Landscape ecology: linking environment and society

The 19th ialeUK conference was held on 4th – 6th September 2012 at The University of Edinburgh, at Pollock Halls in the shadow of the iconic landmark of Arthur’s Seat. 

The ninety participants enjoyed an excellent conference, which was ambitious in focus, progressive in its use of technology and new formats, and very well organised by Marc Metzger and his ialeUK committee and University of Edinburgh colleagues. Two-thirds of attendees were academics, together with 19 applied practitioners and 11 people engaged in policy, drawn from a diverse range of countries and continents from Scotland, the rest of the UK and other European nations to Canada and China.

The conference programme comprised 33 oral presentations spread across three main sessions of thinking globally, thinking locally and lastly the old adage of ‘thinking globally and acting locally’, to use landscape ecology to balance our demands upon the environment through informed trade-offs.

Four keynote speeches – from the UK National Ecosystem Assessment, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Scottish Natural Heritage, and Scottish Government (in Stewart Stevenson’s final ministerial address!) – set the scene for each oral session and a morning’s interactive workshop session. The workshop used the ‘Ketso’ (or fuzzy felt!) technique for participants to collaborate and identify how landscape ecology research, policy, and practice can work together to tackle pressing issues of the world. Everybody had a lot of fun doing something different and generating ideas for a future special conference issue of the Landscape Ecology journal. Conclusions ranged from increased regulation of Scotland’s burgeoning deer numbers to changing the neo-liberal capitalist system of governance!

Other innovations of this year’s conference included paper submissions of abstracts only for advance distribution (rather than full printed proceedings), video-recording of the presentations, 5-minute ‘flash’ presentations for students and others to introduce their posters and work, and a tool to post comments and questions to speakers on the web.

There was a strong focus on ecosystem services, the Ecosystem Approach and climate change adaptation as frameworks to better understand, map, model, and manage the range of environmental variables, issues, and peoples’ relationship to them. Scotland’s first Land Use Strategy is pioneering this holistic approach nationally, giving impetus to the greatest land use change in Europe to restore woodland to a quarter of the land area and re-awakening the debates over re-wilding and control of deer numbers for example. Green infrastructure was also addressed as another holistic concept to deliver multiple benefits (including ecological networks) to people and nature across urban and rural landscapes. These subjects were explored in more detail through the two field visits: to hike in the community-led forest ecological restoration project at ‘Carrifran wildwood’ in the Southern uplands, and tour different types of greenspace in the City of Edinburgh to discuss landscape design.

Many thanks to the organisers for such a stimulating and rewarding conference, especially to Marc, for giving us the chance to take home new ideas, contacts and a little piece of Scotland (my whisky miniature made it unopened as far as London only!). 

Rich Howorth

(Brighton & Hove and Lewes Downs Biosphere Project)