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University of Basel

This side and that. (02/2023)

Nature lover.

Text and photos: Marion Maurer

As a child, he built pools for salamanders. Studying biology was a passion. Today, Philippe Ammann works to protect the diversity of flora and fauna at the Swiss non-profit, ProSpecieRara.

View over the bathing pond in Philippe Ammann's nature garden.
View over the bathing pond in Philippe Ammann's nature garden.

Heavy raindrops fall from the sky as the mail truck arrives in Nunningen in the Swiss canton of Solothurn. Overnight, thunderstorms had brought an end to the latest heatwave. “Thank goodness!” says Philippe Ammann, as we wind our way through his garden on this August morning. The garden, too, was slowly beginning to struggle with the dry weather. Ammann has lived here with his partner for just short of eleven years. They designed and planted their garden with love – and with the intention of creating a habitat for as many different types of animals as possible. The centerpiece of this little paradise is the swimming pond – built by Ammann himself – where new generations of frogs are born each year.

Nature in the blood.

Even as a child, Ammann built pools for salamanders, bred mice and pestered his father endlessly until he was allowed to keep chickens. His decision to study biology came straight from the heart: “I’ve always allowed myself to be drawn in by the things that fascinate me,” he says. During his studies, Ammann was “completely absorbed in the material,” but after finishing his degree, he felt extremely disillusioned. On the one hand, he was frustrated with his studies for leaving him so ill prepared for the world of work. And, on the other hand, he was annoyed with himself for neglecting to answer those questions on his own: “That kind of career mindset doesn’t suit me. I’ve never had the ability to look ahead or the ambition to be somewhere and know exactly what I want to do.”

But, of course, necessity is the mother of invention. Ammann signed up for a block course at a poultry breeding school and soon placed an ad in a Swiss poultry magazine. His move was successful, and he was invited for an interview, which ultimately led to seven years working for a company that built livestock pens. “Training on the job,” he calls it. “It was a great way to get to know an SME inside and out.”

Philippe Ammann with chickens.
Philippe Ammann with his "Appenzeller Spitzhauben" chickens.

Dedication to threatened species.

Today, Philippe Ammann is Head of Animals and IT and Deputy General Manager at ProSpecieRara. The Swiss non-profit foundation was founded in 1982 to protect threatened agricultural breeds of plants and animals from extinction.

It was serendipity that brought him here: “I had bought two lambs without knowing that they were Skuddes, a breed protected by ProSpecieRara,” he recalls with a laugh. It was owning these threatened animals that led him to meet the former head of his current department at the foundation, his predecessor.

He has now been working to protect and promote threatened domestic animal breeds for over 20 years – both professionally and at home, of course: Rare Appenzeller Spitzhauben chickens and Swiss Feh rabbits live in a spacious pen in his garden.

Telling stories with wood.

It took a good seven years to finish building his garden – after which Ammann was faced with a new problem: “I always need something to do; I need to keep trying out new things!” So, he constructed a workshop in his garage where could turn old scrap wood into brand-new creations.

a piece made of old pencils and other old wood components
In his workshop, Philippe Ammann gives old wood a second life.

His aim is not only to be conscious about his use of existing resources; for him, it’s also important for each of his pieces – serving trays, cutting boards or key racks – to tell a story. “I've always had a connection to wood. I know where it comes from,” he says. That’s why he calls himself the “scrap wood whisperer”.

His many ideas and stories are truly infectious. The pieces not only sell well, but he also often gets special requests. But what does he think about turning his passion into a side business down the road? “I don’t have an agenda or a goal about where I need to be at any given time. Maybe I’m a little bit naive, but I’ve always just let things happen and tried to do the things I like and whatever interests me in the here and now.”

Philippe Ammann studied biology at the University of Basel. Since 2003, he has been working at ProSpecieRara as Head of Animals and IT and as Deputy Managing Director. He also runs the workshop altholzfluesterer.ch.

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