A new horizon for nature

 

This week saw the first National Biodiversity Conference in Ireland at Dublin Castle – an incredible joint effort between the National Parks and Wildlife Service of the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and the Irish Forum on Natural Capital to engage people in nature. The conference aimed to get all relevant parties in the room to progress biodiversity conservation and restoration in Ireland.

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Delegates at Dublin Castle for the New Horizons for Nature conference

The conference opened with a powerful short film by Crossing the Line Productions “This is Ireland” which set the tone for a fantastic two days.

The conference both celebrated nature, and recognised the challenges we face through its destruction. It also addressed practical mechanisms for its protection and restoration, bringing together diverse parties including government, NGOs, schools, corporates, academics, the media, and everyone in between. It was an empowering and supporting atmosphere.

The three themes of the conference were:

  1. Engagement
  2. Planning for the Future
  3. Investing in Nature
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Wonderful artwork capturing the three themes of the conference by @EimearMcNally

On the first morning, the conference was opened by Minister Josepha Madigan TD (Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht). Then followed keynote addresses on each of the three conference themes from Ella McSweeney (Journalist) and Prof John Fitzgerald (Climate Change Advisory Council)​, and myself (my speech is here) to set the scene.

One great thing about the meeting was the inclusivity – nature underpins everything, and so it was fitting that a diverse range of interest groups, practicioners and specialists were on board. This was exemplified in the Irish Wildlife Trust‘s “Together for Biodiversity” awards (sponsored by Dublin Port Company), which celebrated biodiversity action by small and large community groups, biodiversity champions, schools, farms and businesses. Applications were assessed on their biodiversity impacts, the work done, and their impact on communities, and were overall of a very high standard – there is a LOT being done for biodiversity out there.

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Together for Biodiversity Award winners – Congratulations to all!

Parallel sessions were live-streamed for people who couldn’t or didn’t want to get to Dublin Castle for the main event, and who shared their thoughts via the #biodcon19 via Twitter (resulting in this hashtag trending for most of the two days).

At lunchtime, Minister Josepha Madigan TD hosted a high-level lunch, at which two other TDs (Richard Bruton – DCCAE, and Andrew Doyle – DAFM), along with other state bodies, businesses and stakeholders discussed their commitments for nature, which were announced at the end of day 2 as “seeds for nature“.

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Minister Madigan’s high-level lunch attendees

At the end of day 1, a panel discussed #1thing4nature – what is the one thing you would do to help biodiversity? This question was asked prior to the conference via social media by Yvonne Buckley and generated a lively debate among panelists on the day.

IFNC Director, Micheál Ó Cinnéide summed up the first day’s lessons learned in 7 L’s:

  1. Listen harder – to each other, and to nature.
  2. Learn – learn by doing.
  3. Link – networks linking people together. Linking climate and water. Linking economy and nature, culture and conservation.
  4. Lead – need government to lead. We have our own youth leaders, including  James Dunne. We need to take responsibility and demonstrate leadership. We in this room need to lead.
  5. Local – local solutions. Tackle politicians on the doorstep.
  6. Language – some of concepts of natural capital concept can be abstract, academic and remote. Make concepts simpler – benefits and co-benefits can be articulated to people.
  7. Love – we love coasts, birds, the land.. the bond is still there and strong.
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Jane Stout (IFNC) and Josepha Madigan TD (DCHG) at the opening of the conference

On day 2, Katherine Licken (Secretary General, Dept. Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht) opened proceedings in a positive, supportive manner, reminding us that the people of Ireland do care about nature, but that we still have much more to be done. She emphasised the need to protect, enhance and celebrate nature. She committed to working with other departments in government on related topics of climate change and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, to developing a communications strategy to “love nature”, and to do do everything her Department can to use the impetus from this conference to provide new horizons for nature.

