"This bridges the gap between science and the general public. I'm very grateful for the support of BES!"

Lewis Reed Grant Recipient

What should a 25-year plan for nature look like?

In their election manifesto, the Conservatives set out a welcome ambition to develop a “25-year plan to restore the UK’s biodiversity”, stating that they would work with the recommendations of the Natural Capital Committee “to ensure that both public and private investment in the environment is directed where we need it most”.

Since the election, little further detail has emerged about the shape of this 25-year plan. Conversely, the new Conservative administration has been strongly criticised by some environmental organisations for a number of decisions deemed antithetical to the Government’s stated aim of accelerating the transition to a low carbon economy and enhancing the state of the natural environment. Examples include the withdrawal of subsidies for renewable energy, the cancellation of the zero carbon homes plan, and the loosening of restrictions on fracking in protected areas.

In this context, making strong progress towards developing a robust, ambitious, integrated plan for the recovery of nature is a clear priority. One of the BES’s priorities for policy-making in this Parliament is that the value of the environment to human wellbeing and prosperity is recognised across government, and that this value is fully integrated into decision-making. With this in mind, we have joined with twenty-three other organisations to support Wildlife and Countryside Link’s recommendations for the essential components of a 25-year plan for the natural environment.

So what would a 25-year plan for the natural environment look like? Wildlife and Countryside Link have set out eleven key principles, suggesting that the plan must:

  • Set out a new vision for a thriving natural environment
  • Establish overarching goals for government for the protection and recovery of nature
  • Contain clear objectives and five year milestones with accountability to Parliament
  • Set the right institutional framework and align resources, for meeting environmental goals across Government
  • Build on existing policy and legislation
  • Ensure the terrestrial and marine planning systems enhance landscapes and nature, delivering an ecological network
  • Deliver for our seas as well as land
  • Support people working together for nature
  • Set out stronger safeguards for threatened species and habitats
  • Include the UK Overseas Territories and our impact on natural capital abroad
  • Have a statutory basis

Furthermore, it is recommended that the plan is developed and delivered in a cross-departmental manner, subject to a broad, open consultation, and is published within twelve months to avoid delaying action towards the Biodiversity 2020 targets.

As our recent Ecology Matters publication makes clear, ecological science has an important role to play in tackling many of the most pressing policy challenges at the interface between people and the environment, and there are a number of components within Wildlife and Countryside Link’s outline plan where ecological knowledge and solutions will be essential. Scientific advice will be integral to setting objectives and milestones against which the success of the plan will be measured, and for establishing monitoring programmes to effectively assess progress. Delivering a coherent ecological network of protected sites will need to build on the recommendations of the Lawton Report – more, bigger, better and joined – and ecological expertise and information will have a crucial role in enabling regulators and planning authorities to plan and manage “nature-positive” development and infrastructure.

The development of the 25-year plan for nature will be a key environmental policy issue of this Parliament, and could shape the direction of natural environment policy in the UK for years to come. We will be working with Wildlife and Countryside Link over the coming months to feed into their ambitions for the 25-year plan, and also engaging with the Government’s plans as they emerge. We are always keen to hear from members looking get involved with our policy work, so if you would like to contribute your evidence and ideas for a new vision for the natural environment and keep up to date with the latest developments, please get in touch.

Posted in Biodiversity, Conservatives, Defra, Ecology, Government, UK, Wildlife and Countryside Link | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

BES joins learned societies’ call for action on climate change

The BES has today joined twenty-three other learned societies, academic and professional institutions to call for national governments to take immediate action in order to avert the serious risks posed by climate change.

Organisations from across the sciences, engineering, social sciences and humanities including the Royal Society, British Academy and the Wellcome Trust have come together for the first time to publish a joint communique affirming the strength of the scientific consensus on climate change and the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions. The latest evidence suggests that if we are to have a reasonable chance of limiting global warming in this century to 2°C relative to the pre-industrial period, we must transition to a zero-carbon world – achieving net zero global carbon emissions – by early in the second half of the century.

Finding a way to keeping global warming below 2°C will be the central aim of this Autumn’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, when the world’s governments will meet from 30th November to 11th December to negotiate a new legally binding international agreement. The joint call to action coincides with a ministerial meeting in Paris involving 48 countries, which hopes to quicken progress towards an agreement. The French government has indicated that the Paris agreement should be “short, flexible and long-lasting” in order to avoid complex future re-negotiations.

The communique states that in order to deliver an effective agreement, governments must recognise the risks climate change poses, embrace appropriate policy and technological responses, and seize the opportunities of low-carbon and climate-resilient growth.

Climate change will have a significant ecological impact over the course of the century, and its effects are already being felt. The most recent IPCC report found that climate change is already affecting many organisms, including their geographical ranges, migration patterns, abundances and interactions, and will increase extinction risk for a large fraction of species. Speaking to Carbon Brief on behalf of the BES, Plymouth University’s Professor Camille Parmesan, winner of this year’s Marsh Award for Climate Change Research, said: “We’re already seeing contraction of species in the most sensitive ecosystems, such as those dependent on sea ice or those living on mountain tops. We’re also seeing declines in some tropical systems, such as coral reefs, and the valuable services they provide for fish nurseries, tourism and coastal protection.”

