Alternet Anniversary: A Look at the Past 20 Years of Alternet

By 4 April 2024May 22nd, 2024No Comments

Alternet’s 20th Anniversary

Before there was Alternet, the independent international NGO dedicated to fostering Europe’s science-policy interface on biodiversity and ecosystem services, there was ALTER-Net, an EU Network of Excellence. Officially introduced on April 4th 2004, Alternet has now reached an exciting milestone: 20 years of operation. Alternet has undergone significant transformations since its initial formation in 2004 but has continued to demonstrate resilience and vitality through it all.

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Alternet, let’s take a brief trip through its history.

Alternet’s History


ALTER-Net began life in 2004 as an EU Network of Excellence (Project no. GOCE-CT-2003-505298, Framework Programme 6). This phase (we call it ALTER-Net I) ran until March 2009, and was coordinated by Terry Parr (NERC CEH, UK). The project consisted of a series of linked Work Packages (WP). Six Work Packages dealt with the integration objectives, whilst a further six covered the joint programme of research. These Work Packages interacted and supported one another, so that the research WPs, in identifying gaps in knowledge, tools, etc., informed the integration WPs, which aimed to develop the necessary tools and frameworks for integration.

ALTER-Net actively promoted interdisciplinary biodiversity and ecosystems research. We launched our annual Summer School in this period, and also developed the pan-European LTER-Europe network of long-term research and observation sites.

A further two WPs were specifically tasked with the ‘spread of excellence’. One WP addressed communication and dissemination, and focused on communication of biodiversity research to the wider community, including other researchers, the media and policymakers. The second dealt with training and mobility issues, so that the necessary skills base for biodiversity research and communication could be strengthened.


After the EU grant ceased in 2009, ALTER-Net relied on financial support from its members. From 2009 until 2011, we also benefited from generous support from the Norwegian Government, which helped to fund the secretariat at NINA (Jiska van Dijk headed the secretariat). In this period of ALTER-Net, we established the ALTER-Net Council and Management Board. Terry Parr remained at the helm, chairing the Council until 2011, before handing over to Eeva Furman of SYKE, Finland. The Secretariat also moved to SYKE at this time. The Management Board was chaired first by Daniel Terrason (CEMAGREF, France), then by Leon Braat (Alterra, Netherlands).

Twenty-two of ALTER-Net’s original partners continued in the network. Membership grew to 27 partner institutes in 18 countries. ALTER-Net helped to develop several project consortia which secured European Union FP7 research funds. We continued to run our Summer School in Peyresq, France and also organised several important events (see Outputs for details). ALTER-Net became active in the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity & Ecosystem Services, and showed its strong support for BiodiversityKnowledge, a network of knowledge aiming to bridge the gap between science and policy. In addition, through its Science-Policy Interface activities, ALTER-Net has established excellent working relations with the European Commission DG Environment and other policy makers. A conference organized by ALTER-Net with DG Environment in April 2013 was instrumental in this.


April 2014 marked ALTER-Net’s 10th birthday and the start of what we are calling Phase III of the network. Maurice Hoffmann (INBO, Belgium) takes over as Chair of the Network Council, whilst Allan Watt (NERC CEH, UK) and Jiska van Dijk (NINA, Norway), co-chair the Management Board. Phase III sees a major revision of our focus areas, although several key activities of ALTER-Net, such as support for long-term research infrastructures, promotion of interdisciplinary research and training via our Summer School, will continue. A major activity is the organisation of our second conference in Ghent, on Nature-Based Solutions.


