In my experience of biodiversity conservation, I’ve taken first and foremost that it is never as easy as it sounds. While a huge amount of work goes into field work and understanding the landscape ecology of an area, an equal amount goes into arguing and fighting back and forth between an eclectic mix of people and organisations. What I wanted to gain from my experience was an understanding of the behind-the-scenes workings of real-world scenarios on a local scale, and where better to do that than at the Conservation Council ACT region (http://conservationcouncil.org.au/ ). As they say:
“We are the voice for the environment representing community environmental and sustainability groups in the ACT region.”
I also got to do a lot of my word in a pretty hip office!
As a work experience researcher I was asked by my supervisor, Larry O’Loughlen, to delve into attitudes towards the use of nature. This idea was based on areas such as recreation areas in national parks and tossing around the ideas of “too much” and overusing land which is dedicated for us humans to get our dose of nature. I was lucky enough to attend a symposium on the Riverview development project in west Belconnen that crosses the NSW border. Present were people from the Riverview Development Company, professors, species specialists, representatives of the Gininderra Falls Association, Frank Fenner Association and many other associated professionals.
The experience of watching a series of suggestions, justifications and scrutinies from such a broad range of people, all with different goals and passions on a development was almost surreal – this wasn’t a classroom stimulated discussion where you were allocated a position and told to argue it, this was an actual discussion about the fate of species, habitat corridors, conservation borders, biosensitivity (a new term coined and discussed by Professor Stephen Boyden) and contingency. From this I realised that there are so many people to win over and convince in order to even begin thinking about developments in such a rich ecosystem. The system itself holds many key species such as the Pink Tailed Worm-Lizard and Golden Sun Moths, but also Box Gum Woodland.
In the symposium, and amongst the research I conducted on behalf of the Conservation Council, I found that one of the most important inputs came from the community. The community who are living there will be the people impacted the most, and next to indigenous knowledge (http://researchonline.jcu.edu.au/22707/), understand the land they’ve been living on the best. On a local scale, their engagement means a lot of the nitty gritty facts are picked up on and adhered to by developers, and on a global scale – a community opinion by sheer quantity can hold more gravity than the opinion of others and can often be the key to compromise, which I saw at this meeting and have no doubt, is present in bigger decisions having bigger impacts (http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10551-009-0360-1)
The study of urban expansion encompasses a broad range of people, and is in ongoing conflict with biodiversity specialists. In this field, I feel the wisdom that has been imparted on me in my time at the Conservation Council is that negotiation is imperative and middle ground (pun intended) is invaluable when balancing biodiversity, ecology and human expansion. There is still plenty of room to improve and progress in this area and I think there’s a lot more in store for West Belconnen, and the globe in terms of vicariously balancing conservation and expansion. If you’re interested in more on this topic, my research will be published on the Conservation Council website, facebook and twitter in upcoming weeks regarding attitudes to nature and what needs to change – so stay tuned!