The UK has taken a leading role on climate change, with the 2008 Climate Change Act establishing the world’s first legally binding target for emissions reduction. Reaching an agreement in Paris is a priority for the new Conservative government, with the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Amber Rudd, recently stating that “a global deal is the only way both to deliver the scale of action required and to drive down the costs of climate action; so Paris 2015 is both a serious opportunity to avoid its catastrophic effects and to open up new avenues for low carbon industries.”

The communique is clear that action on climate change is urgent and imperative: “Actions need to be taken now, by governments, individuals, businesses, local communities and public institutions, if we are to tackle this global challenge, deliver the cuts in emissions, and take maximum advantage of the available opportunities and additional benefits”.

Read the Climate Communique

Read more on The Guardian and Carbon Brief

Posted in BES, Climate Change, Royal Society, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fusing ecology and economics- what are the next steps?

Our society is facing significant challenges in the 21st century including increasing levels of resource use, environmental impacts, threats to food, water and energy security and various social and economic issues (e.g. conflicts, migration and unequal distribution of wealth).  Ecological Economics has made a significant contribution to our understanding of ecological, social and economic systems for the mutual well-being of nature and people. In 2015- what have we have learnt and where do we need to focus our interdisciplinary efforts?

What is Ecological Economics? 

Ecological economics is the study of the relationship between human housekeeping (economics) and nature’s housekeeping. Put in another way, it is about the interactions between economic and ecological systems.  Ecological Economics explores the value of nature (ecosystem services and natural capital), natural resource management, environmental quality, human health and wellbeing and how we can achieve change.  Ecological economics acknowledges that a healthy economy can only exist in symbiosis with a healthy ecology.

Why is it an important emerging field?

An understanding of ecological economics is vital to tackling the challenges of the 21st century.  Many of these challenges are highly complex and we need a correspondingly complex and diverse range of tools and insights from a variety of disciplines.  Ecological economics aims to achieve this by bringing together insights and tools from the social sciences, natural sciences and humanities and therefore seeks to promote a truly transdisciplinary approach.  The study of ecological economics will help to shine a light on the interdependency between economic activity and our natural environment and will aid in the development of policies and options that prioritise our environment, societal health and wellbeing.

A fusion of economics and ecology is required to properly measure and capture the value of biodiversity” (Barry Gardiner MP, 2012). 

On 30th June- 3rd July, the University of Leeds hosted the 11th International Conference of the European Society for Ecological Economics (ESEE). The theme of the conference was ‘Transformations’ and explored how we can use ecological economics to achieve global sustainability. The conference brought together academics and practitioners from across the globe in order to disseminate best practice, foster research collaborations and to provide training for early-career researchers.

What have we learnt so far and what are the gaps?

Here we present key reflections and research gaps from the ESEE conference, with particular focus on natural capital and ecosystem services (one of the BES’s policy priorities).

(1) Monetary values are not the be all and end all

It is common to focus on the monetary values provided by our environment, for example the provision of food and the value of tourism. Economic approaches have significant traction and have been very popular with policy-makers.

However, it was a clear message at the ESEE conference that monetary valuations are not the be all and end all. They have significant limitations and on their own they cannot fully reflect the value of ecosystem services.    

(2) A Mixed method approach is the way forward

As illustrated previously by the UK NEA follow-on phase, we need to increasingly combine monetary and non-monetary, deliberative and interpretive methods.

This will:

– Provide a more comprehensive valuation of ecosystem services

– Illustrate complexities of the socio-ecological system and focus management.



(3) Cultural ecosystem services are gaining momentum…. but they are still frequently overlooked in decision making

Cultural ecosystem services (CES)

“The contributions ecosystems make to human well-being in terms of identities they help frame, the experiences they help enable and the capabilities they help equip” (Dr Rob Fish). 

The ESEE 2015 hosted a special session on Cultural Ecosystem Services (‘Cultural Ecosystem Services: Frontiers in theory and practice).   This session highlighted the range of methods that have been used to capture cultural value and also the diversity of case studies to date.

David Edwards: Beautiful images and quotes from arts-science collaboration on cultural ES @ForestryCommEng #ESEE2015 pic.twitter.com/Hp7zcXGrDS

Vineyard landscapes


However they are still frequently overlooked in decision making, potentially due to existing barriers and challenges:



(4) But Environment agencies ARE taking account of ecosystem services

Environment agencies are engaging with the ecosystem approach and the identification of ecosystem services across the devolved administrations. They are even taking account of the less visible and more challenging values-  for example cultural ecosystem services (CES).

Representatives from Natural England, Natural Resources Wales and the Forestry Commission presented the two approaches they have adopted to take account of cultural ecosystem services (CES)

(a) By incorporating and translating CES into existing management and planning processes and practices.

The Forestry Commission and Natural England are primarily taken this approach and presented a range of examples.

Forestry Commission:

– A team has been focusing on CES, in the context of the use and enjoyment of woodlands, green infrastructure and cultural heritage and landscape.

– Land management projects such as Neroche Landscape Partnership Scheme (LPS) bring together stakeholders (e.g. Blackdown Hills in South West England) and have provided a successful approach to understanding CES.

Natural England

– Natural England created ‘upland ecosystem service pilots’ in order to test the Ecosystem approach on the ground and have developed a methodology for implementing it.

– The project used a range of national and local data to identify CES and demonstrated that investment in the natural environment can result in multiple benefits for wildlife, people and society in a cost effective way (see report for more information).

– Overall the work helped to make the link between changes in land management and service provision, and involved local people in decision making.