Now into its second decade, the network continued with Maurice Hoffmann (INBO) chairing the Network Council and Jiska van Dijk (NINA) chairing the Management Board. We continued with our annual Summer School in Peyresq, France, our High Impact Action and our calls for Multi-Site Research projects. In May 2017, we held our third Ghent conference, Nature and society: synergies, conflicts, trade-offs. 2018 saw the implementation of the ALTER-Net Call Exchange, a clearinghouse mechanism to facilitate collaboration between partners on joint proposals. In 2019, the fourth Ghent conference, entitled The EU Biodiversity Strategy Beyond 2020: Research insights and needs for biodiversity and ecosystem services in Europe was jointly hosted by ALTER-Net and EKLIPSE. This conference saw not only rich discussion of the role of research in shaping the post-2020 European Biodiversity Strategy, but also the official agreement by ALTER-Net to take over the management of the EKLIPSE mechanism in 2020 as part of its commitment to the science-policy interface.

Alternet V

After the agreement to manage the EKLIPSE mechanism, now branded as Eklipse, the ALTER-Net Council decided unanimously at its 2019 Council meeting in Paris to reorganize under a new legal structure as an international non-profit organization. Established by founding members Maurice Hoffmann, Jiska van Dijk, Allan Watt, and Philip Roche, the Alternet Association came into formal operation in Autumn of 2020. Re-commitment of Council members to partnership in the Alternet Association and its new post-2020 Memorandum of Understanding was secured and ALTER-Net, now branded as Alternet, continues into a new stage with newfound legal capabilities (i.e. hiring personnel, sending invoices, and leading/responding to calls and proposals). 2020 also saw close, ongoing collaboration between Alternet and Eklipse as it underwent its transition from an EU project to an autonomous mechanism under Alternet management. This included a revamping of the Eklipse and Alternet logos, branding, and websites by the C32 marketing company and targeted work in task forces aimed at establishing Eklipse as a self-sustaining science-policy interface mechanism.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 also unfortunately saw the first summer without a traditional Alternet Summer School programme in Peyresq; and 2021 saw the delaying of the biennial Alternet Conference. However, Alternet again proved itself resilient: in 2021 the Summer School returned (in the autumn, no less), and the conference was successfully held in the Ghent Monastery the following year on the theme of Transformative Changes for Biodiversity and Health. 

2022 also marked the beginning of Alternet’s key collaboration with Biodiversa+ and the informal foundation of the A4Cap alumni network. Recognizing its capacity-building potential, Biodiversa+ began supporting the organisation of the Alternet Summer School and collaborating with Alternet on communications and promotion of activities of mutual interest. We are incredibly grateful for their support! Likewise in 2022, Alternet Summer School alumni convened in Spa, Belgium for the first annual assembly of Alternet Summer School alumni–a self-organised activity that began as a combined research workshop and reunion and developed into the A4Cap alumni network, which was officially recognized as an Alternet activity in 2024 and is now moving forward with support from Alternet and Biodiversa+.

Another transformational development in Alternet’s identity and role in the European science-policy landscape came in the form of Alternet’s entrance into European projects in late 2022. The BioAgora project, which sets out to establish a science service mechanism for Europe, represents a successful consortium-building initiative of the Alternet call exchange; it is overwhelmingly made up of Alternet partner institutes, and Eklipse plays a particularly central role in its operation. The CO-OP4CBD project, which aims to strengthen Europe’s implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity, was Alternet’s second European project foray–and the first to feature Alternet as a full project partner. The robust initiatives of Eklipse brought Alternet into two additional projects: ECO-READY and RESTOREID. Each of these projects features a strong focus on science-policy interface; and, as such, embodies the new direction of Alternet conveyed in its newfound motto: “Fostering the European science-policy interface on biodiversity and ecosystem services.” 

Throughout all of these developments and transformations, Alternet has continued to grow and strengthen its central role in the European biodiversity research community. With recent member additions including Eurac (Italy), CCRI (UK), and RBINS (Belgium), Alternet has grown to include 33 member institutes in 21 European countries. 

With 20 years of experience behind us and pivotal issues like the European Nature Restoration Law before us, the synergy and core mission of Alternet is more important than ever. Here’s to fostering the European science-policy interface on biodiversity and ecosystem services–and to the next 20 years of Alternet!

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