The British Ecological Society, alongside the UK’s statutory nature conservation bodies, recently held a conference to discuss ‘securing the natural environment for future generations’. Kate Priestman (Editor & freelance writer), went along to find out more…
There is no escaping it, our current methods of halting the decline in biodiversity are simply not working. There is a growing urgency to move on from the broader failings of our conservation initiatives to date and positively address the challenges of putting nature conservation firmly at the forefront of decision making. These discussions arrive at a propitious time; in the face of uncertainties surrounding Brexit, it is imperative that opportunities are taken (and made) to introduce radical change into the means by which we safeguard our environment.
The conference, held in Manchester Metropolitan University’s Business School, was attended by many of the key influencers in the current conservation debate. The first presentation was made by Professor Sir John Lawton CBE FRS, whose renowned conclusions from the Making Space for Nature (2010) report of ‘more, bigger, better and joined’ were frequently referenced over the two days. Lawton discussed the history of nature conservation in the UK, and addressed some of the ways to turn things around, which included ‘rewilding’ initiatives, and restoration and landowner payments for social benefits.
A number of key threads came up time and again: the need for increased engagement, inclusivity and collaboration with a much broader range of interest groups, the need to make issues applicable to all and by so doing create a sense of ownership and identity, the need to be bold and decisive, create binding targets and legislation to aid enforcement, and a need to widen the approach to conservation and restoration on the ground to ecosystem scales. The presentations honed in further on these areas, providing examples and the means by which these aspirations can be realised.
Jacob Dafydd Ellis (Public Affairs Advisor) on behalf of the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales, presented a thought-provoking talk, demonstrating how Wales are setting an example through their ‘Wellbeing of Future Generations Act’, ensuring that decision making accounts for future populations, globally and in a holistic way, recognising that effects are interlinked.
Perhaps the most memorable presentation was made by young naturalist Dara McAnulty. Eloquent, with a powerful and inspiring message, the 14-year-old succeeded in educating delegates about the need to empower and celebrate young people. Emphasising the requirement for support, guidance and inclusion in discussions – “We’re not lost, we just haven’t been found”, was the take home message.
Building on McAnulty’s talk, Louise Macdonald OBE (Young Scot) gave an equally inspiring presentation, demonstrating the value that arises from empowering young people and discussing the means by which it is possible to incentivise the younger generation to become involved in nature, taking on board their ideas through partnership building and co-design.
Juliette Young (NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology) made ‘management of conservation conflicts’ the subject of her presentation; the key message being that unless conflicts are resolved at the outset, it is difficult – if not impossible – to achieve conservation success. The importance of recognising that all parties have knowledge to bring to the discussion is one that Young urged, should not be overlooked.
The final presentation of the first day was provided by Helena Craig (Black2Nature), representing her daughter Mya-Rose Craig (AKA @BirdgirlUK). Helena discussed ways to improve ethnic diversity in nature conservation, sharing advice and experiences on how organisations can make nature inclusive, accessible and relevant to all.
The general feeling at the end of the first day was that a call to action had been made and the sense that whilst there are many challenges ahead, we do have solutions to take forward and address these.
The second day was equally inspiring; the first presentation by Tony Juniper CBE focused on the need to look at restoration as well as continued protection, with an emphasis on the longer term view.
Valuable points were raised by Professor Chris Thomas FRS who urged people to embrace the fact that the environment is dynamic ‘be inspired by the past but don’t try to recreate it’; Thomas emphasised that change doesn’t necessarily equate to loss, a pertinent message being that people should accept change and maintain a global approach to conservation issues.
Additional key messages over the remaining presentations were that finance and investment in ecological innovation is required in order to make a significant difference, with ambitious targets needing to be set, in tandem with a long term approach, supported through legislative means.
The event was summarised by Baroness Barbara Young who underlined the point that we are at a pivotal time to make change – it seems that we are finally ready to overhaul the ways in which we safeguard our natural world.
About the Author: Kate Priestman (CEnv, MCIEEM), Co-Founder and Editor of Inside Ecology, has over sixteen years experience as an ecologist. Prior to setting up her own consultancy business in 2012, Kate worked in London for over a decade, providing the lead ecology role for a number of high profile projects. In addition to running Inside Ecology, Kate works as a freelance writer, author and artist.