(b) By Developing and trialling new methods based on the Ecosystem Approach.

Natural Resources Wales (NRW) have primarily taken this approach and have adopted a new Natural Resource Management Planning based on an Ecosystem Approach.

– Natural resource management trials have been set up in three catchments (Dyfi, Rhondda and Tawe) and will test all aspects of the Ecosystem Approach (including the integration of CES into delivery).

– The trials will draw on previous work on CES (g. NEA follow on projects) and will work out how to fully take the ‘theory into practice’.

However, future work is still required to ensure that the concept of cultural ecosystem services is resonating with ministers. Do we need to tackle the issue of scale?

(5) We need to advance our understanding of the importance and value of the environment to human health and wellbeing

Progress in the UK has long been measured by GDP and other economic metrics such as employment rate. However to get a fuller picture of the health of society and its pathway to sustainable development, we need more attempts to measure and quantify the well-being of citizens. Many sustainable development indicators are particularly relevant to well-being, highlighting how integral it is already to sustainable development.

Dr Jasper Kenter presented his recent study which captured environmental effects on subjective well-being. The study found a correlation between subjective wellbeing and the number of species of conservation concern in Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in Scotland.

However, all in all, there is a marked lack of evidence. Future research is needed to significantly advance our understanding of the importance and value of the environment for human health and wellbeing. This will help to make steps towards turning this understanding into metrics that policy-makers can use to ensure the benefits are available for current and future generations to enjoy. Overall, this will help to inform policy, planning and the management of our environment.

BES and Natural Capital

‘Natural Capital’ is one of the BES’s six policy areas, complementing the overarching priorities of promoting scientific evidence in policy-making and fostering interdisciplinarity and knowledge exchange. The BES is part of the Natural Capital Initiative (NCI), a partnership between the British Ecological Society, Society of Biology, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, and the James Hutton Institute. The NCI aims to support decision-making that results in the sustainable management of our natural capital based on sound science. The NCI aim to do this by: (1) initiating and facilitating dialogue between people from academia, policy, business and civil society and (2) communicating independent, authoritative synthesis and evaluation of the scientific evidence base.

Click here for further information about the NCI, upcoming events and how to get involved.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Looking forward to 2020: A route map for Scotland’s biodiversity

In October 2010, the world’s governments met in Aichi to establish twenty targets aimed at halting global biodiversity loss by the end of the decade. Now, halfway through the UN Decade of Biodiversity, and with just five years (or at the time of writing, 1998 days) remaining until the 2020 deadline for meeting the Aichi Targets, national and international institutions are taking stock of their progress towards these goals.

Globally, the picture is mixed. Last year’s Global Biodiversity Outlook 4 found that while significant progress is being made towards many of the targets, current trends suggest that we will fall short of meeting them. Similarly, in Europe, the recent State of Nature in the EU report stated that despite many examples of the positive impacts of the European Nature Directives and the Natura 2000 network, overall we are not on track to halt the loss of biodiversity and degradation of ecosystem services on the continent by 2020.

Meeting the 2020 Challenge

In the UK, biodiversity policy is a devolved matter, and last week the Scottish Government released  Scotland’s Biodiversity: a Route Map to 2020, setting out the priority themes and actions for delivering the 2020 Challenge for Scotland’s Biodiversity, the Government’s 2013 response to the Aichi Targets. The Route Map identifies six “Big Steps for Nature” intended to improve the state of nature in Scotland and secure the benefits biodiversity brings to the nation’s wellbeing and prosperity. The document will be periodically updated to report on progress and outline further planned work.

The six “Big Steps for Nature” are:

1. “Ecosystem restoration: to reverse historical losses of habitats and ecosystems, to meet the Aichi target of restoring 15% of degraded ecosystems”. Priorities include the restoration of peatland through the implementation of the National Peatland Plan, and the restoration of native woodland and freshwaters.

2. “Investment in natural capital: to ensure the benefits which nature provides are better understood and appreciated, leading to better management of our renewable and non-renewable natural assets”. Specific projects are focused on engaging businesses by demonstrating the benefits of improving natural capital and securing investment, for example through the Peatland Carbon Code.

3. “Quality greenspace for health and education benefits: to ensure that the majority of people derive increased benefits from contact with nature where they live and work”. Ongoing and planned activities are directed towards increasing participation in outdoor recreation and volunteering, outdoor learning in primary and secondary schools, and promoting use of the “natural” health service.

4. “Conserving wildlife in Scotland: to secure the future of priority habitats and species”. Actions aim to improve the condition of protected sites – with an aim of securing 80% of features in favourable condition – and to drive conservation of protected species ranging from the freshwater pearl mussel to red squirrels and hen harriers. Future planned activity new strategies for pollinators and plant health.

5. “Sustainable management of land and freshwater: to ensure that environmental, social and economic elements are well balanced”. Primary concerns include improving habitat connectivity by developing a national ecological network, and enhancing sustainable land management through the Common Agricultural Policy.

6. “Sustainable management of marine and coastal ecosystems: to secure a healthy balance between environmental, social and economic elements”. Central to this aim is the completion of Scotland’s network of Marine Protected Areas, encompassing 10% of the nation’s seas.

