Thursday 15 September 2016

BSBI at the State of Nature 2016 launch

The audience at the State of Nature launch 2016
Image: L. Marsh
On a sweltering hot day, the Royal Society in central London wouldn't usually be a botanist's destination of choice. But that's exactly where I and Kevin Walker, BSBI Head of Science, headed for yesterday, to join representatives from our 53 partner organisations at the launch of the 2016 State of Nature report. 

Sir David Attenborough opened the proceedings, as he had at the launch of the first State of Nature report in 2013, to which BSBI also contributed, with Kevin Walker a co-author on both reports as well as papers like this one.

After a few words summarising the report and thanking Secretary of State Andrea Leadsom MP for attending the event, Sir David handed over to Dr Trevor Dines, Plantlife's Botanical Specialist and a longstanding BSBI member

Sir David, Trevor and the Secretary of State
Image: L. Marsh
Trevor's talk was a tour de force, starting with Matt Damon on Mars and the affirmation #iamabotanist, and taking us through the changing fortunes of the wildflowers on the family farm where he grew up. 

He closed with images of three plants whose names were recently removed from the Junior Oxford Dictionary and invited the audience to guess their identity. 

All present were able to name Bluebell, Buttercup and conker and so could legitimately say #iamabotanist - but will the next generation find it as easy to recognise these common plants?

Kevin congratulates Trevor
on a great talk
Image: L. Marsh
You can read Trevor's talk in full here.

BSBI's data and analysis have already helped reveal the plight of once common plants such as Harebell, Ragged-robin and Wild Strawberry, which are now assessed (under internationally-recognised criteria) as Near Threatened in England. So the pleasure of seeing those distinctive blue flowers nodding in the breeze, or parting foliage to reveal jewel-like fruits, has already become a less common occurrence for children in England. 

The State of Nature report challenges us to think about whether we are happy with this state of affairs and if not, how we propose to turn things around.

Andrea Leadsom then took took the podium and there is good coverage of her comments here, here and here, including a commitment to "truly ambitious plans for the environment" and a forthcoming "25 year plan for nature" as well as using new technology in innovative ways. You can read the full speech here.

The panel - click on the image to enlarge it
Image: L. Marsh
The Secretary of State also confirmed "we must have good data" on which to base policy, which of course is where BSBI comes in, with our database of 31 million plant records, collected by thousands of our volunteer members, augmented by insightful analysis of these data by our Science Team

As the State of Nature report flags up, more than 7.5 million volunteer hours go into monitoring the UK's nature every year. That grand total includes the contribution of BSBI botanists!

A panel discussion followed, looking at ways forward, with contributions from the farming and business communities alongside wildlife campaigners such as Iolo Williams, whose passionate defence of the natural world and criticism of recent government policy and reduction of funding in this area drew loud applause.  
BSBI members always like to read a range of views and then make up their own minds on any issue, so you may want to look at these comments from the Countryside Alliance alongside this personal opinion from Miles King

Everybody wanted to talk to Kevin!
Image: L. Marsh
My personal opinion is that we should be applauding those farmers who are taking action to support wildlife on their land and working together to find innovative and cost-effective ways to help and support those who are not yet doing so. Farmers a generation ago rose heroically to the challenge of providing us with more and cheaper food. I'm optimistic that, with the right support and encouragement, the current generation of farmers will feel able to throw themselves just as enthusiastically and effectively into managing the land for biodiversity AND for food production.  

But that's just one opinion and BSBI's role, as always, will be the provision of hard data showing which plants grow where and how this is changing over time, alongside objective analysis, supplied by our Science Team, on which policy decisions can be based. 

Kevin exchanges ideas with Martin Harper, RSPB
Image: L. Marsh
The launch closed with an opportunity for networking and Kevin Walker was in great demand as always, chatting to colleagues from agencies and NGOs such as Plantlife and RSPB, whose Director of Conservation Martin Harper was kind enough to comment on how much he likes the BSBI Twitter feed, especially #wildflowerhour

You can see the State of Nature infographic here on the BSBI website and click here to download the full report from the RSPB website. To find out how BSBI can help you make a contribution to the essential data on which our policy-makers rely, please click here and here.

Apologies to BSBI botanist George Garnett that the serialisation of his 'Diary of a Young Darwin Scholar' was interrupted by State of Nature coverage. But as a passionate teenage wildlife enthusiast, I think he'd be the first to agree that the State of Nature report is very important and so we needed to cover it on these pages. The next instalment from George will be posted here tomorrow. 

I'll close with the logos of the partner organisations who contributed to the State of Nature report. BSBI is proud to be amongst their number. Can you spot our logo? 

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