An image of a wildflower garden by Annie Spratt taken at the National Trust

RENEW Early Career Research Community: What is Biodiversity Renewal?

RENEW Early Career Research Community: What is Biodiversity Renewal?


Published on 25 March 2024

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A profile picture of David Bavin Blog post by: David Bavin, RENEW ExCASES – Postdoctoral Researcher


At the end of January, members of the RENEW ECR community got together in Exeter for an event which orientated around a big question: what is biodiversity? And what is biodiversity renewal?

What is biodiversity? And what is biodiversity renewal?

These questions sit not just at the heart of conservation science and RENEW as a project but are questions of central importance to us as a species if we wish to flourish, within a flourishing world.  

An image of a mumuration of starlings above a blue wetland.Above: Starling murmuration: “dynamic, reactive and always in flux.” Image credit: John McCauley at Lough Ennell, Mullingar, Co. Westmeath, Ireland (Dec 2021).

We decided not to run a typical conference-style event (which didn’t feel very biodiverse!) but deliberated on what we would like to achieve as an ECR group, deciding that in format and feel it should reflect the interdisciplinary nature of RENEW, and the project’s aspirations for doing things differently – to be adventurous and explorative, embracing creative approaches to offer an enriching participatory experience. The activities were largely contributed by Collaboration in Practice (X3) theme member Rebecca Edgerley and Community Action (T2) poet Caleb Parkin, with input from the organising team (and a session designed by ExCases (X2), one of our cross-cutting themes concerning mission development). The sessions were designed to facilitate discussion of the event questions, but also to allow the group to connect with each other in a stimulating and relaxed space, whilst the activities were designed to create an evolving narrative through the event.  

An image of people around a table working collaboratively Above: Creative techniques can be used to elicit dialogue; creating new thought pathways and manifesting metaphors into a physical product for interpretation.

Did we get to the bottom of what is biodiversity and biodiversity renewal? No, not really. That was a tall order in the timeframe. But we did have a few days getting to know each other, exploring the questions and each other’s perspectives, and came away feeling that something valuable had been achieved. We hope we can share the activities – or even better, use them – with the wider RENEW team and possibly partners at some point. 

Kelly Stevens ran a Padlet for the event, which was a useful way of capturing what went on. We collected images, reflections, poems, facts and ideas as a first step in developing a collective understanding of what biodiversity is. The images and captions throughout this article come from padlet contributions. Perhaps a nice challenge for us all would be to watch the clip of Kate Morley signing ‘biodiversity’ in British Sign Language and learn how to do so. This felt important to me; inclusivity is vital. 

Above: Kate Morley demonstrates Biodiversity Renewal in BSL by indicating the heart, varying levels of life, and new growth. *Please see the article footnote. Video: Kelly Stevens.

It was interesting for me to reflect on the nature of responses and discussion around the concept of biodiversity amongst the group. Perceptions ranged across a spectrum, from scientifically derived definitions to more emotional, spiritual associations. Within the same conversation (and within the same person’s views, even) we might be talking about indices of diversity and abundance, and the empirical quantification of life – but also how it feels to experience nature and to be part of the complex system of life on earth. This was the point of taking an interdisciplinary approach to the event: to highlight that people perceive biodiversity, and their experience of nature, in very different ways (even within the RENEW vessel). That we, as researchers, practitioners, communicators, and facilitators, need to be able to hold these spaces in a way that can integrate the multiplicity of epistemologies and experiences amongst different sectors and communities.  

An image of curated objects linking our personal connections to biodiversity.Above: Curating and linking our personal connections to biodiversity, organised around the biome in the centre.

The feedback from participants was very rewarding. A common theme was pleasure and gratitude for the opportunity to connect with each other in a structured but gentle space. The small group work was conducive to quality interaction, whilst the creative activities opened new channels and rivulets of thinking, and accommodated different learning styles by combining discursive, tactile (e.g., creating physical metaphors with the Lego), and reflective experiences. Importantly, participants without a scientific background felt the event was inclusive. Another common theme in the feedback was how valuable people found it to experience and exchange perspectives on aspects of biodiversity renewal; and discovering that even within our cohort, there was appreciable diversity. One thing we might have done more of, on reflection, is to have identified areas of consensus. Rather, we spent the majority of the time exploring the differences in people’s perceptions – which was necessary and instructive…but we could have made more space to explicitly identify and consolidate points of unity. The next steps are to pull the thinking together and consider how we might define biodiversity renewal as a project and categorise project and partner activities. 

We tied off the event by planting trees at Killerton. This felt like the right way to finish; to put our aspirations and words into action and plant some little saplings in the ground. To invest ourselves with action. It’s something I’ve reflected on quite a bit recently – that whilst I advocate nature connection in my work, so much of my time is spent sitting down, at the desk. For me, as a field naturalist, I find myself questioning the authenticity of my advocacy when most of what I am doing for RENEW involves working at a computer (as my botany rusts!). Perhaps, if we’re to live out paradigm change, we need to question how we work; to build in work time to experience nature in our own ways. To action what we understand to be important – that knowledge is limited without embodied experience, and if we want to influence culture change then we, as advocates and leaders, need to practice what we preach. 

An image of people joyously planting treesAbove: Photo by Kelly Stevens.

*A special thank you goes to Kate Morley for her demonstration of ‘Biodiversity Renewal’ in British Sign Language (BSL). Kate has kindly provided the following links which explain the thinking behind BSL terms for science. “BSL is essential for Deaf people to share their experiences and ways of knowing the natural world, as well as becoming an essential part of the climate and biodiversity debate.” Kate Morley


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