Tag Archives: NERC

Tributes to Sir David – and he finds time to write to one of our students!

Saadias letter from Sir DavidThere can’t be many people currently working or studying in ecology, conservation, or the environmental sciences who were not in some way inspired by the programmes presented by Sir David Attenborough during his long career.  I certainly was, and I can trace my interest in the richness of our planet’s biodiversity right back to watching his ground-breaking series Life on Earth as a young teenager, and then reading the book, bought for me by my parents.

As you are probably aware, yesterday was Sir David’s 90th birthday, and the tributes to his iconic status as part of the scientific and cultural fabric of our nation, and his international standing, have been extensive and heartfelt. My personal favourites include naming the new NERC research vessel the RSS Sir David Attenborough and having a Madagascan dragonfly named after him by my friend and colleague KD Dijkstra, whose work I’ve highlighted previously on this blog.

But in the midst of all of these tributes and celebrations of a spectacular career, the measure of the man can be summed up by his taking the time to send a hand-written letter to one of our undergraduate students (see photograph).  The story of how Saadia Khan received Sir David’s letter can be read in full on the University of Northampton’s website.

All I can offer by way of my own tribute is to say thank you, Sir David,  for continuing to be such an inspiration, and may you have many more birthdays to come.

Business and Biodiversity: Oil & Water?

An early start yesterday to get to London for a meeting/workshop called “Biodiversity & ecosystem services: new collaboration opportunities for academics with businesses”.  The meeting was organised by the Environmental Sustainability Knowledge Transfer Network , a fairly new government initiative trying to link industry/businesses with university-level researchers and third sector organisations.  The aim of the day was to:

“….bring together academics and businesses with an interest in the Natural Capital/Ecosystem Services approach that the Natural Environment White Paper (NEWP) envisages for the UK.  The Natural Environment White Paper has put business at the centre of the stage to deliver the sustainable economy that the Government pledges to provide.”

There’s a lot of scepticism in both camps about whether businesses and researchers can really ever talk mutually comprehensible languages or have convergent priorities.  But I’m open minded enough to attend these events and see what I can learn from them.  It was also an opportunity to catch up with some old friends who I hadn’t seen for a while, and to promote the biodiversity bit of the SEED project.

Highlight of the day for me (other than seeing said friends) was Professor Ian Bateman’s presentation on the UK National Ecosystem Assessment and the ecosystem services approach to valuing nature.  Whilst there wasn’t anything in the presentation that I was not already broadly familiar with, it was a wonderfully clear and forthright exposition on just how much we have under valued the natural capital of the UK.  Putting a monetary value on our biodiversity leaves a lot of scientists and activists uncomfortable and I share some of that discomfort.  But it may be our best opportunity to safeguard biodiversity for the future.

Also impressive (and dryly funny) was the presentation by Martin Ross from South West Water on how his company is providing grants to farmers with land in their catchments to manage farms in a way which minimises pollution and therefore the cost of water treatment.

Lowlight of the day was a (rather young and I think naive) environmental consultant’s claims that “we know almost nothing about biodiversity in this country except for a few charismatic species” and “nature conservation has failed in the UK”.  I thought that a guy from the JNCC was going to explode when he heard that last statement!   The first comment betrayed a lack of historical understanding: we have an enormous reservoir of biodiversity knowledge in this country, added to and developed by both professional and amateur researchers.  What we lack is a truly comprehensive method of bringing all of this together in a way that is usable for biodiversity planning.

In the workshop I attended there was some discussion as to whether technical language such as “biodiversity”, “natural capital” and “ecosystem services” (which one contributor referred to as “eco-babble”) deters senior business managers from engaging with nature conservation.  I pointed out that words and phrases such as “email”, “internet” and “world wide web” were not so very long ago similarly considered to be technical jargon but are now part of our every day language.  Don’t think they were convinced.

Left a very sunny, spring-y London on a packed train, arriving in a colder, over cast Northampton.  A short taxi ride took me to the university in time to enjoy a really stimulating evening lecture by photographer John Hilliard, part of the School of The Arts’ Articulation series.  Great to see a packed audience of mainly students listening intently to an artist of his reputation.  Look forward to next week’s talk by Ian McKeever.

Home by 8.30pm to enjoy delicious chicken soup and (at 9.00pm) furious ranting at the BBC Horizon programme about the subconscious mind, both courtesy of my psychotherapist partner Karin.  Too exhausted by 10pm to watch anything more than the news headlines.  Sleep came easily….