Over the past couple of months, I’ve attended two thought provoking conferences. While I love my traineeship it’s easy to get bogged down in my daily tasks, working through samples and learning to identify my specialist group (leafhoppers and planthoppers) without considering the bigger picture. These conferences with fantastic speakers and interesting people have made me consider the wider scope of what is the point of my traineeship. Why is it important? Where am I hoping my career takes me? And ultimately, what can I do to help conservation efforts?
National Forum for Biological Recording #NFBR18
First I attended the National Forum for Biological Recording conference at Shrewsbury which looked at Skill Development for Biological Recorders. It considered the skills needed in the industry and how to address the skills gap. Unsurprisingly one of the biggest gaps is the species identification of obscure groups. Many of our skilled experts are nearing retirement and university courses rarely teach extensive identification and taxonomic skills. There is, therefore, a worry we will lose the ability to identify “uncharismatic” groups as the skills aren’t passed on. There are however, programs in place to attempt to rectify this. The Natural Talent Traineeship is one of these with 6 every year for the past 5 years trying to get to grips with groups that most people have never looked at. Once we have managed this we then attempt to promote recording our group and passing on what we have learnt to others with learning materials or identification workshops. There are of course challenges with trying to gain interest in our groups. Ian Wallace, head of the Caddisfly recording scheme, spoke at this conference about how he attempted to involve more recorders in his under-recorded group. His message was to persevere. Training and better identification resources slowly yield results but it’s unlikely that scores of people are excitedly waiting to begin recording your obscure (but marvelous, I’m sure) group. People may need a bit more coaxing than some slight encouragement and a workshop.
Securing the natural environment for future generations #N4FG18
The following conference I attended reminded me of why I originally wanted to work in conservation, with the theme of securing the natural environment for future generations. Most talks began with the depressing statistics, that we have sadly become used to, stating the decline of British wildlife. Yet the mood was surprisingly confident, with speakers offering ambitious solutions to our current problems. This included the scope to improve our agricultural policies post-Brexit and our nature reserve designs to make them big enough, messy, complex, dynamic and more joined up which made me feel optimistic. Questions asked included: have we yet reached a tipping point where we will no longer continue losing wildlife but will in fact start recovering it? The prospect of gaining the wildlife not seen since before my parents were born is truly exciting to me. We cannot simply protect nature, we need to restore it, we NEED intact ecosystems to provide us with food security, clean air and protection from floods. We also need nature for our personal well-being, potentially easing the strain on our poor underfunded NHS. Without biodiversity our ecosystems lack the resilience they need in the face of climate change. The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 was praised for its holistic approach, the understanding it shows that culture, community, health, the economy and the environment are intrinsically linked gives hope that one will not be sacrificed for the short-term gain of another. It illustrates the understanding that long-term success requires all aspects to be intact. This policy is, however, being put to the test as the welsh government considers the M4 relief road through the Gwent levels which, if it goes ahead, would mean the sacrifice of four wonderfully bio-diverse SSSI sites on the Gwent levels. It would also mean using £1.4 billion of public money to encourage people to travel by car instead of using the funds to improve rail travel which would also ease congestion. This scheme would ultimately show the undervaluing of the long-term benefits of intact and resilient ecosystems by the same government that has been praised for it’s forward thinking legislation.
This conference challenged attendees to work with and engage everyone. From gamekeepers and fishermen to those who wouldn’t normally engage with nature, such as BAME communities. Nature belongs to everyone, if we are to achieve the best results for nature we need to involve as many people as possible in its restoration. Efforts need to be made to work with and help communities which some may consider as hostile to nature. By understanding the motivations of those we hope to influence we may be able to positively change behaviours by facilitating solutions, rather than acting antagonistically which will only drive people away from conservation efforts.
Back to my traineeship
How does this tie back in with little old me and my traineeship? How can we monitor biodiversity if we can’t identify it to start with? How can we restore what we don’t know is missing? Decisions need to be based on evidence if we expect them to work, Britain has a strong history of biological recording and collecting evidence from the natural world. This has been motivated mostly, I believe, by discovery. Finding new things is truly exciting, the sort of excitement I remember feeling visiting Disneyland as a 7-year-old. The natural world is fascinating, the more you find out the more astounding it becomes. I’m hoping through this traineeship to encourage more people to become interested in recording obscure and “uncharismatic” groups through speaking about the rewards of studying my own group. This week I will be attending a summer school for London based A-Level students from BME and low-income families organised by the BES, FSC, CIEEM and In2science and speaking about entomology and the importance of biological recording. I’m nervous but excited that this may be the start of something good. In terms of my future career I know I enjoy speaking to people and working with the public, but I also want to be involved in the hard science of monitoring and species identification. I love the challenge it poses me, the excitement of finding something new and the satisfaction of finishing another sample. Only time will tell where I will end up, but if it’s anywhere near as fulfilling as this traineeship and has the opportunity to make a real difference in restoring biodiversity then I will be very happy.
Thank you so much TCV and Esmee Fairburn Foundation for this opportunity and to National Museum of Wales for hosting me.