Monitoring in Action

The route map is ambitious and clear in its aims, but implementation and effective monitoring of success will be crucial. At last year’s Protecting Scotland’s Biodiversity: Monitoring in Action conference, co-organised by the BES Scottish Policy Group, while the extent of the challenge of effectively tracking environmental change with limited resources was evident, the embrace of innovative new technologies and openness to collaboration suggested a productive way forward. The Route Map identifies two sets of indicators that will be used to monitor progress: Scotland’s Biodiversity State Indicators and Scotland’s Biodiversity Engagement Indicators, with a new set of Ecosystem Health Indicators also under development.

Sound ecological science will be essential to informing the delivery and evaluation of the Route Map, and the BES Scottish Policy Group will continue to find ways to inform the development of environmental policy in Scotland, and foster dialogue between scientists and policymakers. Keep your eyes peeled for new events to be announced soon, including the next edition of “Pie and a Pint”, and a workshop at the BES Annual Meeting in Edinburgh. If you would like to get involved with the Scottish Policy Group or have an idea for an event, please get in touch.

Find out more about the Scottish Policy Group

Posted in 2020 Biodiversity Target, Biodiversity, Scotland | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fishing and marine protection: What’s the catch?


“Our seas are undergoing ecological meltdown. Fishing is undermining itself by purging the oceans of the species on which it depends. But its influence is far more menacing that simply the regrettable self-destruction of an industry. The wholesale removal of marine life and obliteration of their habitats is stripping resilience from ocean ecosystems. Moreover, it is undermining the ability of the oceans to support human needs. Every fish and meat eaters responsibility for the losses and only by working together can we restore the seas’ bounty” (Professor Callum Roberts, The Unnatural History of the Sea).

The issue:

Our global demand on the ocean is rocketing. The world’s population is becoming increasingly dependent on the ocean for livelihoods, food and many other services. By 2030, annual fish consumption is likely to rise from 65 million tonnes to 150-160 million tonnes (19-20kg per person).  However, global overfishing has resulted in diminishing stocks and widespread environmental damage. Over years to come, how are our seas going to fare? Extensive evidence already suggests that our oceans have suffered significant damage, with loss of habitats, biodiversity and productivity.

On 23rd June 2015, the British Library organised a panel debate to discuss fishing and marine protection. The event was entitled: ‘TalkScience- Fishing and marine protection: What’s the catch?’ and brought together a panel of experts including: Professor Callum Roberts (Marine Conservation Scientist); Barrie Deas, Chief Executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO) and Dr. Alasdair Harris, Executive Director of Blue Ventures. The event was chaired by biologist, writer and broadcaster Dr Helen Scales. Here, we present the key messages from the debate.

With this knowledge, how are we going to balance fishing demand with our need to conserve the marine and coastal environment?’

(1) “By working together, we can achieve sustainability of our oceans”.

Increased communication and working between ‘multiple stakeholders’ (fishermen, scientists, managers and policy-makers) will help to improve sustainability of our oceans.

(2) We need Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)

The panellists agreed on the importance of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in our global oceans. There was also a large consensus that while implementing MPAs is all well and good- we need to improve our management of them. Effective management measures will be key to their success. Without management measures, many MPAs are “paper parks”.  


However,  our panellists didn’t disagree on the type of MPA we should use to achieve sustainability of our oceans.

Professor Callum Roberts:

Professor Callum Roberts is a strong believer of implementing MPAs with full protection. He believes that “fisheries management alone won’t bring back our endangered species, instead we need MPAs with full protection”.

In the case of the UK, Professor Roberts believes that Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs), a type of MPA, should be protected in full from damaging fishing practices. He has recently commented that the UK needs more areas with protection from mobile fishing gears and that currently these areas are “far too small to have any meaningful conservation benefit and will be impossible to enforce”.    He then presented the example of the Arran Coast MPA in Scotland, which has “inadequate management measures in place to meet conservation aims”.

Mr Barrie Dees: Whilst Barrie Dees presented his case for the use of other conservation measures and tools, instead of “closed (fully protected MPAs)”.

 (3) We need to grow our MPA evidence base:   


#1: We need to ensure that MPA development and implementation is based on sound scientific evidence.

 #2: We need to improve our understanding of the socio-economic benefits of MPAs.

Specifically, that there needs to be a greater understand of the benefits of MPAs- beyond that of ecological effects. Panellists discussed the need for human dimensions within scientific research. Assessments of ecological effects need to be coupled with studies focusing on social and economic benefits of MPAs and management measures.

(4) “We need to conserve the oceans, whilst maintaining food security”  

Dr  Alisdair Harris and Mr Barrie Dees both highlighted the importance of the oceans to the livelihoods of global communities. Furthermore, that food security needs to be increasingly taken into account in MPA and fisheries management.



(5) “Overcome misconceptions- fishermen are not barriers to marine conservation”.

Dr Alasdair Harris discussed the common misconception that ‘fishermen are barriers to marine conservation’. Instead, “fishermen are the solution to our fisheries and oceans challenges” and has been reflected by their work with Blue Ventures.

According to Dr Alisdair Harris: “fishermen have been fundamental in deciding appropriate management measures, enabling the plans to be targeted and specific to a marine and coastal region”.  Furthermore, that collaborative working has resulted in economic benefits for local communities, for example in Madagascar (see report for more information).

Key conclusions:

There is hope that we can successfully balance fishing demand with our need to conserve the marine and coastal environment:

However it will be one of the greatest challenges for marine conservation (and ecologists!)

