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Monday, 23 March 2020

Reflections from Student Conference on Conservation Science held in 2019, Tihany, Hungary

Guest Post by Tiffany Ki, Student Blogging Contest Series 2019

From the 27th-31st August, I attended the Student Conference in Conservation Science (SCCS) Europe 2019, hosted at the MTA Limnological institute in beautiful Tihany, Hungary. The presentations, posters and workshops were fantastic and perhaps unique to this conference there were also many group activities, like lunchtime dips and chats in Lake Balaton. All participants of the conference (including plenary speakers) took part in these together, which allowed us to get to know each other very well. This conference helped me gain insights and inspirations. First, I will take you first through these new insights into my board game; and then into the inspiration to develop my hemipteran identification skills. 

The insights for my board game…

Faced with severe threats on our ecosystems posed by human activity and the general undervaluing of the natural world, as a researcher I see that conservation cannot be done without the public being on board – thus I am driven to improve public awareness of ecosystem services. I am developing a board game focused on highlighting the concepts and values of ecosystem services. Unlike common resource management games, e.g. Monopoly, where individuals can develop infinitely, the board game will first allow the player to conduct industrial development at no cost, but later on the ecosystems will become unstable due to the high biodiversity loss. Players then must pay the price incurred by the loss of these ‘free’ ecosystem services.

During the conference, Dr. Eszter Kelemen gave a plenary talk and workshop on the diversity of values people hold for nature and the difficulties that this poses for policy, such as in her work on the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). Before we discussed IPBES and values of nature, Eszter proposed that the word ‘value’ itself is hugely subjective, in that it could mean:

  • a measure (the most superficial), e.g. the greater monetary value of one forest over another
  • a preference, e.g. to develop on degraded land as opposed to primary forest;
  • an importance, e.g. primary forests are more important for biodiversity; 
  • or a matter of principles, e.g. conservation of biodiversity should be a priority
Most valuations of nature are just at the level of measure. Indeed, I had never thought of values as having multiple levels, and this troubled me as I could not imagine how it would be possible to embrace this multidimensionality in my board game! She further suggested that until we are able to use a pluralistic approach to ‘value’ nature itself with variable methodologies, it will only push for incentives in this direction and never go beyond seeing nature as a measure or matter of preference. We then saw this in practice when we participated in her workshop – each group had a set methodology and we all came to different conclusions regarding whether or not a development project on a hypothetical island was ‘valuable’. Needless to say, that afternoon I came to view the creation of this game as a momentous challenge, perhaps one that should not even be attempted as it was bound for failure – but then I had a chat with Eszter about my idea. She wasn’t nearly as pessimistic about it as I was. In fact, she thought my idea was rather exciting. It’s true that would be impossible to encapsulate the true diversity of ‘values’ for our ecosystems within this game, but it was possible to promote some of its diversity. This is a start to allowing people to realise this true plurality. As I develop my board game, I will continue to discuss these kinds of things with Eszter.

Another source of insight for my board game came from Devesh Gadhavi, who has been working on the conservation of the Critically Endangered Great Indian Bustard (GIB). He and his colleagues from the Corbett Foundation have developed a holistic conservation project involving a range of people, from villagers to politicians, that addresses needs from structuring crop rotation for the conservation of the species, to meeting social needs such as improving female literacy and providing 24 hour veterinary care. This has seen great success recently with the whole community coming together to care for and protect the GIB and its habitat. One of the tools Devesh developed is the board game, ‘GIB My Friend’, to improve public awareness of the threats and conservation interventions for the species. Hearing about his work has given me hope that my board game too might one day bring more people to care about our ecosystems and protect them. Devesh has given me invaluable advice on making my board game, and I have built a connection with a future mentor.

The board game, ‘GIB My Friend’

The inspiration to learn to identify hemiptera well…and quickly!

As a researcher interested in understanding arthropod diversity and functional ecology in order to develop management strategies to improve ecosystem functioning, I was truly amazed by the community ecology research presented at the conference. One thing I was confronted with was my lack of knowledge in hemiptera, given their importance to functional diversity, and I left the conference driven to put more time into them. I also anticipate I will be learning lots from hemipterist Jelena Šeat! I’d also like to congratulate Andreas for winning the best Community Ecology presentation – I look forward to reading more about it in his Community Ecology paper!

Finally, I’d like to thank the SCCS Europe team. I highly recommend this interdisciplinary conference to any early career researcher interested in connecting their work to conservation science! I greatly increased my understanding of science and policy in Europe, and befriended many amazing researchers that I’m excited to collaborate with them on future projects!

About the author

 Tiffany Ki is an applied ecologist who is working as a Policy Intern at the British Ecological Society, after finishing her Master’s degree at University of East Anglia (UK) in summer 2019; and she is the current Varley-Gradwell Travelling Fellow in Insect Ecology.

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