Volunteering on the BES’s Scottish Policy Group

While getting involved in policy may take a little bit more time and thought, it is hugely rewarding.’ For Volunteers’ Week, Ruth Mitchell, reflects on her time and achievements with the Scottish Policy Group.

Ruth and SPG colleagues at the Edinburgh Climate Change Institute in the earlier days of the group.

Where did it all start?  

The Scottish Policy Group (SPG) was the brainchild of Dr Rob Brooker, who is now a BES trustee. Whilst he was volunteering on the Policy Committee, he found himself constantly saying “It’s different in Scotland” as, at that time, BES policy focus was on the Westminster Government.

With agreement from BES HQ and a willing band of volunteers, the SPG was formed with the overall aim of ‘Promoting the use of ecological knowledge in Scotland’.  

Scottish Policy Group events

‘Pie and a Pint’ events (PAAPs) were one of the first activities SPG undertook. These informal discussions provide excellent opportunities to debate thorny issues in an open, transparent atmosphere. These have grown to sell-out events and we now have to limit numbers. The range of topics the SPG covers ranges from offshore renewables, sustainable land management post Brexit, rewilding, social media, national parks and protected areas.

We also provide in person policy training and set up expert workshops. I could continue to enthuse about the many and varied events we did whilst we were finding our feet e.g. policy breakfasts where we showed the results of satellite tagging Members of Scottish Parliament, or policy lunches at Victoria Quay. My fellow volunteers and I gained great insights from our shadowing scheme and more recently our co-hosted fellowships with the Scottish Government.

Making an impact

I’d like to conclude by focusing on three areas where I think we have contributed to the BES’s policy success in Scotland:

Establishing a Policy Officer for Scotland 

Firstly, we established the post of Scottish Policy Officer, which was a significant milestone. Having a staff member on board has created many new opportunities for the SPG: more engagement with Scottish Environment LINK, organising the shadowing schemes and policy fellowships, and establishing a closer relationship with Scottish Government and other relevant organisations. 

Consultation responses 

Consultations always seemed daunting to me – so many questions, and I was convinced I didn’t know anything useful. However, we have worked out that we don’t have to have answers to all the questions and that many hands really do make light work. My couple of sentences with reference to a paper I’d published helped answer one question within a consultation, this rapidly became part of a much fuller response once other members had contributed all their little bits too.

The SPG has become recognised for providing an independent assessment of the evidence, without campaigning for any particular viewpoint. We have since got direct invites from the Scottish Government to respond to consultations and to help to shape them. To me this marks the point that the SPG is being recognised as significant player in the policy world in Scotland. 

Devolved policy 

The final area where we have seen real growth is the greater involvement by the BES in policy across the UK. It’s great to see similar volunteer policy groups set up in England, Wales and the island of Ireland. The success of the BES in engaging expert volunteers in devolved policy is now being noticed by other organisations who are wanting to do similar things – well done BES!  

The success of the Scottish, English and Welsh policy groups is due to the support, encouragement and advice provided between volunteer members, the Policy Committee, BES HQ, and the policy makers and government officials we have worked with.

Our science can be as great as we like but these relationships and sense of community is what allows us to support ecologists to understand and get involved in policy making and support policy makers in understanding ecology.  Thank you to the very many folks who have been involved in the SPG in so many ways over the years.

Keep up to date with the Scottish Policy Group

For the latest policy developments in Scotland and the rest of the UK, follow @BESPolicy on Twitter and the British Ecological Society on LinkedIn.