Published on 15 November 2023
The annual RENEW Parliament convened on 8th – 9th November 2023, this year at the National Trust head office in Heelis, Swindon. It might seem odd to begin at the end, but the energy and activity at the close of the Parliament seemed just as high, if not higher than at the outset.
In what is perhaps becoming a RENEW Parliament tradition, PhD student and poet, Caleb Parkin, closed proceedings with a poem. Or, maybe, the poem was an opening. Playfully weaving the many voices that we heard over the course of the Parliament, Caleb’s poem captured how RENEW is an increasingly multifaceted project, which continues to surprise.
A poem in which we wash our windscreens of bugs.
A poem in which our blackberries crawl with larvae
And we hear the King’s Speech, with Chatham House Rules.
A poem in which we turn the crisis into questions,
Are frightened or excited by all these faces
Become a nucleus, spawning all of the Things doing exciting Things.
A poem in which future leaders are uncertain
of a future in which they will lead,
Of walking the walk of alliance and reliance,
That three-legged, twelve-legged race
To the garden where my robin lives.
A poem in which we remember the richness
of the unconscious,
See people from nature’s perspective,
Witness a full moon rising as a starling ephemeration,
Remember to look out our window
At a cinnabar moth, its personalized ecology of ragwort.
A poem in which we’re aware of what we’re not seeing
as well as what we are,
The intensity dimensions of sounds, colours, feelings,
Where we walk barefoot around this little hiccup.
A digital nature, a nature
Literary, negative – the spider on the slide – ugh!
A poem in which nature lives in
your neighbourhood, body, mind
Because a bucket of rainwater can be a beautiful renewal.
Our cities in the ultraviolet vision
of futuristic birds,
The wild journeys of seven seeds;
the shift work of the tigers on your doorsteps.
A poem full of things eating another thing,
A poem in which England’s rash of absences
means I forget what that ‘I’ stood for
Among the slow-quick quick-slow
of the pointillism of tree-data.
A poem which is an old-skool graph,
a stained-glass map of a forest city
Which burgeons into 2025, 27, 30.
Each year an awakening of Missing Youth,
of 100 Black Women Professors
Now, the work nested in the ferns’ vicious cycles.
A poem in which we do not pretend
the incline is the same for all hikers,
Where some of us know how to describe
a trunk and some of us, a tail
And we long to lichen our knowledges
and to log our disciplines.
A poem in which Alex the Farmer
has a recipe for sufficiency,
An inclination to know Nature,
Where a chough, a coal tit and a dunnock walk into a bar
at the side of a PowerPoint slide
And farmers unite through hedgerows for the first time.
A poem in which the landscape
is replete with opportunities,
Clusters of potential in hedgerows, grasslands,
Reversioning into upward arrows
of buzz-whizz and wing-flit
If. Done. Right. The final bullet point:
• Done. Right.
A poem in which we replace the word
tool with human interactions
And conjure tipping points,
metrics of Intactness,
What is here that used to be here.
A poem in which we measure what matters
And break barriers to understanding
With a scatter of dots, the computer
problem which is Me.
A poem with upstream effects,
A skyscraping skyline overspilling
yellow arrows of ecotoxicity.
A cocktail of energy by 2050
and not wishy-washy –
Where a change is made, its pawprints tracked,
the scat of its easily digested information,
Semielasticities and indices dwindle
into horrifying simplicities.
A poem in which you imagine some part of the Amazon,
The carbon here the same carbon here;
How do you think about this uncertain world?
A poem in which the ending is a surprise.
Of course, this is what we should expect from a project that purposefully invites academics, professionals, and participants to build ideas, interventions, and solutions to biodiversity challenges in a variety of ways. Charting the ground covered between the previous year’s Parliament and this one, it was abundantly clear that synergies, crossovers, and overlaps were not limited to individual project themes, but were apparent across, between, and beyond them.
Above: Images 1-3: RENEW Leadership Team – Rosie Hails, Catriona McKinnon and Kevin Gaston | Image 4: Poet and PhD student Caleb Parkin at National Trust, HQ – Building a hard-to-follow tradition of improvised event poetry. (Click on the image to see a full version)
For example, peoples’ personal experiences of being in nature have significance in the context of farmers’ relationships with the land, and how business managers make decisions relating to the environmental impacts of companies under their charge – the foci of Individual Actors, Land Managers, and Business & Finance Decision Makers themes, respectively. The Community Action team remind us of the many ‘poets in our lives’, who are reimagining the ways we might engage people in the issues surfaced through survey data and biodiversity impact indices.
