NBN Conference – a first timer’s review

Written by Katie Utting, The Otter Trust

Sir John Lawton set the scene for the NBN Conference 2019, with an empirical illustration of the progressive decline of biodiversity. Since Charles Rothschild’s insightful establishment of Wicken Fen nature reserve in 1899, space for wildlife has been descending along the path of a ‘slow car crash’ culminating in the hostile ‘Agricultural Matrix’ of today. The increased number of precious reserves hasn’t been adequate to halt the decline in wildlife but the growing number of landscape scale restoration projects, involving multiple partners gaining momentum since the 1980’s, must.

I learned so much over these two days about accessing information to effectively plan conservation projects and, importantly, about the current limitations. As a novice trying to get to grips with data, one can often assume any confusion or data gaps are due to user error. However, during his presentation, Ian Wallace of the UK Caddis Recording Scheme and winner of the NBN Award for Wildlife Recording (Terrestrial) 2019, coherently illustrated that this may not always be the case. Interpreting biological data is as much about understanding absence, quality control, licences and resolution levels, as about the information presented. NBN Atlas Support Officer, Kate Oliver talked me through using the new ‘Atlas’ during coffee break. I’m looking forward to trying her tips when working on Otter Trust Projects around our central headquarters in the Waveney Valley. Equally beneficial was meeting with Sam Neal and Nicola Dixon from the Norfolk Biodiversity Information Service, whose expertise the Otter Trust will be seeking in the coming months.

Further highlights

Other highlights from the two days included the following:

  • An insight into the compilation of the “State of Nature 2019” by lead author Daniel Hayhow. This document’s compelling insights (so widely referenced by the media) would certainly be impossible without the capture, aggregation and dispersal of data by so many dedicated partners.
  • Professor David Raffaelli (Woodmeadow Trust) outlined the role biodiversity must play in expanding and refining the calculation of natural capital.
  • Tim Corner (Bristol Regional Environmental Records Centre – BRERC) gave an entertaining argument for regional offices to promote their services and share their data through the NBN Atlas.
  • And Tony Juniper CBE (Chair of Natural England) presented a great speech to remind us of the numerous conservation successes; if only the Q&As had not been muzzled by the impending governmental general election.

In addition, and aptly working the graveyard shift at 4pm on Thursday, was Harriet Carty of ‘Caring for God’s Acre’. Their work grabbed my attention. Remarkably, the churchyard in Lowestoft, which they used to demonstrate their online portal, is my maternal grand-parents’ final resting place. Harriet made reference to ecclesiastical exemption from listed building consent for certain religious denominations and the singular Faculty Planning System, used in its place. The Faculty System is underpinned by the Heritage Record System (HRS) to help inform the church’s planning and management decisions. Churchyards often act as island refuges for meadowland species amid intensive agriculture. It was a concern to learn, on the whole, HRS holds very little ecological data (with the exception of that held for bats). I hope to support the work of ‘Caring for God’s Acre’, by sharing Waveney Wildflower Group’s churchyard surveys which were completed earlier this year. Harriet and I discussed plans for her to visit the Waveney Wildflower Group to further inspire our members to collect biodiversity data from cemeteries in the Waveney Valley.

Despite the continued trend of biodiversity loss, the mood as we left was up-beat with the feeling the environment has moved up the political agenda. The Greta Thunberg / Sir David Attenborough affect did not go unmentioned. This event keenly highlights the thousands of committed individuals working passionately to protect nature. A key message from speakers was the ability of quality accessible data to inform compelling narratives. By capturing people’s imagination and using the language of decision makers, the environmental movement can underpin ever more effective change.

A huge thank you to NBN for organising this well-planned, fantastic event and for the generosity and warmth of all the attendees.  It was a pleasure to be amongst so much dedication, experience, knowledge and expertise.

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