The Biodiversity and Environmental Research Center (BERC) was founded in Prof. Mohammed Saleem Shtayeh’s Research Lab where Prof. Ali Shtayeh, Rana Jamous, Samer Kalbouneh, and Suheil Abu-Ghdeib met to discuss the means to enable better management of Palestine’s environment and biodiversity and how they can contribute to that end. It was 1999, and all four were active researchers and environmentalists, with a passion for research and biodiversity; Mohammed was Prof of biological sciences and conservation biologist, Rana was a high school biology teacher who was trained as an applied biologist, Samer was trained as an environmental engineer especially in water and wastewater treatment and reuse, and Suhail was trained as a medical mycologist and public health specialist.
The four colleagues couldn’t imagine anything more important than air, water, soil, energy and biodiversity; these are the things that keep us alive. Their discussion turned up the need to form a non-governmental association to systematically and ambitiously generate and use biological and ecological data to protect and conserve Palestine natural resources including biodiversity and water. They envisaged that this can be achieved by applying the following strategies: (a) research and specialized studies, in which they can produce info in basic and applied biology, and managing and transfer this info to the largest possible spectrum of interested people and members of the community in general, (b) support the protection of the environment by encouraging the sustainable use of environmental resources, (c) Education, training, and technical consulting, and (d) awareness; educate the public on environmental issues.
The four colleagues promptly took the story to other friends who enthusiastically encouraged the idea, resulting in the formation of a core group of nine members (the Founding Body of BERC to be). After overcoming some obstacles in the registration process, with support from, the National Coordinator of Small Grants program, SGP, Global Environmental Facility, GEF, Ms Rula Jeries and, former minister of the Ministry for Environment, Dr. Yusuf Abu-Safieh, BERC was officially registered on 28 May 2001 in Til, Nablus with its range of activities covering all Palestine.
With great encouragement from Rula Jeries, in December 2001, BERC was lucky to get a SGP/GEF grant to implement a biodiversity conservation project that involved the establishment of the first botanic gardens in Palestine on 15,000 square meters area in Til village, Nablus District aiming at improving the quality of local environment by the restoration of vegetation cover and providing appropriate habitats for plant and animal wildlife, and hence restoration of the ecosystem. Not only have the gardens reforested a significant piece of land with more than two hundred fifty species of Palestinian endogenous plants many of which are endangered, they have also created a hub for learning and research about the environment.
For the following five years, and building on the success of our first project, we've been able to acquire the funding necessary to carry out more mainly community-based projects that were aimed at conserving biodiversity, preserving the resource and the knowledge. By 2005, BERC has become ready to carry out more in-depth research in collaboration with other local, regional, and international universities and institutes.
Over the period 2005 – 2018, BERC staff and researchers have won quite a few competitive research grants which have enabled them to carry out a good number of projects in biodiversity and applied biology related research areas. The impact of BERC’s activities over this period has been focused on documenting and conducting research into Palestinian plant and fungal diversity and its uses for humanity, supporting the protection of the environment by encouraging the sustainable use of environmental resources, and disseminating our scientific knowledge of plants and wastewater treatment and reuse, maximizing its impact in science, education, conservation policy and management.
Now in our eighteenth year, we look forward to a future of continued expansion, creativity, and productivity.