Published on 16 November 2022
Last month saw the launch of our first RENEW Biodiversity Parliament, an annual event that is set to travel around the UK celebrating people and place and sharing progress and learning.
The first Parliament took place on 18-19 October in Exeter and brought together the RENEW team and representatives of over 20 partner organisations to workshop pressing questions around people, nature, and biodiversity renewal.
Inspired by the Select Committees of Westminster, with a strong focus on deliberative democracy, the event was structured around two Committee topics: No Access without Impact? (Day 1) and What Cost Food Security? (Day 2). The first question was concerned with the challenge of increasing people’s access to nature whilst needing to renew and restore the UK’s depleted biodiversity; the second with the challenge of ensuring adequate levels of food production whilst giving over more of the landscape and seascape to nature. Both topics cut across multiple strands of the RENEW research programme and helped to stimulate interdisciplinary and cross-sector discussions during the Parliament, many of which will feed into our thinking as RENEW develops.
Speaking to open the event, RENEW Co-Director, Professor Kevin Gaston, explained that the Parliament aimed to “encourage reflections on what interdisciplinary working really means. We have bold ambitions around our outcomes. We want to be transformative. We want to be the seeds of better biodiversity decision-making.”
Each day began with an Evidence session comprised of short, provocative talks from a panel of subject specialists – our ‘Special Advisers’ – who set the scene for the Committee topics and aimed to spark lively debate. Speakers included: Anne-Charlotte Mornington (Head of Impact, Olio), Clive Mitchell (Strategic Resource Manager, NatureScot), Dan Raven Ellison (National Park Cities; Founder, Slow Ways), Professor Jonathan A. Napier DSc (Flagship Leader, Rothamsted Research), Professor Kevin Gaston (Professor of Biodiversity & Conservation, University of Exeter), Professor Michael Winter, OBE (Professor of Land Economy and Society, University of Exeter), Sue Sayer (Founder & Director, Cornwall Seal Group Research Trust) and Professor Tim Benton (Research Director, Emerging Risks; Director, Environment and Society Programme, Chatham House).
Delegates then worked together in facilitated breakout sessions to discuss the provocations and collectively formulate recommendations in response to the Committee topic questions. Recommendations were reported back in a Hearing session at the end of each day, concluding with a Committee vote.
We were pleased to work with cultural partner, Foreground, to co-design the event programme. Director Simon Morrissey helped refine the Select Committee structure and enlisted three renowned British artists – Adam Chodzko, Heather Peak, and Rehana Zaman – to facilitate the breakout group discussions. A curated film programme based on their work was screened throughout the event, exploring ideas of nature connectedness, climate change, and subsistence, and along with a series of pre-dinner talks helped to frame their creative practice and participation in the event.
Cultural input was also provided by incoming RENEW PhD student and former Bristol City Poet, Caleb Parkin, who delighted delegates with an impromptu performance of poems he’d written based on observations across the two days of the event.
The Parliament dinner proved to be another highlight, with delegates enjoying a bespoke menu informed by the low-waste philosophy and techniques of local, family-run business, Ground Up Cookery School, who trained the venue catering team.
With plenty of time built into the event programme for networking across sectors and disciplines, the Biodiversity Parliament provided a shared space for the RENEW team and project partners to learn about one another’s perspectives and think collectively and ambitiously about how to make a people-in-nature approach to biodiversity renewal successful.
Feedback from delegates has been hugely positive, both in terms of the event’s success in strengthening the RENEW community and investment in RENEW’s strategic approach and objectives. One attendee from Natural England commented: “The structure of the Biodiversity Parliament worked really well to promote new conversations and stimulate focused debate. I was blown away by the poetry at the end. I have never heard a better end note.”
Thank you to all who were involved in organising the event and to our delegates for bringing the event alive. Provocation recordings are available on the RENEW YouTube channel and an event film and report providing a flavour of proceedings will be available on our website in the coming weeks.