Multiple Values of Nature, Conference reflections

Mar 11, 2020 | General

Last week I attended the Multiple Values of Nature conference in Bristol, run by the British Ecological Society and their new journal People and Nature, together with the Valuing Nature Partnership. The two-day conference drew together around 140 people – scientists from various disciplines, artists and policy makers with presentations on balancing multiple values, values as a means of change and transformation in society, and engaging diverse audiences.

First of all, a big thank you to the all the presenters for putting across their ideas and views on these complex subjects, and to the organisers for bringing together this group of people. As with all good conferences, I left with a brain overloaded with ideas, new learning, new faces – and a feeling of being slightly frazzled.

There were many fascinating presentations and posters – see here for a full list. Here are a few of my highlights:

  • Tim Acott from the University of Greenwich presented a project which explores the multiple values of wetlands, with a focus on mosquitoes. This is one animal where you might expect to see a pretty uniform negative response, but Tim found a much more diverse suite of responses. The project has used some innovative methods – including transforming a disused bird hide into a “Word Hide” to capture people’s thoughts and writings on wetlands. Find out more
  • Rosie Hails from the National Trust started by reminding us of the large gap between academic research and its engagement and impact for businesses and NGOs. Rosie described the Valuing Nature Programme business working group which has explored this gap and produced a report on delivering cross-sector research and innovation. Rosie also talked about the National Trust’s carbon net zero ambition and plans to create 20 green corridors bringing biodiversity and green space to areas of high population. Linked to this is the work exploring people’s connection to nature, and the overarching ambition to get green spaces closer to where people live. This is such an important ambition, and I look forward to following the progress they make.
  • Scott Herrett from the James Hutton Institute presented a study which used Participatory Video. This study gave small groups of people video cameras and tasked them to make short films to show their views of green spaces in a small Scottish town. Scott showed a striking film made by a group of young people which showed the fear and potential danger of green spaces, a powerful reminder that multiple values of nature include disvalues which must be part of our thinking.
  • Cheryl Willis (Natural England) and Sue Ranger (Marine Conservation Society) presented the Living Coast project which explored the different ways people experience coastal access in Portsmouth and Durham. This work used the Community Voice Method – conducting video interviews and creating a documentary with the participants which show the findings of the interviews. The result is an output which is very different to a traditional report! The videos show how important connections to the coast are to individuals, as part of their history, family and daily lives. They also show how decisions made by large stakeholders can have huge consequences for how people connect to the coast – the example given was the building of a motorway which blocked access to the coast for a whole community, and changed the opportunities for these individuals and their families to get to the coast. I recommend watching the videos, this is an insightful project.

It was really good to see “beyond the usual suspects in the values of nature” as one of the three core themes of this event; it is certainly the case that we are often too focused on the familiar methods, or the views that are reasonably close to our own. My biggest take home message from this conference was that we need to employ a much more diverse range of methods in order to recognise these diverse values in our work (whether that work is research, policy or practice). Many of the presenters showed that going beyond some of the “safer” methods (yes I mean questionnaires!), or working to engage different audiences – business, refugees, or young people, yielded fascinating results which hold considerable value for those seeking to effect change in response to the ecological and climate crises.


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