ENVIRON 2016, the largest annual gathering of environmental researchers in Ireland, finished yesterday at the lovely campus of Limerick University. This was only my second ENVIRON, having presented the findings of my MSc dissertation at ENVIRON 2015 ( abstract link).
The theme of the colloquium was ‘Ecosystem Services for a Sustainable Future’ which aimed to stimulate consideration of how current research informs this theme and the development of sustainable policies.
A highlight amongst the presentations included the public lecture Pricing the Planet: The economic and environmental benefits of accounting for natural capital and ecosystem services by author and journalist Paddy Woodworth. He provided a stimulating overview of ecosystem services and natural capital accounting. He discussed the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), a study led by Pavan Sukhdev, which commenced in 2007 as an international initiative to draw attention to the global economic benefits of biodiversity. Woodworth quoted Sukhdev’s clever line: We use nature because it’s valuable, but we lose it because it’s free. Natural capital accounting is not without its critics, however, who claim that it reduces nature to market values. Woodworth also discussed restoration ecology which he writes about eloquently in his book Our Once and Future Planet . He described the apparently successful restoration of jarrah forest in Western Australian following bauxite strip-mining operations by Alcoa.
Other highlights of ENVIRON 2016 included keynote presentations by Professor John O’Halloran of UCC on ecosystem services, forest habitats birdlife and Professor Dave Goulsen of Sussex University, author of A Sting In The Tail about the decline of UK bee populations due to neonicotinoid use in agriculture. Of interest to me here were his findings that urban bee populations are doing better than rural areas. This tallies with my interview last year with Samantha Davenport, Head of Urban Ecology of Natural England for my thesis on green infrastructure in the inner urban environment.
There were many other fascinating and stimulating presentations during the two days. A minor criticism that I would have is that many of these did not refer explicitly to the conference theme of ecosystem services. The connection of their research to ecosystem services might simply be taken as a given by the speakers. I would also have liked to see more presentations related to environmental research in the urban environment. Although not as rich a habitat or spatially as significant as non-urban areas, the urban environment is where a growing majority of the population lives and where environmental issues can most directly impact on our citizens. Numerous EU and national documents highlight societal challenges related to the urban environment, such as the H2020 Climate Action, Environment, Resource Efficiency and Raw Materials themes, and call for research in this area. Nature-based solutions can address such urban challenges . I look forward to hearing more about such research projects at future ENVIRONs.