The National Ecological Networks Conference, hosted by the Scottish Wildlife Trust with assistance from the Scottish Government, was held on 6-7 February 2013. Conference objectives (from their website):
The event aims to explore the theory, policy and practice of ecological networks and to provide an evidence base for future practical action and policy direction. During this major conference we will explore the policy drivers for ecological networks, investigate the science behind networks and ecosystem restoration, consider the goods and services that flow from healthy ecosystems, and give examples of green infrastructure initiatives from both the UK and Europe as a whole.
The first morning of the National Ecological Networks 2013 Conference had an optimistic beginning. Dr. Jane Smart highlighted the need for nature based solutions, where national targets for biodiversity conservation must add up to the larger international conservation goals. The main theme of the conference was exploring how to develop well connected and ecologically representative protected areas within the greater landscape. Dr Smart ended her introduction by expressing the hope that the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy will draw on the Aichi Targets. Leaving us with a quote from M. Gandhi: “the future depends on what we do in the present”, the conference moved onto the next stage of the discussions.
It is clear that humans have been transforming the way in which natural systems work. We have created a whole industry of conservation, working desperately to try to repair the damage which we have done. Professor Bill Adams rightly says that “conservation has to do something different”, moving from the exclusive protection of areas to a more dynamic and holistic management strategy, with a focus on resilience. There is an issue with geographically fixed protected areas, which are less able to adapt to changes and pressures the world may experience due to climate change. Therefore, Adams identified that we need to think of connectivities and move towards landscape-scale conservation. We need restoration to go beyond mere salvation and this is a key element in thinking about Ecological Networks. We were then introduced to the concept of open-ended restoration; where we accept there is no past state we are striving to return to and doing so we use environmental indicators to guide future conservation efforts. Ultimately, we “need to allow nature to assemble in her new form” (states Adams, at NEN conference).
Clear evidence was given by Dr. Jongman that doing things by half does not work. In creating wildlife bridges to connect habitats for example, it is not sufficient to merely build the structure. For the structure to achieve its objectives it must be tailored to the needs of the target species (in this example, pond stepping stones for amphibians, alongside a vegetated area for deer and mammal passage).
Dr. Catchpole was the first to introduce the negative effects of connectivity as a catalyst to the spread of pests and diseases. We need to carefully consider where to apply the future Ecological Network system, informatively choosing appropriate areas and habitats to connect. As well as using maps and distributions, it is essential to have an understanding of ecology and the underlying drivers and processes that characterise our landscape.
We then moved on to the need for landscape-scale indicators of ecosystem health. Dr. Davy McCraken listed these as: habitat extent, quality and condition, fragmentation, keystone species, invasive species, hydrology, soil structure and quality, and carbon. To be effective, these indicators need to be sensitive to change, easy to use and cost effective. They have to be easy to communicate and have to add to the understanding of ecosystem condition. Finally, they have to be scalable to regions.
Points later discussed included that the planning of Ecological Networks have to take into consideration not only current conflicts, but possible future conflicts as well. Only then can we know where and how to expand our protected areas. Dr Gimona suggested that conflicting land uses and changes in land capabilities will become escalating sources of conflict. Other topics of the afternoon were related to the improvement of human health and wellbeing with increasing proximity to green spaces.
The role of cities within the conference dialogue was highlighted by Russell Galt. Initially discussing the benefits which green infrastructure can provide to cities, such as using vegetation for temperature control, food provision and climate mitigation, he then moved on to the potential for cities to also benefit the environment, as seen with Local Action for Biodiversity projects. Ultimately, his topic brought to our mind the importance of moving towards a view of humans and nonhumans as a collective, rather than separate entities (Latour 2004: 46): symbiotically, cities can contribute to environmental health, and equally, the environment can enhance the health of those living within cities.
The afternoon followed with breakout sessions exploring various topics such as ‘Peatlands, carbon and water’, ‘Cities and ‘ecological urbanism” and ‘Resilience and climate change’. These proved to be interesting, however possibly too short to come up with specific enough ‘key actions’ as was initially planned. Saying this, it was a good insight for us as our first conference experience, and we hope that the outputs from the conference breakout sessions comes to some use.
We all left the first day keen to see what was to follow. Part 2 of our report will be discussing our final experiences of the NEN 2013 Conference.
Written by Sara, Louise and Tabi
Continue to Perceptions of the NEN Conference 2013 – PART 2