Europe is finally waking up to the fact that management of biodiversity needs active engagement with local communities, to encourage monitoring and management by tens of millions of local citizens who benefit in different ways from biodiversity. This realisation is partly due to exciting citizen-science projects such as the Eye-on-Earth initiative by European Environment Agency and Microsoft, and the Open Air Laboratories organised by the British Natural History Museum together with universities and other organisations. The strength of this realisation, to which initiatives of SULi members in Europe have also contributed (1), took me to three meetings in European capital cities within a week.
The first, starting on 14 May, was for the CBD’s Global Invasive Species Information Partnership (GIASIP) and was held at the Natural History Museum in London. The event was a stage in organising a gateway for information on invasive species. There are several databases that provide much information for scientists (2), but information on the biotic threats, potential introduction pathways and management approaches needs much better local dissemination if Aichi target 9 is to be met.
IUCN is strongly represented on GIASIP, so Dr Piero Genovesi was at the meeting as chair of SSC’s Invasive Species Specialist Group and there is deep involvement of IUCN’s Africa-based Invasive Species Initiative, with the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International (CABI) and Fishbase also partners.
The GIASIP meeting continued for two more days while my path took in Dublin Castle, in the Republic of Ireland, for a meeting under the Irish EU Presidency of the European Panel for Biodiversity Research Strategy, during 15-17 May. EPBRS is a forum for scientists, policy-makers and other stakeholders to identify and focus research that is strategically important for sustainable use, ecosystem services and wider conservation. The panel was initiated by European Commission in 1999, with its secretariat run until recently by Dr Martin Sharman in DG Research and Innovation. EPBRS ran an early e-discussion group, was very influential in the creation of the International Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and was seeking a new direction following IPBES establishment by CBD.
Discussion focussed extensively on identifying research needs for the new EU “Horizon 2020” research programme, based in discussion of EU Biodiversity Strategy targets. There were many expressions of interest for citizen science and community engagement, although the prioritisation process in working groups tended to result in these highly inter-disciplinary topics seldom ranking high enough for inclusion. It will be interesting to see how this is handled in the output statement. Dr Marina von Weissenberg, IUCN’s Vice-President, is a member of the EPBRS Steering Committee, and this meeting provided a perfect opportunity to talk with her in the beautiful Irish countryside during an excursion to Howth and the coast north of Dublin.
Travel to Berlin on 20 May followed an invitation to SULi to participate in a third meeting, organised by an FP7 funded EU project to foster collaboration in creating biodiversity knowledge bases. The full title of the pro-iBiosphere project has a rather precise description: “Coordination & policy development in preparation for a European Open Biodiversity Knowledge Management System, addressing Acquisition, Curation, Synthesis, Interoperability & Dissemination”.
This was a meeting of pro-iBiosphere partners and many invitees, again including more than one IUCN affiliate, and started with some brain-storming on information types and flows. It then completed a circle that had been started by a GIASIP brain-storming for needs at local level. First on the GIASIP list had been identifying “what is it?”, and the pro-iBiosphere afternoon was spent discussing “What should a flora/fauna/mycota of the future be able to do for me?”. It is becoming clear that the emerging interest in citizen science and community engagement is of great interest for taxonomy, which had become a bit of a “Cinderella science” overlooked by funding bodies. Through all these meetings there was a strong agreement on need to be bottom up as well as top down, not just for eyes and hands on the ground but also very much because many governments are not active enough unless pushed from below.
Robert Kenward is Chair of the European Sustainable Use Group and SULi Vice-Chair for Europe.
(2) See e.g. www.europe-aliens.org