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  • Fiona Smith

"Nature underpins a vibrant and thriving human society"

Dr James Murphy, a researcher in the Botany Department, Trinity College Dublin, shares his insights from a conference on valuing nature in Edinburgh.


I attended the Valuing Nature Annual Conference in Edinburgh (18-19 October 2017). The aim of this conference is to bring together people from diverse research areas and from business, policy and practice, with the common goal of tackling Valuing Nature challenges.


The Valuing Nature Network aims to better understand and represent the complexities of the natural environment in valuation analyses and decision making, by looking at the economic, societal and cultural value of ecosystem services. To achieve this, these events encourage the building of an interdisciplinary research community capable of working across the natural, biological and social sciences, and the arts and humanities.

Nature underpinning a vibrant and thriving human society

The keynote address was delivered by Prof Georgina Mace, Head of the Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research at University College London. Prof Mace framed the discussion well in her keynote address by highlighting the value of nature as an essential underpinning of a vibrant and thriving human society. She argued that we must acknowledge the multiple framings for nature conservation. Nature must be considered as more than just an obstacle to economic development or a passive victim of human population growth. ​ This theme of the inter-dependence of human society with the natural world was developed throughout the meeting by various speakers and presenters. Species and habitat restoration and conservation is both an end in itself, as well as supporting ecosystem functions and services. ‘Biodiversity’ (the variety of plant and animal life in the world or in a particular habitat) has multiple roles including as a regulator of ecosystem processes, a provider of ecosystem services, and as a “good” or benefit in itself.

Valuing Nature Annual Conference, Edinburgh - October 2017

Interdisciplinary challenges

Another general theme throughout the conference was the challenges and benefits of ‘interdisciplinarity’ in valuation projects. Nicola Beaumont discussed the importance of being able to translate complex natural science into terms which are meaningful in a social and economic context. The CoastWEB project was a good demonstration of an interdisciplinary approach including environmental science and economics, social psychology, art, policy and governance, to study flood risk management capacity of saltmarshes.

Many of the speakers highlighted the multi-faceted role of nature both as a provider of ecosystem services and as an intrinsic good, and the practical efforts to incorporate this into “on-the-ground” conservation efforts. These types of conferences represent a great opportunity for researchers and stakeholders from different backgrounds to get together to discuss the needs and opportunities at the science and policy interface, for biodiversity conservation and ecosystem management.

“Conservation means development as much as it does protection” In conclusion, Prof . Mace finished off her presentation with a quote from Theodore Rosevelt (1854-1919) that is still relevant for decision makers today: “The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased; and not impaired in value…Conservation means development as much as it does protection.”