We were then very fortunate to hear from three incredible keynote speakers:

First was Inger Anderson, Director General of the IUCN, and who on the eve of her talk was confirmed as the new head of the United Nations Environment Programme, making her perhaps the most important person in the world in terms of environmental issues. She gave an excellent, impassioned speech (see here), highlighting the importance of biodiversity for our food, health, jobs and economies, the stability of society, and our identity. She also spoke about the resilience of nature – how it can bounce back if we give it a chance to. She outlined what needed to be done, and the urgency with which we must do it. Finally, she reminded us that if we “get biodiversity right”, then we can secure food and water security, climate mitigation and adaptation, ensuring indigenous people’s rights, sustainable cities and communities, and ultimately world peace. She was passionate and inspiring – a delight to listen to.

Then we heard from Humberto Delgado Rosa (Director of Natural Capital at DG Environment in the European Commission)​, who was also Secretary of State for Environment in Portugal. He opened by saying nature needs new horizons, and spoke about the post 2020 EU strategies. He reminded us that there aren’t three pillars of sustainability, there are three layers: the environment/biosphere/nature is our life support system, without it, we can’t support the upper two layers of society and economy. He also reminded us that climate and ecology are two sides of the same coin – they are not separate issues and solutions for one, can benefit the other. With regards to the value of nature, he emphasised that there are both intrinsic and instrumental values associated with nature, and that the latter allow us to defend it – to show that natural capital is valuable to people. He said we should get a new deal for nature at the next COP in China in 2020. The 2050 vision of living in harmony with nature should not be changed, but we should think about where we want to be in 2030, aligning our targets with the Sustainable Development agenda. That these targets need to be SMART i.e. measurable, reportable and verifiable. He also spoke of the importance of getting the national implementation of the revised CAP right, particularly with regards to the design of Eco-Schemes for Ireland, which should be results-based.

Finally, President Michael D. Higgins gave a powerful address emphasising that the current economic model is flawed – we need to connect ecology, economics and ethics. He also told us to open our minds, to talk to each other and to listen to each other. To not refer to people as “experts” but as “specialists”, to make them more accessible.  He praised the conference organisers for engaging people across sectors, for moving out of our silos. He said we needed to work in an integrated way and that we need more resources to protect nature, because it underpins everything. He said our progress would be tested by the skills on the ground – we need the necessary humility of scholarship delivered into action, so that farmers can say with confidence that “I am doing this not because I have been told to, but because it is the right thing to do”. And for them to do it based on ancient wisdom as well as new information from specialists.   He also praised the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan and said he was going implement this at the Aras. He said new dialogue was necessary – he empowered the people in the room – we know, we have the actions and we can teach others. He also said that good ideas can be killed by administration (don’t we all just know that!). His speech ran well over the allocated time slot, but was well worth it, and received a standing ovation from the audience.

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Day 2 Plenary speakers and conference organisers. From L-R: Niall Ó Donnchú (DCHG), Hannah Hamilton (IFNC), Jane Stout (TCD/IFNC), Katherine Licken (DCHG), President Higgins, Inger Anderson (IUCN), Humberto Delgado Rosa (EC)​, Deirdre Lynn (NPWS), Ciaran O’Keefe (NPWS)

Michael Ewing (Head of Irish Environmental Pillar), and Tara Shine (Change By Degrees), patiently waited until the closing plenary session to give their impassioned presentations on the national perspective and “Our new horizons: a future perspective”.

Finally, a closing panel comprising Ella McSweeny, Andrew Jackson (UCD), Jane Stout (TCD), John O’Neill (DCCAE) and Ciaran O’Keefe (NPWS), chaired by Eugenie Regan (UNEP-WCMC), gave their sum up of the meeting, and their own personal #1thing4nature. Mine was to continue to contribute to providing the ecological evidence base, but also to work out of my comfort zone – work with other sectors and other disciplines to value, protect and restore nature. Yvonne Buckley then summed up her thoughts from the conference, and ended with a plea for the implementation of the National Biodiversity Action Plan.

