Keynote Lecture: Learning from history: re-constructing changes in natural capital over the last century

This Valuing Nature Keynote Lecture was given by Professor James Bullock from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH). This 45 minute lecture was followed by a panel discussion and Q&A session chaired by Professor Michael Winter with Professor Rosie Hails Director of Nature and Science at the National Trust, Jonathan Porter, Technical Director of Countryscape and Professor Geraldene Wharton.

Date: 21 January 2019, 18:30 to 20:30

Venue:  The Wesley Euston Hotel & Conference Venue, 81-103 Euston Street London NW1 2EZ

Abstract: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” George Santayana, philosopher. Scientific reports and the popular media are replete with examples of declining biodiversity and degrading ecosystems. It would seem we know all there is to know about what we are losing and so the priority is to halt and reverse the damage done. But it is clear that the historical perspective of much of this reporting is generally constrained. Even in the UK, with some of the best long-term recording in the World, we generally compare the current status of biodiversity and ecosystems with a baseline of the 1960s at best, and often much more recently. By these dates in the UK a large part of the losses had already occurred. Looking further back in time will give us a better idea of what changes have taken place and the full extent of degradation to natural capital.

In Dorset we have been using a rich history of biological recording and habitat mapping to re-construct changes in land use and linked ecosystem services. Importantly, we have been re-constructing land use and ecosystem services at a number of time points since the 1930s. This gives detail about the dynamics of these changes and how the rates of change have developed over the past century. The resulting changes in ecosystem service delivery tell us about trade-offs resulting from how we use the land and inform approaches to restore lost natural capital.

Biography: Professor James Bullock is a Principal Ecologist at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology. He leads a consortium project under the BESS Programme (Wessex BESS) which explores the links between biodiversity and ecosystem services in the farmed landscape around Salisbury Plain through experimental and modelling studies on ancient grasslands, chalk streams, and farmland. James leads the WISER project, which uses data and case studies from sub-Saharan Africa to identify what constitutes the simplest adequate ecosystem service modelling framework to inform effective policy and management interventions for poverty alleviation. As well as being a Visiting Professor at Liverpool and Bournemouth UniversitiesJames is Vice President of the European Ecological Federation and Editor of a recent book Dispersal Ecology and Evolution


The 45 minute lecture was followed by responses from the following Panelists:

Michael Winter (Chair) - Professor of Land Economy and Society, Centre for Rural Policy Research (University of Exeter). Michael is a rural policy specialist and a rural social scientist in the department of Politics, University of Exeter. He has particular interests in applying inter-disciplinary approaches to policy-relevant research and in direct engagement in the policy process. He is Director of the Centre for Rural Policy Research and the Food Security & Land Research Alliance (encompassing the universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter, Rothamsted Research and Duchy College). He is a member of the Valuing Nature Programme Coordination Team

Rosie Hails - is the Director of Nature and Science at the National Trust. She is Chair of the Advisory Committee on Releases to the Environment (ACRE) and a member of the Natural Environment Research Council Science Board as well as Council member of the RSPB. She leads the Co-ordination Team for the Valuing Nature Programme

Jonathan Porter is the Technical Director of Countryscape, a company which combines the creative skills of a communications agency with the scientific knowledge of an environmental consultancy. Jonathan is a leading figure in the field of landscape ecology and Geographical Information Systems (GIS). He has contributed greatly to the emerging discipline of Landscape Character Assessment, having developed field survey techniques and pioneered the use of GIS as a tool for landscape planning. He is a member of the Valuing Nature Programme Coordination Team

Geraldene Wharton is a Professor of Physical Geography at Queen Mary University of London and a Chartered Geographer (Geomorphologist) with over 30 years’ research experience in hydrogeomorphology and hydroecology. Her research on rivers focuses on understanding the interactions between water, plants, and sediments and the impacts of excessive fine sediment on habitat quality. As a past Chair of the UK River Resoration Centre, she also has a particular interest in river restoration and natural flood management and is part of a team developing a suite of tools for the integrated assessment of river hydromorphological conditions at multiple scales. This includes: a river-floodplain reach-scale tool developed with the EA's National Environmental Assessment Service (The PlaceMarker Survey) for pre and post project assessments of river environment habitat and biodiversity, landscape, amenity, and heritage; and a sub-reach scale tool for NGOs and volunteers (MoRPh CitSci) and professionals (MoRPh Pro) to monitor the changing hydromorphological condition of rivers especially in response to management interventions.

Delegates participated in a Q&A session to round off the evening.