Find out more about the event and watch the debate here

Posted in Aquatic Ecology, Biodiversity, Conservation, Ecology, Environment, Fisheries, Food Security, Marine, Science, Science Policy, UK, Uncategorized, Water | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is policy too important to leave to decision makers? The case of the Infrastructure Bill


By Sarah Durant, Institute of Zoology

In April, the Zoological Society of London together with the British Ecological Society organised a one day symposium, entitled “ The Conservation Science Policy/Interface: Challenges and Opportunities”. Acting as the launch event for the BES’s revitalised Conservation Special Interest Group, the symposium brought together over 150 scientists, conservationists and policy-makers to explore how the links between science and policy can be strengthened. Among the speakers was Sarah Durant, is leader of the People, Wildlife and Ecosystems theme at the Institute of Zoology, ZSL. This blog post is an account of the talk she gave at this event.

Our society is becoming increasingly complex and, as a result, increasingly dependent on expert knowledge. This complexity has serious repercussions for wise policy-making.  While policymakers have to consider a number of factors as well as evidence and science, a policy that goes against evidence may deliver the opposite of its aims. One well known example of this relationship between policy and evidence is the impact of culling badgers on the incidence of TB in cattle; Rosie Woodroffe explains this process first hand in her blog. Often scientists are key individuals who have expert knowledge to understand and communicate what can be complex scientific arguments, yet they are traditionally reluctant to engage with policy. Indeed, DEFRA’s Chief Scientist has urged scientists to be giving further encouragement for scientists to stay quiet rather than criticise policy. But should scientists leave policy-making to the decision makers? The reality is that if they remain silent, then policies will proceed without the benefit of their expertise which, for conservation scientists such as myself, may be to the detriment of biodiversity conservation.


Corncrake (Photo: Richard Wesley)

The recent legislation in the UK for ‘environmental control of animal and plant species’ in Part 4 of the Infrastructure Act is a case in point . This legislation was intended ‘to make provision for the control of invasive non-native species’ (INNS). It provides strong new powers, including rights of access to land for the purposes of eradication or control of species and rights to recoup costs incurred in such operations. In plain English this means that if I have some land that is harbouring a target species, and I refuse to control the species, and I also refuse to allow authorities access to carry out control operations, then the authorities can gain a control order to enable them to go onto my land without my permission, control the species, and charge me for the costs of the operation.

This legislation should not have been controversial for conservationists.  INNS are a major cause of biodiversity loss, particularly for islands, and the UK government has been slow to introduce powerful legislation to control or eradicate INNS. Indeed, if these new powers had been entirely confined to INNS, they would have represented an important and welcome step forward in biodiversity conservation in the UK. However, at some point, the legislation was expanded in scope beyond INNS to include native species. When and why this happened is unclear, although it was not in response to the recommendations of the Law Commission.

Thus, in the first draft of the bill that went before parliament, the species that could have come under the scope of the legislation included all those species listed on Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act. These are largely non-native, but they include several native species – such as barn owl, red kite, white-tailed eagle, goshawk, chough, common crane, barnacle goose, corncrake and wild boar. Even more worryingly, the bill also introduced a definition for non-native species that are ‘not ordinarily resident in, or a regular visitor to, Great Britain’. This could include a number of extinct native species such as beaver, wolf, lynx and bear. In effect, the draft legislation fixed native species as those present at one point in time. Any that arrived later, either through reintroduction or by natural colonisation, could face a risk of control or eradication.

Of course, those species that are most likely to be targets for such legislation are unlikely to be a random cross section of biodiversity. It seems doubtful, for example, that the government would grant a control order for the endearing and unproblematic corncrake. Predators are much more likely candidates, and powerful pressures could be brought to bear to encourage the issuing of control orders for any predator species likely to be caught red-clawed with a pheasant or grouse, for example. Anyone who doubts this would do well to reflect on the recent well-publicised demise of the hen harrier in England, despite its highly protected status. But predators are not the only likely targets; others include keystone species, such as beavers and wild boar, which have gained a fragile toehold in the UK. Predators and keystone species play key roles in ecosystems, and make important contributions to biodiversity. Should the UK be allowed to set a precedent of erecting legal barriers to the restoration of these species when many other countries in Europe are grappling with the messy problems of addressing human–wildlife conflict and finding ways to promote coexistence?

As scientists it was relatively easy to point out these problems in the draft Infrastructure Bill, which I, and a number of colleagues, did in our correspondence to Nature. Less straightforward was finding a solution, particularly given that parliament debates and subsequent discussions demonstrated that removing native species entirely from the scope of the legislation was a red line for politicians. Fortunately, after our letter, and to the credit of DEFRA, scientists and NGOs were able to establish a constructive dialogue with the government. But it was impossible to move forward without turning scientific criticism into constructive solutions. This sounds easy enough, but the law around these issues is messy, centred on the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and its countless subsequent modifications. When talking to time-stretched policymakers, it was important that we were as specific as possible in suggestions for revisions.

Through this dialogue, the problematical definition of non-native species was removed; all native species listed on Schedule 9 (except wild boar) were put outside scope; any animals that were in a location as a result of a licensed reintroduction were also put outside scope; and native species subject to the legislation were dealt with separately to INNS. In addition, native species are now subject to a stronger test prior to the granting of a species control order or agreement (SCO or SCA) compared with INNS. However, there are still a number of problems that we were not able to resolve. In particular, we were unsuccessful in removing native species entirely from the scope of the Act. We hope that this will not matter in practice, but it is a concern that there is now a precedent for including native species within legislation designed to address INNS, and this may have implications for future legislation. There is also now a new list – Part 1B – that lists native species that can be subject to SCOs and SCAs, and there are no clear criteria as to how a species will be put onto this list. Currently it only includes wild boar and beaver, but without objective criteria it could be perceived as a hate list of conflict-causing species that a powerful land owning elite may wish to keep out of this island.

