Bunce Memorial Symposium: Day 1

The Bob Bunce Memorial Symposium

UKCEH Lancaster, 7th September 2022

It was with a sense of sadness tinged with anticipation, that many of Bob’s former friends and colleagues gathered at the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (UKCEH) in Lancaster to celebrate Bob’s extraordinary contribution to the science and understanding of environmental monitoring.  Following Bob’s death in April of this year, ialeUK decided to hold a one-day symposium in Bob’s honour, by marking the legacy of his work in the UK and across Europe over 50 years.  UKCEH provided the venue and support to show their respect for Bob's standing, with over 40 friends and colleagues from the UK and Europe attending.  The meeting was followed by an excursion following one of Bob’s often used routes from Grange-over-Sands railway station to Cartmel. 

The programme was designed to celebrate Bob’s wide contribution across five areas: UK monitoring; International monitoring; Modelling; ialeUK & IALE ; Teaching & Mentoring.

One of Bob’s longest standing friends and colleagues, Rob Jongman (University of Wageningen, The Netherlands) presented a humorous and moving account of some of the projects and field visits they had shared together. His title, ‘' Uno mas por la Camino’ was a saying in Bob’s personal Spanglish dialect that had been used for Bob’s liber amicorum; it captured the feeling for getting near departure but still with enjoyable things to do before you leave (and was Bob’s way of convincing you to have one more beer before heading home).  Those of you who knew Bob will remember that he enjoyed a drink – more for the act of being sociable than the intoxicating effect.  Rob captured in words and pictures the highlights of their shared experiences especially in describing field visits to Italy, Czech Republic, Spain and around the world.

Bob will, of course, always be remembered for the development of the Countryside Survey (CS). Lisa Norton (UKCEH, Lancaster) rightly presented CS as a ‘national treasure trove’, an idea that was picked up by Simon Smart (UKCEH, Lancaster) who talked about Bob’s insight into the significance for biodiversity of linear features in the landscape, a favourite theme of Bob’s. Pete Carey (Bodsey Ecology - formerly, CEH Monks Wood) focussed on Bob’s gift for collaboration and his pragmatic approach to monitoring. For example, habitat qualifiers, introduced by Bob, gives us the ability to quantitatively and objectively assess the spatio-temporal aspects of European landscapes and their management; most importantly how they are changing and their stability. Claire Wood (UKCEH, Lancaster) focused on the earliest of Bob’s work presented at the meeting, the ‘Bunce Woodland Survey’ with the first survey in 1971. The Woodland Survey and other early surveys (e.g. Lake District, Cumbria, Devon, Shetland, Highland Region, etc.) and European (e.g. Spain) all have efficient and effective recording at their core and the unmistakable stamp of ‘Bob’. 

To Bob capturing the local detail effectively was fundamental to its interpretation at whatever scale was needed.  While much of his work was presented and used at a national scale, Bob spent a lot of time at Chillingham a park in Northumberland where cattle have grazed for over 600 years.  Stephen Hall (former chairman, Chillingham Wild Cattle Association) described the long-term botanical monitoring that Bob introduced to the park.  This session on UK monitoring finished with a short presentation by Steven Warnock (Landscape Matters) about the relationship between landscape character and CS, including a detailed description of the type of landscapes along the route of the walk over Hampsfell that was organised for the following day by Bob’s son, David, as part of the 2-day event.

The afternoon session on international monitoring, started with a wide-ranging description of Bob’s influence on habitat mapping in Europe by Geert De Blust (Belgium), noting how Bob insisted on the use of unequivocal habitat definitions and consistently following clear mapping rules.  Other examples by Philip Roche (INRAE, France) talked about three important European funded projects with which Bob was involved over many years (ECOLAND / BioHab / EBONE) focussing on some of the challenges of delineating major habitats at the 1km2 scale in landscapes characterised either by extreme homogeneity or heterogeneity.  Helle Skånes (University of Stockholm) and Felix Herzog (EAER, Switzerland) presented monitoring case studies from Sweden and Switzerland respectively, Helle presenting work on mapping small-scale biotopes from fine resolution remotely sensed data in the urban landscapes of Stockholm and Felix on Swiss farmland biodiversity.

Bob was instrumental in the foundation of the UK chapter of IALE, acting as Chair for many years.  His appreciation of the ethos and approach of IALE in landscape ecology made him keen to expand the group and offer the same mindset to more local British researchers.  His approach was always sociable and inclusive. The early years were described in detail by Peter Dennis (University of Aberystwyth), who noted that many of the colleagues named at an early meeting to set-up ialeUK had remained good friends and colleagues with Bob throughout his career.  Jonathan Porter (President ialeUK & Countryscape) brought the story up to date until Bob’s retirement as Chair of ialeUK and beyond, remembering Bob for his foresight in founding what has become the ialeUK that we know today. Emilio Padoa-Schioppa (University of Milan) finished the session with a moving and fondly remembered account of his long and fruitful working partnership with Bob. As Bob transitioned through the phases of retirement he initiated the establishment of IALE Europe and took on the role of President of IALE.

Bob studied complex systems at increasing geographic scales using multivariate statistical analysis as a framework to describe and model different scenarios.  Everything was underpinned by observation and sampling, and his models were not described by mathematical equations.  To him, expert opinion was more likely to be an effective predictor than a theoretical relationship; the application of statistical classifications also allowed the confidence in the results to be quantified. His survey experience gave him a deep understanding of the complexity of ecological systems. Marc Metzger (University of Edinburgh and membership secretary of ialeUK) took up this theme with a talk entitled, ‘How the Bunce land classification conquered the world’. And how right he was, going on to give countless examples of where Marc, as a young PhD student, was expected to develop and demonstrate complex models, all based on the early principles of the Institute for Terrestrial Ecology (former ITE) Land Classification of Great Britain. David Howard (CEH, Lancaster) went on to demonstrate how using the land classification system in the energy sector, Bob could suggest scenarios of change and opportunities for better land management.  David made the key point that that Bob’s models were always issue led, pragmatic, unconventional and, importantly, spatial.

 An easily overlooked part of Bob’s legacy was his skill and enthusiasm for mentoring, a debt owed to him by generations of researchers working in environmental research. In particular, the many years in which he helped with teaching at Charlotte Mason college (now part of the University of Cumbria), on their annual field classes to the Picos de Europa in northern Spain was described by Nigel Sykes and Heather Price from the University of Cumbria. Many saw the Picos excursions as ‘Bob’s holiday’ and they were an important feature in his calendar, but his approach was the same as he took to commercial contracts, delivering projects with the students that had rigour and importance.

At the end of the afternoon, Marc Metzger chaired a closing session with many, varied and moving remarks from participants. The day was a fitting memorial to Bob the man and his work, a day that all of us will treasure for a long time.