Above: Images 1-3: RENEW Theme: 3 Land Managers – David Baker, Ilya Maclean and Charles Masqualier | Images 4-9: RENEW Theme: 4 Business and Finance Decision Makers – Patrick Oko Quaye, Will Bugg, Maria Eugenia Correa Cano, Anqi Liu and Ben Groom. (Click on the image to see a full version)
Theme X1 Environmental Intelligence also offers us a way to reimagine data in new and exciting models, maps and graphs – whether we are plotting the addresses of urban trees or looking for clusters of participant behaviours and attitudes towards nature. Whilst RENEW is intent on looking forward – from the present challenges to the future state of biodiversity in the UK – the project is not deaf to the past.
“Biodiversity decline is a truly ‘wicked’ problem and needs a range of approaches if we are to make progress. The recent state of nature report has clearly illustrated that so far, we have not been successful in halting decline, let alone renewing biodiversity. Something very significant needs to change, or indeed many significant things. To achieve this, we need to approach issues afresh with open minds, breaking down current silos.”
~ Rosie Hails – Director of Nature and Science, National Trust
Above: Regan Early, John Wedgwood Clarke, Bethan Stagg, Caleb Parkin, Alice Drysdale and Catriona McKinnon from RENEW Theme: 2 Community Action team are joined by Annie Crombie and Sofia Rewilak from BookTrust. (Click on the image to see a full version)
The Parliament’s keynote speaker and oral history expert, Paul Merchant, treated us to some soundbites from RENEW’s partnership with the British Library, as part of the Collaborations in Practice theme.
Listening to the voices of prominent figures in conservation and ecology from the not-so-distant past was a striking reminder that biodiversity has not always been a galvanising force in conservation and naturalist circles; what we might now consider a deeply entwined, interdisciplinary and collaborative endeavour has also been an ambiguous, diffuse, and contentious space.
Above: Paul Merchant from the British Library taps into the past to inspire new thinking about our environmental future.
Mindful of these past discourses, as well as documenting RENEW’s own unfolding collaborations in the here and now, is the work of the Collaborations in Practice team. There is certainly much to learn about how we build together, using different tools, materials, and techniques, as our discipline or profession demands.
However, creativity was not in short supply at the RENEW Parliament 2023. The Collaborations in Practice team put delegates’ cutting and sticking skills to the test in a collage-style mapping exercise designed to explore connections, relationships, and gaps across RENEW. En route, we learned about each other’s favourite nature spots, future field sites, and the reproductive rituals of lugworms!
Above: Angela Cassidy and Eleanor Hadley-Kershaw from RENEW Theme X3 Collaboration in Practice become the guides of a mapping exercise to connect people, places and nature. The RENEW Parliament responds in teams. (Click on an image to see the full version)
The ExCases Solutions Generator team stretched our capacity for creativity further still. In just twenty minutes, groups of delegates were asked to generate ideas in response to various biodiversity challenges, drawn from the ExCases Missions Bank.
The sprint task provided a taster of the work involved in scoping a mission and deciding upon a viable approach. The activity also revealed that delegates’ disciplinary or professional orientations were open to re-routing; not everything has to be a ‘model’ and some ‘toolkits’ are more useful than others. We can all learn to build differently.
Above: Matthew Heard, Clare Bissell, Michelle Twena and David Bavin from RENEW Theme: X2 ExCASES, (Exeter Centre for Analysis & Synthesis of Environmental Solutions) finding ways to speed responses to biodiversity crises. (Click on an image to see the full version)
Visual creativity was on display in the PhD Research posters; now a well-established cohort of postgraduate researchers, contributing insights across themes. Projects range from citizen science biodiversity reporting to life-cycle assessment of electrical energy system impacts on biodiversity; managing habitats to address declining willow tit populations, to understanding how personal ecologies affect business managers’ decision-making processes.
Of course, the Parliament itself would not have been possible without the creativity of the project management and administrative teams that underpin the RENEW Project. A carefully curated programme of presentations and pre-prandial activities facilitated a buzz of discussion and learning from each other. In the pauses between talks, I valued the time to listen to delegates’ stories and how they connect with the spirit of the RENEW Project. From taking in a stray sheep to encouraging a love of reading – all these anecdotes have stayed with me, and I look forward to hearing more next year!
Above: PhD students Patrick Oko Quaye, Jo Furtado, Devmini Bandara and Caleb Parkin are joined by Rachael Foy from the National Environment Research Council. (Click on an image to see the full version)
On a final note, please don’t forget to share your own stories of the Parliament through the Community Action team’s poetic provocations. The links to each tree, and one of my own responses, are below:
The silver birches
sway outside the window.
Golden threads on ghostly legs.
I used to see the scrumpled crisp packets
and cigarette butts –
yellowed and decaying
strewn about their white-smeared bark –
from half-remembered walks
when the A-road was our footpath
and the underpass our picnic shelter.
Today, from the train, I read their leaves.
Waving farewell to seasons-been,
I’m not sure if there is a glint of foil below.
Above: Click on an image to see the full version or scroll through using arrows.