The “seeds for nature” were announced at the end of the conference, before the audience once again rose to their feet with a standing ovation for conference organisers, Hannah Hamilton (IFNC) and Deirdre Lynn (NPWS). Ciaran O’Keefe closed the meeting on an upbeat note and urged us to go on, go on, go on…

Hannah and Dee

The event attracted substantial media coverage, with several articles in the Irish Times, including:

Undervaluing of nature has lead to its destruction, conference told

Forty actions agreed to address Ireland’s biodiversity Crisis

Humans cannot keep destroying nature and species Higgins says

Blaming farmers for risks to Irish species unhelpful, says environmentalist

and via RTE:

https://www.rte.ie/radio/utils/radioplayer/rteradioweb.html#!rii=b9%5F21514289%5F48%5F%5F

ttps://www.rte.ie/radio1/morning-ireland/programmes/2019/0220/1031639-morning-ireland-wednesday-20-february-2019/?clipid=103047898#103047898

https://www.rte.ie/news/2019/0219/1031602-biodiversity-conference/

 

About the Author 

Jane Stout is a Professor in Botany and leads the Plant-Animal Interactions research group. She’s based in the Botany Discipline in the School of Natural Sciences at Trinity College Dublin. She is Director of the Irish Forum on Natural Capital, and Deputy Chair of the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan Steering Group. Find out more about her research here:

Website | Jane Stout, TCD
Twitter | @JaneCStout
ResearchGate | Profile
LinkedIn | Profile
Google Scholar | Profile

Photo credits:

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A bee-themed Valentine’s Day

In response to a tweet from our very own Dean of Research this morning…

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Here’s my bee/research-themed valentine’s message…

 

Roses are red

Violets are blue

They attract bees

The colour’s a clue

 

The bees transfer pollen,

Flies do this too,

Makes strawberries and chocolate

So, insects, thank you

 

But insects are threatened

By what humans do

So on V-day this year

It’s over to you…

 

Grow native flowers

(They need quite a few)

To feed their babies

And to do what they do

 

Ditch the bug spray

Protect habitats too

Because we need insects

And insects need you

 

🐝

Irish Pollinator Research Network goes from strength to strength…

Following on from the successful meeting last year, we held our Second Annual Irish Pollinator Research Network Meeting on 18th January 2019. This year, 22 researchers from TCD, UCD, DCU, MU, TUD and QUB gathered at DCU’s Water Institute for 16 oral presentations and discussions about pollinator, pollination and pollen research currently underway in Ireland.

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From rare bumblebee ecology and conservation, to pollen modelling and forecasting, pesticide residues and impacts on bees, how weather affects pollinators, plant-pollinator networks and the value of pollinators to Ireland, this meeting demonstrated the breadth and quality of research that is currently underway on the island of Ireland. Several national and international collaborative projects (including @ProtectsProject, @FarmEcos and @poshbee_eu) provide formal links among researchers, but the informal collaborations and the feeling of community fostered in the network is its real strength. In addition, with expertise encompassing the fields of molecular biology, analytical chemistry, ecology and conservation, this network can address problems and provide insights that go beyond traditional disciplinary boundaries.

The network first formed in 2016, and actively engages with DAFM and the EPA, provides some of the research under pinning the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan and contributes to a wide range of science outreach and knowledge exchange activities.

All researchers on the island of Ireland who work on pollinators are welcome to join – email us and we’ll put you on the mailing list for next year’s meeting.

To find out more, see other blog posts on Campus Buzz and the webpages of the research groups:
Jane Stout
Jim Carolan
Blanaid White
Dara Stanley

David O’Connor

Postdoc wanted to work on Farm-Ecos project

Post-doctoral research assistant wanted for Farm-Ecos project (Farming and Natural Resources: Measures for Ecological Sustainability)

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Farm-Ecos is a Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine funded, interdisciplinary project, which aims to identify and outline the evidence base for novel, cost-effective measures to protect and enhance farmland biodiversity. These measures should increase habitat quantity, enhance habitat quality and improve ecological connectivity, from the farm to landscape scale.  Measures should thus help halt biodiversity loss and enhance the provision of ecosystem services. The project team, based at Teagasc, NUIG, GMIT, TCD and DCU, has expertise in agri-ecology, soil science, socio-economics and agri-environment policy.

