December 15, 2019

At the close of the year

After years as an independent ecologist, I have been able to discover that I have profiled myself as a connector between policy and scientific practices.

When starting as an independent ecologist, now three years ago, one of the first things I did was developing this website. While checking it the other day I saw that I profiled myself as ‘making connections between policy, science, practice and business for the conservation of biodiversity’. And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing, also in the past year. In all of the assignments I had there’s an element of this interfacing between disciplines, themes, sectors, actors and levels, which I happen to like a lot.

For example, my largest contract is with NEEMO eeig. This consortium is contracted by the European Commission (EC) and its executive agency EASME to, among others, monitor the implementation of the LIFE programme. This EU programme co-finances projects that help implement the EU policy on the environment, nature and climate. As a technical monitor I follow a number of projects in the Benelux that focus on restoring habitats and conserving species that are protected by EU legislation, including through the Natura 2000 network of protected areas. As NEEMO contact person on ecosystem services and green infrastructure my task is also to make a connection between the many LIFE projects and the contribution they make to other targets of the EU biodiversity strategy to 2020 and to society at large. This includes synthesizing project outcomes, presenting results in events (such as this year’s world Ecosystem Services Partnership conference) and contributing to publications and discussions with policymakers, scientists and practitioners. In our job to support the implementation of the LIFE Programme I’ve also been facilitating a number of group sessions at NEEMO events.

Linking is also a role of Oppla eeig, which I co-own with my business partners at Countryscape in Manchester (UK). Oppla is a science-policy-practice interface in its own right, serving as a marketplace to share knowledge and expertise on natural capital, ecosystem services and nature-based solutions between business, practice, science and policy. A major achievement this year was the recognition by the EC of Oppla being the EU Repository of Nature-Based Solutions.

Another important element of the EU biodiversity strategy to 2020 is its target on combatting the most damaging invasive alien species (IAS). In 2019 EU Member States have reported on the implementation and effectiveness of the EU Regulation on IAS, which entered into force in 2015. In a contract with Wageningen Environmental Research for the European Environment Agency and the EC I help develop and implement an assessment framework. The output of this is set to inform policymakers across Europe of key findings and trigger further action on IAS.

In my work at municipality level I make the connection between EU, national and local policy. For example in Beerse (Flanders), under contract to OMGEVING cvba I produced a nature report to specify mitigation measures for a road construction on the edge of a Natura 2000 area. This very much involved linking the stakes of policymakers, local business, citizens and conservation while providing scientific and practical knowledge to find a solution that suits all involved.

Finally, for the city of Tilburg I produced and partly implemented a local biodiversity monitoring network. This network is to deliver data and indicators that help communicate to the city council about the state of biodiversity and the effectiveness of local biodiversity policy. The network and indicators are very much based on experiences in the framework of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and, again, the EU Biodiversity strategy.

2020 is promising to be a very important year for biodiversity at the European and global levels. The EEA will publish its 5-yearly State of Nature Report (a sneak preview of it is not giving much reason to celebrate, I’m afraid to say). In its European Green Deal the EC has announced the publication by March of a new biodiversity strategy to 2030, to feed into the CBD conference in October in Kunming, China, where further global action will be agreed. And the EU Green Week in June 2020 will focus on biodiversity, where I will be involved in organising a session on how the LIFE programme contributes to conserving and restoring Europe’s most precious nature.

Busy times thus and much still to do to turn the tide regarding biodiversity loss. I’m looking forward to work with many current and new partners to add my little piece to this and help translate the paperwork into action on the ground.