The second day of the National Ecological Networks Conference focused on more of a European perspective, building on the issues introduced during the first day but from a more social and economic perspective. It seemed like the networking event at the parliament the previous night had produced great energy during talks from the minister for environment and climate change Paul Wheelhouse. This buzz seemed to carry through into day two.
Mr Seatter started of the sessions by indicating the importance of talking to policy makers with a clear definition of what green infrastructure is (other than being the key word of the day). He raised the issue of nature being seen as a cost not a benefit, and led us to the question of “why our nature based solutions often last on the list?”. We need to connect voices to build green infrastructure networks, not only focussing in Scotland, but across Europe. The EU is already connected through many means, including free movement and trade, so it make sense to be working on an EU wide green infrastructure. His talk became emotive using a powerful anecdote based on the experiences of a child born today. What type of world will this be in 2015, 2020 and 2030 considering the effects of climate change, food security issues and environmental degradation under the current EU and national targets? To us this conveyed a sense of human vulnerability in the face of environmental change, especially for the unrepresented future generation and stressed the need for more ambitious targets and urgent action.
We found that a major theme of the day was the importance of communication and finding a shared perspective in moving towards developing a national network. It was emphasised that we need to start working across sectors, involving not only ecologists and conservationists, but also economists, MBA’s, politicians, planners and architects. Additionally, complete stakeholder involvement is essential.
Emphasis was put onto how conservationists communicate with others, and how this can be improved. Dr Fairley commented “You cannot antagonise and influence at the same time” and Dr. Ferwerda picked up the point with “As scientists we spend an awful time making the complex more complex”. Often the use of exclusive language by scientists and a lack of explanation of basic or simple principles lead to confusion regarding the overlying strategies and aims. Disagreement within the science and conservation community also often translates into a lack of clarity and indecision for non-conservationists and practitioners down the line.
The language we use does not only have to adapt to better communicate ideas and concepts effectively, but it has to be better utilised to inspire and relate to different groups of people. Even designating an area as “protected” creates barriers between people and conservation: who and what are these areas being protected from (asks Dr. Fairley)? Differences in mere connotation can have great impacts to peoples’ perceptions: it was stressed that there is a difference between the terminology of “green infrastructure” versus “ecological network” with the former having greater political weight. Therefore, in the conference context, the debate was raised to whether we should be talking about “National Green Infrastructures” instead of “National Ecological Networks”.
Dr. Badger furthered the issue of economics with regards to ecosystem services in the discourse; “The ecosystem approach has been discussed since the convention for biodiversity (1994)… but it is difficult to make it meaningful in the profit driven world” (Rebecca Badger, NEN). Saying this, giving value to ecosystem services has allowed for their comparison, monitoring and recognition in our profit driven system. Preserving these ecosystem services should be an economic incentive: spend now, and save later. Ecological restoration is part of economic development (Dr. Fairley). Badger furthermore raised the need to account for both monetary and non-monetary values, and the limitations of viewing services in this way, with Ferwerda also contributing to the discussion by suggesting ecosystem services was more about creating a platform for the communication of their importance rather than implementing an actual monetary value.
Moving through the day’s processions, the talks seemed to take on a new message, an energetic and more socially grounded discussion on moving forwards with developing a national ecological network (or green infrastructure).
While Dr Uhel had used high-resolution model of land use change to illustrate the problem of urban sprawl across Europe, he also had a positive message to share. He proceeded to do what we think scientists should do more often, which is talk about action; stating that although some questions remain unresolved (and likely will for some time), we definitely know enough to start making key decisions. This message, that we have a good enough understanding and capability to take action now echoed throughout the day, with ‘now is the time’ being brought out on more than one occasion.
David Sim, a Scottish Architect, also brought a very different perspective to the stage with a get up and do attitude. He used a mixture of stories, observations and actualised solutions to discuss people, behaviour, and connection to nature within city spaces. He gave a nice example of incorporating ecology into the design of urban areas through implementing a green point based system during planning. The result of which is increased green-space provision and consideration to the environment, achieved by playing on the innate competitiveness of neighbouring developers and their house-proud inhabitants. The practicality of his design based solutions and the narrative of involving people in the design process both stood out as key messages to be considered in the implementation of a national ecological network.
As fresh-faced students new to the world of ecology conferences, we arrived at this one less aware of the intentions of SWT in hosting it than most of its other delegates. On reflection it became clear that a very strong case has been made for the implementation of a national ecological network. Irrespective of the phrase we use to sell it to the policy makers and grant lenders, the social and ecological benefits of a UK or EU wide ecological network are clear. At this point it is evident that for this effort to be effective there is a need to unite the work of a multitude of regulating, monitoring, educating and conservation based organisations, which are still too often working independently in tackling shared issues. “How can we have a national ecological network, without first a national people network” (Jonny Hughes).
From here, hopefully Scottish Wildlife Trust will keep us up to date with constructive action, developments, formed partnerships or innovative ideas that have been born out of these past two days..
Written by Louise, Tabi and Sara