We are seeking a post-doctoral research assistant (PDRA) to join this team and to lead field sampling and analysis of pollinating insects. The PDRA will be based in the research group of Jane Stout in the School of Natural Sciences, Trinity College Dublin. The PDRA will be responsible for fieldwork, insect identification, data collation, data management and sharing, data analysis and modelling, and writing reports and academic papers. The overall aim of this PDRA is to predict how farming intensity, habitat quantity, quality, and connectivity, relate to pollinating insect biodiversity, and to model the spatial extent of benefits in terms of the delivery of ecosystem services across the landscape.

Key skills

Essential:

  • PhD in ecology, agro-ecology, pollination, landscape ecology or similar
  • Proven ability to work in a team and to communicate effectively with other team members – the position will involve collaborative sampling, data sharing, analysis and writing
  • Fieldwork experience, preferably in agroecosystems, with sampling and identifying insects
  • Excellent quantitative and statistical skills, including mixed modelling
  • Excellent spatial analytical skills, including using GIS and spatial modelling software
  • Excellent written communication skills to prepare clear and precise documents and reports
  • Willingness to travel for fieldwork, including intensive sampling during the summer months in South-eastern Ireland
  • Full clean driving licence valid for Republic of Ireland
  • Language – must be fluent in English

Desirable:

  • Knowledge and interest in pollinators and pollination services
  • Experience in sampling and identifying flower-visiting insects
  • Own car

 

Salary: This appointment will be made at point 1 of the PDRA scale from the Irish Universities Association Researcher Salary Scales i.e. €37,223 per annum (gross) for 24 months, from 1st March 2019.

To apply: please send letter of application, outlining suitability for the post, and a CV including the names and contact details of two referees, to Jane Stout stoutj@tcd.ie before 11th January 2019. Interviews will be conducted 17/18th January (in person or via Skype).

For further information contact Jane Stout (stoutj@tcd.ie)

Bee baking – communicating our research through cake…

We have a wonderful tradition in Botany here in Trinity College Dublin – that of communicating our research to each other via a cake competition: The Botany Bake Off. Each week, members of the Botany Discipline gather to hear the stories associated with the cakes, to taste the cakes, and then cast their votes.

Members of the Plant-Animal Interactions Research group have contributed fantastically to this competition in the past, and this year is no exception.

Up first was Prof Jane Stout, with her bumble bee cake, which represented her plant-pollinator ecological research at a variety of scales: from the landscape, with its different habitats and floral resources for pollinators, to individual flowers and how their traits affect their value to insects, their visitation and pollination, to interactions with bees that forage on those flowers. From the colour patterns on the bee, we can tell it is from the Bombus lucorum cryptic complex, and so molecular methods are needed to identify the species.

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PhD students Irene Bottero and Elena Zioga then upped the game by presenting not only a wonderful cake, but a fantastic theatrical piece to go with it to describe their research which focuses on identifying the hazards bees face as part of the EU PoshBee and DAFM Protects projects.

Elena and Irene Bake off cake 2018

 

Emeritus group member, Paul Dowding, reflected on 50 years of research on various topics including air quality and pollen forecasting, and treated us to home-made buns representing various pollen morphologies, and home-made hedgerow jams from his sustainable farm in Co. Carlow.

paul bake off 2018

Finally, PhD student Cian White, presented his research on plant-pollinator interactions and how they are influenced by human activity in landscapes along a disturbance gradient. He used four different cakes to illustrate different intensity of human activity – from intensive agriculture to intensive urbanisation, to less-intensive agriculture and suburban habitats. And he told some tales about the interesting people he met along the way…

Cian bake off cake 2018

 

 

In previous years, members of the research group have produced these delicious delights… see details on the Botany Facebook page and last year’s EcoEvoBlog.

 

 

The 2018 winners are…

  • Relevance to theme: Mike Jones
  • Taste: Daniel Kelly
  • Effort: Irene Bottero and Elena Zioga
  • Overall: Cian White

Congratulations!