Wednesday 28 September 2011

Sussex Wildlife Trust / University of Sussex 50th Anniversary conference: The Nature of Change.

On 15th September this year the SWT joined with the University of Sussex for a major conference. We called this “The Nature of Change” because, as well as being our 50th anniversaries, this could be a major period of change for the natural environment.

Our conference was opened by Professor Michael Farthing, the Vice Chancellor of the University and then we gained a fascinating insight into the last 100 years of nature conservation in Sussex. David Streeter, founder member and President of the SWT, traced the history of 8 very special places in Sussex first identified by Charles Rothschild (the founder of the Society for the Promotion of Nature Reserves) in 1912. Looking at the detail of what has happened to places like Amberley Wildbrooks gives a good illustration of how nature conservation has grown in extent and influence over the last 100 years.

The theme of the conference then moved on to the major issues that should have a major influence on our relationship with the natural world in the future. Although they are not new ideas, concepts like landscape ecology, ecological restoration and ecosystem services have been developing considerably in recent years. We therefore received a series of four excellent presentations on these subjects:

  • First was a talk on the “Making space for nature” review into the functioning of England’s ecological network. A major document, highly influential to government, which outlined the failings of England’s ecological network and gave a series of recommendations for improvement.

  • Then there were two presentations on the National Ecosystem Assessment, giving an outline on how ecosystem assessment works and some of the key messages to come out of the NEA.

  • The last morning session was from DEFRA, talking about the England Biodiversity Strategy and how this is taking on the messages form the making space for nature review and the NEA.
The afternoon sessions presented a challenge to some major organisations in Sussex – how will they respond to this call for a much higher ambition for the natural world?

In the afternoon we therefore had presentations from:

  • Natural England,

  • the Environment Agency

  • the South Downs National Park Authority and

  • East Sussex County Council,
all giving a great insight into what this greater ambition might mean in practical terms.

It was a good conference, and I am very grateful to all the speakers involved. All the presentations can be viewed on the following link:

Of all the thousands of pages that have been written in the National Ecosystem Assessment it is perhaps the first sentence that is most important:

“The natural world, its biodiversity and its constituent ecosystems are critically important to our well-being and economic prosperity, but are consistently undervalued in conventional economic analyses and decision making.”

Our 50th anniversary is a good time to move from this to a situation where we value, restore, recreate and reconnect nature, for its own inherent value and so it can provide the services on which we all depend.