly hope that we will remain the politically inspiring cooperation that we are.