Blog written by Laura Turner, a Biology Masters student at the University of Sheffield.
Meeting the people protecting our wildlife: The National Biodiversity Network conference 2018
In November, the National Biodiversity Network hosted their 18th annual conference, in the gorgeous Albert Hall conference centre, and I was lucky enough to be sponsored by my university (the University of Sheffield) to attend. Before attending, I was excited, especially for the keynote speakers, but I didn’t know much about the NBN. I can now tell you the NBN is a network of passionate, motivated and intelligent people from different backgrounds, working together to assess the state of our wildlife, informing conservation efforts, new developments, local and national policy, and scientific research. The theme of the conference was ‘the NBN in a changing climate’.
It was my first conference, so I was a bit unsure about what to expect, but it was a nice small one with a friendly community which was less intimidating! There was, however, a bit of a divide between those already really invested in the NBN community and the students or business members in attendance. Some speakers assumed prior knowledge which contributed to the ‘imposter syndrome’ experienced by me and other students. Considering the wide range of people present (see Simon Rolfe’s lovely figure below), this was quite surprising. For the first day, we students mostly kept to ourselves, but we learned to make conversation with other people at the conference by day two. By the end of the second day, I was speaking to the whole group at large in the discussion session at the end, which shows how much more confident I’d become with those present. I feel like the conference was a very different experience for those already engaged in the community, but it was great to get a peek and learn about some of the work going on.
To summarise the events, on day one keynote speaker Professor Adam Hart, charismatic and energetic, kicked us off with a talk about the pros and cons of citizen science in academic research and science communication. Dr Sara Goodacre from Nottingham university described her work with spiders and discussed the need for a new narrative for our creepy crawlies. This continued in the afternoon, as we delved into the future of ‘Bioblitzes’ (collaborative biodiversity recording days held across the world, lead by experts and powered by the public). It was exciting to hear about so many projects engaging their local communities.
The next day, Professor Jane Memmott held the Sir John Burnett Memorial lecture. I was very excited to hear more about her research at Bristol, where her group has been studying ecological networks and urban conservation efforts for several years. Their most recent project includes evidence suggesting that allotments, over any other green space, are best at improving ecosystem resilience and pollination outputs in cities (in press). We also had talks from several sectors including farming, road management, water processing, about how their work related to monitoring and improving biodiversity in the UK. People from local recording centres with one of two staff members, businesses and huge research collaborations are all coming together to monitor and protect our wildlife in the face of climate change and other human-caused threats.
It was really inspiring to see so many people working to further our knowledge, engage the public and inform better policy. Over the two days, I learned a lot more about spiders than I was expecting, but I also got an insight into the world of biodiversity research outside the academic bubble. I feel like I really got an idea of the scale of the efforts the network is collectively undertaking. I was surprised by the all the goings-on that I, a student pretty engaged in national wildlife conservation, previously had no idea about. It seemed strange to me that there hadn’t been opportunities for me to get involved in this community before now. It was also an insight into the jobs available in the sector, and it was great to meet other students in attendance and talk with some of the speakers. I’ve since made plans with people I met at the conference to come to Sheffield to speak with the Nature and Wildlife society and get students involved in their work. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to peek into the world of biodiversity recording, and now I know what’s going on, I’ll definitely be getting involved!