This event was organised by Sussex Wildlife Trust, in conjunction with the University of Sussex, and held at the Jubilee Building at the campus in Falmer.
After introductions from Fran Southgate of Sussex Wildlife Trust, and Chris Sandom, Senior Lecturer at the University, the conference started. I will highlight a few of my personal gems from the day, as there was a huge amount to take in, but the main driver was that this whole event was about thinking of solutions and taking action based on information given by experts in their field, rather than simply championing good practise where it exists.
Our first speaker, 17 year-old Bella Lack, started with a dawn chorus soundtrack, followed by a poignant account recalling her father’s endeavours to help hedgehogs they ambled through his garden, and clear his windscreen of insects on long drives – two things which she has not experienced first hand as they no longer apply.
Next up was David Saddington, a climate change communicator discussing what IS a climate emergency? The motivating element of his talk was about defining our role as individuals, communities, consumers and in our careers.
Alistair Gould of the Carbon Free Group spoke next, about the solutions within the natural environment, reconnecting people and nature, and being able to tap in to the resilience and fortitude of humanity without relying on an acute catastrophe such as war to galvanise us.
After a quick tea break, we heard from Jake Fiennes about Sustainable Environmental Agriculture. We need to think large scale in order to implement real change, and use the natural backbone of hedges, ditches and field boundaries to provide wildlife with corridors. Hedges are vital, and flail mowing them is expensive, so dispense with this activity and allow the natural barrier to do its job of providing a home for the fauna and flora which are so vital in biodiversity in our farmland. Cover the soil for as much of the year: this reduces inputs and increases the productivity of the soil.
Jenny Phelps of FWAG introduced us to the idea that each parcel of land is a piece of a global jigsaw puzzle, with opportunities to be valuable and influential, and by mapping and evaluating each morsel of land, we can situate it in that global arena so it can make a difference. Again, the message that individual areas and actions can (and must) be viewed within a much larger perspective makes it easier to feel empowered that our sphere of influence makes a cumulative difference, and hence worth acting upon.
Robert Reed, Sustainable Agriculture Promoter at the A Team Foundation showed us the bond between diet and landscape. He spoke of the hunter-gatherer tribes in Africa and how their link with the landscape was part of their biological make up, especially in reference to the all-important gut microbiome: the bacteria inside reflected the bacteria outside. Foods grown in a regenerative farming system are the nearest we get to this nutritional nirvana our forebears would have unknowingly enjoyed. Sterile soils, processing, and necessary concern with cleanliness and hygiene means our food is severely depleted of not just nutrients but beneficial microbes that would have naturally occurred on and in the things we consumed. Another message which reverberated throughout the day: we are part of nature.
Chris Williams, who works for the New Economics Foundation, was speaking to us about natural capital, and the inherent problems with trying to quantify the value of complex natural systems within the current economic model. Cost-benefit analysis is an outdated way of measuring the contribution this natural capital makes to our lives, and change is needed so that there is recognition of this, as a simple financial equivalent may not be appropriate.
Tony Whitbread’s work as an ecologist was particularly pertinent for me, as many of the topics he discussed are reflected in my approach to beekeeping. Preservation and conservation are no longer enough: we need to be actively increasing the amount of natural processes we are restoring and encouraging, and pointing out that the classic succession to climax communities is shortsighted view of how these natural processes should play out. There needs to be a dynamic relationship between succession and natural disturbance, and this can either be left wholly to nature, or as part of a management scheme where grazing or hydrology or natural factors interact with the landscape and create a kaleidoscope of constant change and therefore diversity. Put good stuff in place, then step back and let the system play out rather than constantly fiddling.
The final speaker of the morning was Alistair Driver, rewilding specialist who also spoke about the Wildlife Trust’s Nature Recovery Network initiative. Rewilding is a rather vague term, but it relates mainly to large scale restoration of ecosystems and habitat. Large scale is also a vague term, but size does matter so if there are small units, team up to create a larger whole. It’s a realistic and pragmatic approach with the acceptance that it is about the journey rather than focussing entirely on an end point. Large areas can incorporate smaller, isolated areas to stimulate more movement and diversity across the range – as had been mentioned by other speakers.
So, although the people we heard are from different sectors, there were a few key factors that kept cropping up. These are some of the ones I felt were most powerful:
- we need to act right now
- there are fantastic initiatives and solutions, but we need to be able to actually implement them
- working on an individual level is important, as is scaling up to have a wider sphere of influence with our actions and behaviours
- join together and collaborate to achieve maximum effectiveness
- a systemic shift in how we view nature so we see ourselves as integrated with it: we are a large part of the solution as well as the problem
- decisive and definitive action is required to get beyond the despondency and feeling of helplessness regarding the climate crisis
- supporting the causes, businesses, and ways of working that chime with our own beliefs and abilities form a valuable contribution towards making changes
More on the conference, including the Panel Discussion, ‘Ask the Experts’, and the resounding message we came away with in the next post…