Wild Boar (Photo: Maigheach-gheal)

Wild Boar (Photo: Maigheach-gheal)

The government would argue that unlicensed reintroductions are unwelcome, and they have a point. Conservation scientists would clearly prefer a licensed reintroduction program for wild boar and beaver to the present situation in the UK resulting from illegal releases. This would ensure that the good genetic stock are used (avoiding current concerns of domestic pig/boar hybrids); the most appropriate sites are selected; and the animals’ health is assured. The Infrastructure Act will now make it much harder for unlicensed or accidental reintroductions to succeed. This is not a bad consequence, but it seems fair that, in return, to expect the government to stop dragging its feet in reintroductions, and become more proactive in restoring lost biodiversity back to the UK.

Other outstanding issues with this part of the Infrastructure Act relate to its effectiveness at addressing plant INNS. While SCOs and SCAs can be brought against animal species without them being separately listed on Schedule 9, a plant species has to be listed before a SCO or SCA can be brought, adding potential delays. Finally, it is unclear whether a SCO or SCA could be brought about against species listed in Annex IV of the Habitats Directive, as Article 12 prohibits the killing of such species. Annex IV species include beaver, as well as other potential candidates for reintroduction in the UK such as lynx.

Despite these provisos, the legislation is substantially improved, and is no longer a threat to existing native species, or an impediment to future reintroductions. What did I learn from this process? A number of things, in no particular order: 1) Published science helps –a letter from scientific experts has gravitas, and can gain the attention of policymakers, particularly if it is backed up by press interest;  2) If scientists criticise, wherever possible, they should also make efforts to engage with policymakers and legislators in the search for constructive solutions; 3) Law may appear daunting, and good legal advice is important, but law is ultimately based on logic, and scientists are good at logic and should not be put off; 4) developing a consensus across scientists and NGOs is crucial, so as to speak as one voice and simplify responses for time-stretched policy makers;  and 5) Policymakers want robust legislation just as much as scientists and very often a compromise can be found.

As scientists, we may have key expert knowledge and understanding that can help improve legislation and policy – if we don’t engage in this then who will?


This work was the result of a collaboration with John Muir Trust, RSPB, Plantlife, ClientEarth and Friends of the Earth. Within ZSL, Nathalie Pettorelli played a particularly important role.

Dr Sarah Durant is leader of the People, Wildlife and Ecosystems theme at the Institute of Zoology, ZSL. She also heads the Tanzania Carnivore Program and the Range Wide Conservation Program for Cheetah and  African Wild Dog. She has been working for over 20 years in conservation, focusing on developing effective and sustainable approaches to conserve threatened species. She has just recently become an Associate Editor at the Journal of Applied Ecology.

The views expressed in posts on this blog are personal to the author and are not necessarily shared by any sponsors or owners of this blog or any other person or entity involved in creating, producing or delivering it and no such party shall be held liable for any statements made or content posted.

This post from Sarah Durant is also available on the The Applied Ecologist’s blog and the ZSL Wild Science blog.

Posted in Biodiversity, Conference, Conservation, Ecology, Event, Invasive Species, Parliament, UK | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Valuing our Life Support Systems” report launch: the challenges and opportunities of natural capital

Barry Gardiner opens the "Valuing our Life Support Systems" summit report launch

Barry Gardiner opens the “Valuing our Life Support Systems” summit report launch

Researchers, business leaders and policymakers gathered at Portcullis House last night for the launch of the Natural Capital Initiative’s “Valuing our Life Support Systems” summit report. Chaired by Barry Gardiner MP, speakers Mike Acreman (Centre for Ecology and Hydrology), Rosie Hails (Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Natural Capital Committee), Will Evison (PwC), Bill Sutherland (University of Cambridge, British Ecological Society), and Ruth Waters (Natural England) offered their reflections on the key messages from the report, and how they might guide future thinking on natural capital.

The ethics of natural capital

The report provoked a lively debate, raising a number of key considerations for the future development of the natural capital approach. Frequently raised during last night’s event was the reminder that we must not elide the ethical and political dimensions of natural capital. Placing a value on nature, regardless of whether it is expressed in monetary terms, is not a neutral act, but is in itself a value-laden, political decision that can be contested. As several speakers expressed, it is neither possible nor desirable to express the full value of nature within an economic frame. It is important that we recognise the both the opportunities and limitations of natural capital thinking, and address the ethical tensions presented by monetary valuations of nature through open, inclusive debate.

Restricting the development of the natural capital approach to the realm of scientists, economists, businesses and policymakers risks a narrowly technocratic discussion. As Ruth Waters pointed out, a wider range of voices must be represented, including social scientists, but also crucially, the public. Public involvement cannot be reduced to merely convincing people of the merits of a natural capital approach, but should be a genuine dialogue that can influence decision-making. One example is the recent Public Dialogue on the UK National Ecosystem Assessment conducted by the University of Exeter, which found that while people saw the tactical utility of valuation techniques for influencing decision-making, they also expressed “general unease with making an association between monetary value and nature”.

