Vision, Action, Partnership: Reflections on the Landscape Innovation Conference

12 February 2020 | Posted in Guest blogger , Landscape Innovation
Vision, Action, Partnership: Reflections on the Landscape Innovation Conference
© Shelly Dewhurst

Guest blog By Dr Chris Sandom

Senior Lecturer University of Sussex and Sussex Sustainability Research Programme Researcher

I was really excited to be invited by Fran Southgate from the Sussex Wildlife Trust to help organise and host the Landscape Innovation Conference. Innovation was a word that was on my mind. New ideas for our landscapes seem a key ingredient to tackling the big challenges of climate change, biodiversity loss and sustainable living. Now the conference is complete I want to share a few thoughts.

My big take home messages from the Landscape Innovation Conference are:

  1. We need a hopeful and ambitious vision of the future that we can all imagine and get behind;
  2. There is an urgent need to turn enthusiasm into more action on the ground; and,
  3. We will only make landscape scale progress by building partnerships and working together.

While preparing for the conference I spent some time exploring possible visions of the future, and the conference itself really reinforced my feeling that we are in need of a hopeful vision to unite around. It seems we’re not the only ones. Looking into it, visions for the future are emerging left, right, and centre.

The Wildlife Trusts envisage a UK Nature Recovery Network that brings wildlife back to all parts of our lives. The NFU has a Net Zero Emissions vision for 2040. There is the Nature Needs Half campaign that aims to protect 50% of the Earth’s surface for nature. A group has put forward the Conservation Hierarchy as a process to help individuals and organisations avoid, minimise, remediate, and offset negative impacts on nature to achieve net positive outcomes in everything that they do. The Green New Deal imagines an economic system that seeks justice for people and nature. These are but a few.

At the Conference we entrusted Bella Lack (click on speakers names to access recording; for Bella start recording at 16 mins) to paint us a hopeful picture of the future. She did not disappoint. Bella is an inspiring 17 year old conservation advocate with an impressive Twitter following. She began by playing a dawn chorus and shared her sense of disappointment of never experiencing the nature her parents tell her about from their childhoods, including never seeing a wild hedgehog. But her eloquent talk firmly established a vision of a better, wilder, and hedgehog filled 2050 that we could share in.

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Bella Lack © Sam Roberts

The key idea for the conference was to stimulate the implementation of new and innovative action to help create landscapes that will help tackle the climate and biodiversity emergencies. I felt David Saddington(27:59 mins in) was particularly effective in his call for our collective personal commitment to action, helped by his impressive track record of making a difference ever since his home was flooded as a teenager.

But it became apparent that coming up with novel and innovative actions is challenging, particularly in a conference setting. Someone rightly highlighted during the session I ran on Designing Futures that I wasn’t actually talking about new ideas, just good old ideas. But it was also apparent that good old ideas are still new to some and that we need to share these ideas more effectively. The key point for me is that the innovation will be in scaling up the implementation of good old ideas, and maybe some new ones developed along the way, to create sustainable landscapes!

Fortunately, there are mounting efforts to share the best available evidence on different approaches to land management. For example, Conservation Evidence lists thousands of conservation actions and gives the best available information on their effectiveness. The Nature-based Solutions Initiative is also sharing knowledge about how nature can help solve these big challenges. On a smaller scale, I am part of a team trying to make rewilding science more available by summarising it on Twitter. There are plenty of other resources out there as well.

There was also a tremendous amount of expertise and experience in the room from our speakers, named experts, and all our attendees. Our speakers all gave fantastic talks. We had Bella Lack and David Saddington that I’ve already mentioned. But we also had Alistair Gould on resilient communities, Jake Fiennes on sustainable agriculture, Jenny Phelps on farmer and community led resilience, Robert Reed on sustainable diets, Chris Williams on natural capital, Tony Whitbread on a nature-led recovery, and Alastair Driver on rewilding and nature recovery networks. You can find out more about each of them here, as well as clicking on their names to see their presentations.

The diversity of speakers was something we discussed while organising the conference but failed to deliver on, after the conference a link to the Facebook group Women in Leadership  was shared with us which has a lot of helpful material in.

Finally, the need for partnership and collaboration in implementing actions and achieving hopeful visions was highlighted time and again during the day. It was fantastic to have a large and diverse audience in the room for this; all 300 places were taken and we had 100 more people on the waiting list. While most of the delegates were connected to conservation in some way, we had farmers, planners, land owners, teachers, researchers, consultants, councillors, business people, concerned citizens, vets, fund raisers and many others. We hope the ‘Ask the Expert’ session we ran in the final coffee break provided the opportunity for new partnerships to form that lead to exciting projects on the ground.

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Ask the Expert session / Sam Roberts

Conceiving a vision for a more sustainable landscape and enacting a plan to deliver it will take a collective effort. Farmers and ecologists, land owners and planners, government and communities, and everyone else will need to come together to imagine a better future and work hard to realise it. I’m looking forward to helping where I can and I hope you are too!

If you’re feeling inspired these are some things you can do:

  • Whether you are an individual or an organisation employ the Conservation Hierarchy to your decisions (it might not be perfect but it could really get you thinking and acting for better outcomes for nature).
  • Increase land use diversity by implementing unique forms of farming and conservation. Our research from Sussex highlights how a diversity of land management leads to a diversity of benefits for people and nature.
  • Implement passive or active rewilding at any scale. For passive rewilding, just let nature do its thing in a window box, garden, or estate and see what happens. For active rewilding, think about natural processes that might be missing from your land (e.g. rooting by wild boar, seed dispersal by megafauna) and mimic those processes as best and randomly as you can and then let nature take its course. If you’re interested in Wilding contact Chris Sandom and Fran Southgate.
  • Share your ideas for more sustainable land use with the wider community – Sussex University / Sussex Wildlife Trust wants to build and share a catalogue of ideas to inspire positive change in our landscapes.
  • Share your vision for Sussex in 2040

Finally, I’d like to say an enormous thank you to everyone involved in the conference. From a personal perspective, I’d particularly like to thank the volunteers, the University’s conference support team, the Sussex Wildlife Trust, all the speakers, everyone who came and Julia Hoare and Fran Southgate.

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