By Asitha Jayawardena
Biodiversity was the third online seminar of the RCE (Regional Centre of Expertise) London held on 27 January 2022 via Zoom. The RCE London is hosted by London South Bank University and has networks across Europe and the whole of the world.
This was part of the celebration of 10 years of the RCE having gained the recognition of the global network of centres that are endorsed by the UN University Institute of Sustainability Science. Currently, 170 RCEs are located around the world and RCE London is one of the eight in the UK.
Earlier, two more seminars – one on Arts, Nature and Sustainability and the other on Storytelling, Documenting, Inspiring – were held under the ongoing seminar series, called Sustainability and Beyond.
“If you are interested in working with sustainability, please do check out the UNESCO website and look up the nearest RCE to you,” said Prof Ros Wade, Chair of the RCE London.
“The RCE network is a network of networks so the idea is we build networks locally and then those networks interact with networks elsewhere to build a critical mass on these things”, said Dr Neil Herrington, Independent Scholar and recently retired from the University of East London.
“When we think about the work we had done and the work that we would like to do in the future, the networks that we would like to build, biodiversity was something which we identified, needing to give attention to in terms of the networks and the work that we as an RCE in London had done,” he said. He organised this webinar on biodiversity.
Dr Herrington reminded that the first seminar of this series was about art, which represents nature and wildlife.
“I found this comment by Laura Cumming, which was published in The Guardian in 2019 in response to an exhibition of Whistler,” he said. “She said that Whistler famously despised nature’s rampant chaos. She said things like nature is very rarely right to such an extent even that almost be said that nature is usually wrong.”
“If art is a manifestation of culture, then maybe the representation of nature in art and the way in which some artists think about this might not necessarily be the most positive way of looking at nature,” he concluded.
Then he went on to the book by Jay Griffiths published by Penguin.
“Griffith talks about the futurist manifesto in which the future is described as solar flares of fascism,” he mentioned.
There is a link between art and the storytelling that Griffith does in this book, he said. “When I opened the book, I was taken by the first paragraph, which basically says, I wish that everybody who said that they believed in angels would actually believe in insects who tactfully and quietly remove the dead. Without them, we would be wading through corpses at every step.”
“There are lots that one could unpack in that particular statement because it’s not just insects obviously,” he added.
“We stopped doing everything except the very thing that had caused the virus in the first place again,” he went on. “Some discussion about which was annihilating the living world although humans are just point zero one percent of all life, we have destroyed 83 per cent of wild animals.”
“We have done so without awareness,” he said. “That led me to think about another form of storytelling.”
“The nature exists in its own right, whether or not we paint it, write about it or sing about it but we need to have some way of pictures,” he paused and asked, “However, if we don’t picture it in some way, do we ignore it or do we privilege some of the iconic species over others.”
There is a plenty of ways in which we can begin to engage with nature and wildlife in their real context, he said.
“Real versus virtual engagement is an important thing to grasp as well because it’s almost a mantra nowadays that wellbeing and nature connectedness are interlinked,” he supposed. “If you see images of nature on screens, the endorphins of the wellbeing are very similar if you are actually out in nature.”
Three speakers, one voice
Dr Neil Herrington introduced the three speakers.
Taking field studies online
Keiron has done a lot of awareness of those organisms which may be less well-known. He developed an interest in invertebrates through a field-based entomology module at university and became a volunteer on soil biodiversity research projects at the Natural History Museum in London, He now manages the bio-links project for the Fields Studies Council as well as teaching on a number of their courses. He also chairs the ecology and entomology section of the London History Society.
Exploring ways to meaningfully engage people with local nature spaces
Dr Paula Vandergert
Paula is the Director of the social enterprise Em | Path. She has led action research projects internationally, exploring what it takes to embed environmental and social justice in practice. She has worked with a range of environmental, developmental and human rights NGOs and regularly publishes in academic and non-academic publications. Today, she will discuss the action research work that she led in Barking.
Supporting nature in cities with biodiverse nature-based solutions
Dr Caroline Nash
Caroline turned her fascination with wildlife into her career as an ecologist. Much of her work subsequently is focused on urban wildlife, exploring ways to support biodiversity in diverse urban settings connecting people with nature. Her doctoral research developed a design approach that draws inspiration from ecologically attuned urban green infrastructure. She is a research fellow at the University of East London and co-director of a start-up connecting ecology which provides clients with the support and tools required for effective biodiversity conservation through nature-based solutions.
These three presentations are available from the link on YouTube:
Dr Neil Herrington held a Q&A session with the three guest speakers to end the event.
Biodiversity is crying for help
“This seminar series is an RCE event, which is a global event,” said Dr Herrington. “But it is the London RCE so it is sort of the global and the local.”
He went on that, within the seminar series, we know the way art is used to engage people and the way that storytelling is used to engage things which were picked up by Paula in terms of the work that she has done in Sarajevo and Nicosia.
Now engagement with biodiversity which is crying for help, he said patiently.
“It would be nice if we lived in a world which ticked along like it should but we know we don’t,” he ended the evening. “Everybody has an environment they aren’t divorced from it.”
Note: Neil Basing of London South Bank University managed the event.
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