“The future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed”

Now is the right time for these debates to happen. A common thread running through last night’s discussion – reflected in the summit “scorecard” – was that while we have made good progress in conceptualising natural capital, we remain some way from translating this into mainstream practical implementation. Engaging with the ethical questions provoked by the natural capital approach must be part of this process. In conservation practice, as Bill Sutherland highlighted, significant gaps remain in understanding how to translate long-term monitoring data into natural capital measurements and in assessing which “nature-based solutions” really deliver. In business, while a number of leading companies have made real progress in incorporating natural capital into their accounting and decision-making, only four of the FTSE 100 included even a mention of the term in their most recent reports.

A key finding of the summit report was the view amongst participants that engaging the business community was an essential component of turning natural capital thought into action. One of the biggest challenges, as Will Evison acknowledged, is in finding valuation methods – informed by sound science – that distil the complexity of the natural world into a form that makes sense to business, yet avoid reductionism or “dumbing down” and remain honest about their limitations. Second, there is a need for a move away from a monolithic view of business, towards a more nuanced approach that recognises the diversity of needs and values of different commercial sectors. Strong collaboration between business, researchers, and policymakers is vital for meeting these challenges.

The next steps

The natural capital approach is quickly gaining traction amongst businesses, policymakers and conservationists. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the Conservative government’s manifesto commitment to extend the life of the Natural Capital Committee, and work with it to develop a 25 year plan to restore the UK’s biodiversity. Yet it is vital that the development of this approach is informed by genuine dialogue between researchers, policymakers, businesses, conservationists and the public, and is underpinned by sound science and considered ethical debate.

The “Valuing our Life Support Systems” summit report offers an ideal starting point for this dialogue. Over the coming months the Natural Capital Initiative will be exploring specific issues in greater detail through a number of dialogue sessions – find out how you can get involved.

The Natural Capital Initiative is a partnership between the Society of Biology, British Ecological Society, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and the James Hutton Institute.

The “Valuing our Life Support Systems” summit report launch was supported by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology

Read the report, watch the video, visit the website.

Posted in Economics, Ecosystem Services, Event, Natural Capital Initiative, Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, UK | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review – Conflicts in Conservation: Navigating Towards Solutions

Conservation conflicts are rarely out of the news. In the UK we have recently seen arguments rage over whether or not badgers should be culled in order to mitigate the spread of Bovine TB, with farmers, scientists, conservationists, policy-makers and animal rights campaigners all involved in fractious debates. Similarly, just this month Natural England reported that the fifth hen harrier of the year had disappeared from northern England, likely due to illegal persecution. Thus continues the bitter dispute between grouse moor managers, who see predation by hen harriers as a threat to their grouse stocks and consequent income, and conservationists who wish to see the return of a protected species that has been hunted practically to extinction in England.

The latest volume in the BES’s Ecological Reviews series therefore arrives at a timely juncture. Conflicts in Conservation: Navigating Towards Solutions, edited by Stephen M. Redpath, Ralph J. Gutiérrez, Kevin A. Wood and Juliette C. Young, offers a new, interdisciplinary perspective on both understanding and resolving conservation conflicts. Defining conservation conflict as what occurs “when parties clash over differences about conservation objectives and when one party asserts, or at least is perceived to assert, its interests at the expense of another”, the book incorporates insights from disciplines ranging from anthropology to ecology, biology to law, all brought to life with a series of illuminating case studies.

At the core of the book is the view that the natural sciences alone do not give us the necessary tools to achieve progress towards our conservation goals. On the surface conservation conflicts may appear to be about conflicts between people and wildlife that can be resolved through better scientific understanding of the problem at hand. In reality however, they are predominantly conflicts between different groups of people; and as the editors write, they encapsulate “a complex layering of diverse issues related to different world views, issues of trust, power imbalances or latent historical issues”. Conservation conflicts present problems that cannot be resolved through science alone: they are messy, complex, and unavoidably involve human politics and values.

As such, an interdisciplinary approach to understanding conflicts that brings together ecological and social scientific knowledge, as well as the tacit knowledge of stakeholders, professionals and communities, is essential. The strength of this approach is well illustrated by the diversity of insights offered in the different chapters of Conflicts in Conservation. For example, taking an approach grounded in political ecology, William M. Adams argues that eliding the political dimension inherent within all conservation decisions, and presenting them as merely technical, is a poor strategy for resolving conflicts: “conservation is always and everywhere political because choices have to be made”. Similarly Robert A. Lambert highlights the importance of environmental history for contextualising conservation conflicts, whilst Herbert H. Blumberg places psychology centre stage. The importance of sound scientific evidence is not forgotten, with Stephen M. Redpath and William J. Sutherland asserting the value of high quality ecological information.

The depth and breadth of insights offered by the different chapter authors certainly give us a better understanding of conservation conflicts, but do they enable us to more effectively resolve them? A strength of this volume is that it doesn’t stop at understanding conflicts, but suggests steps towards their positive management. For the editors, this starts with a process of mapping the conflict: identifying the problem, including relevant stakeholders, their values and positions; identifying the scale of the conflict and understanding what different disciplines and forms of knowledge are required to understand the issue. From here, a process of “collaborative conflict management” is proposed, based on five principles: communication, transparency, inclusiveness, influence and trust, working within a process that involves all stakeholders, and works towards a potential solution agreeable to all sides.

Could this approach be applied to some of the seemingly intractable conservation conflicts we face in the UK? Clearly, there is no silver bullet. Yet by opening up the debate to recognise the complexity of these conflicts and the importance of both ecological and social dimensions, this book offers a strong starting point.

Conflicts in Conservation: Navigating Towards Solutions can be ordered from the CUP website.

BES members receive a 25% discount on the cover price of all volumes in the series, visit My BES Offers (must be logged in) to access the discount code.

Posted in Conservation, Ecological Reviews, Science, Wildlife Management | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Five Tips for PhD Students

On the 4-5th June 2015, the BES delivered a ‘Policy and Careers’ Training event for PhD students. The workshop was a pilot and was delivered to students from the Universities of  Liverpool, Sheffield and York and the NERC’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, enrolled on the ‘Adapting to the Challenges of Changing Environment (ACCE) Doctoral Partnership.

Catch up with all the key messages and highlights with our Storify below!

Posted in Conservation, Ecology, Education, Environment, Government, Parliament, Science, Science and Technology Committee, Science Communication, Science Policy, UK, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Debating the Nature Directives at EU Green Week

Hosted annually by the European Commission, EU Green Week is the largest annual conference on European environmental policy, attracting over 3,000 participants from governments, NGOs, businesses and academia to Brussels over the course of three days. In line with our strategic aim of improving interaction with decision-makers at a European level, last week the BES External Affairs team attended Green Week for the first time. With this year’s theme – “Nature: our health, our wealth” – focusing on the relationship between Europe’s natural environment, and our social and economic wellbeing, the current uncertainty surrounding the future of the Birds and Habitats Directives was the hot topic of discussion.

2015 is an important year for nature conservation in Europe. We are halfway towards the deadline imposed by the EU Biodiversity Strategy of halting the loss of biodiversity in the continent by 2020. Yet, as Ronan Uhel of the European Environment Agency outlined at Green Week, the recent State of Nature in the EU report shows that we are not on track to meet this target. Furthermore, the Birds and Habitats Directives, the cornerstones of European conservation legislation, are this year subject to a “Fitness Check” review as part of the European Commission’s REFIT programme for “better” regulation. Seeking to assess whether the Directives remain “fit for purpose”, the fitness check could lead to changes in the legislation.

Fit for purpose?

Given that biodiversity loss is continuing apace in the European Union, is it time to change the legislation we have at our disposal? At Green Week, Frans Timmermans, First Vice-President of the European Commission indicated that the idea should be entertained. While vowing that any changes would not lower environmental standards, he suggested that the legislation needed updating, to find “more modern ways to reach those standards”. This echoed the mandate issued by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella last year to assess the potential for merging the Directives “into a more modern piece of legislation”.

Yet for many of the speakers at Green Week, the response to the question of whether the Directives should be changed was a resounding “no”. Patricia Zurita, Chief Executive of Birdlife International, and Mike Clarke of the RSPB both argued that the Directives are “a success to be proud of” that underpin the world’s most comprehensive network of protected areas (Natura 2000) whilst also allowing for sustainable economic development. Their stance is that the Directives must be upheld in their current form, and that improved implementation of existing legislation is where change is needed. This view has already garnered huge public backing, with over 200,000 people already responding to the public consultation on the Directives through the Nature Alert campaign, backed by NGOs across Europe.

This support for maintaining the Directives in their current form was echoed by Elsa Nickel, Director General of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety, who argued that from the German Government’s perspective, the Directives were absolutely “fit for purpose”. She explained that while implementation was not always easy, and far from complete, the Natura 2000 network was now established and starting to have a noticeable positive impact, whilst providing certainty for businesses. Any changes to the legislation would undermine this stability and risk changing a successful framework just as it is starting to take real effect. This view was reinforced by Ronan Uhel’s summary of the results of the State of Nature in the EU report, which found that when implemented well, the Natura 2000 network is delivering clear benefits for people and nature. However, as the report highlights, only 50% of protected sites have comprehensive management plans.

The view that it is implementation, not the Directives themselves, that is holding back European efforts to halt biodiversity loss was further endorsed by Carole Dieschbourg, Luxembourg’s Environment Minister, and from the private sector by Dimitrious Dimopolous of Piraeus Bank. This view was not, however, universal. Pekka Pesonen, General Secretary of COPA-COPEGA (representing farmers in the EU) welcomed the fitness check and argued that environmental protection needed to better support rural economic development. He suggested that the rigidity of the Directives meant that farmers “fear” rare species appearing on their land, and that the Directives also need to be better adapted to changing conditions, such as population dynamics and climate change.

What does the evidence say?

The majority of evidence supports the conclusion that when implemented well, the Birds and Habitats Directives are effective in delivering benefits for both biodiversity and people, and the BES supported this conclusion as part of the UK’s “Joint Links” evidence submission to the Fitness Check. For example, Donald et al (2007) found that species afforded the strictest protection under the Birds Directive saw a reversal of previous population declines, with studies by Pellisier et al (2013) and Brodier et al (2013) also demonstrating positive impacts of the Natura 2000 network on bird species. Furthermore, work by Gantolier et al (2014) found that the socio-economic benefits of the network are substantially larger than the costs.

The Fitness Check is ongoing, and we encourage BES members to complete the public consultation, or get in touch if you would like to contribute to our organisational response. You can find the questionnaire online here.

Posted in Biodiversity, Birds, Conference, Conservation, Environment, EU, Event, International | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.