Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Monthly Archives: June 2016

Do we need to learn to be more welcoming of nature’s migrants?

📥  Comment, New Publications

I made a contribution to NAEE's blog the other day exploring whether we need to learn to be more welcoming of nature’s migrants if we are to combat climate change.  This was a column I'd written a while back for the NAEE journal, Environmental Education.  It begins ...

"The current migration of people into Europe from North Africa, the Middle East, and farther afield because of war and other social turmoil has already been linked to climate change – not only because this has been seen as a contributor to the conflicts within Syria, but also in the sense that what we are seeing now is likely to be a harbinger of things to come as the world warms further and greater numbers of people will seek more hospitable (in every sense) places to live.  Migration applies not just to people, but to nature more generally, and a new report from the RSPB: ‘The Nature of Climate Change – Europe’s wildlife at risk’ explores the issues.  This is part of Mike Clarke’s introduction which lays out the issue clearly:

“We are at a point in recent geological history where the rate of human-induced climate change will far outstrip the ability of species to adapt successfully, especially when the resilience of nature has been reduced by habitat loss, non-native species introductions and over-exploitation.  The disruption to the web of life is a threat not just to wildlife, but to the lives of people around the world.”

And ends ...

"As I hinted at the outset, there are some parallels in all this with the current debate about the migration of peoples, although there are clearly important differences as well.  For example, some of the language regularly used in relation to plants and animals cannot be used about people.  But it’s possible that a discussion of the migration of plants and animals, and how tolerant we should be of the benefits and problems they bring, might ease a consideration of the much more difficult topic of the immigration of people."


You will find the whole blog here.



A post mortum at the RSPB

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Early on last Thursday morning, RSPB Chief Executive, Mike Clarke, commented on the result of the EU referendum.  His remarks included what RSPB members might have expected, and wanted, to read:

"As the new constitutional settlement is negotiated over the coming months (and years?), the RSPB will continue to be a voice for nature, raising the importance of environmental issues that has an impact on people, wildlife and the economy.  We will provide a constructive challenge to all governments across the UK where necessary, and give credit where it is due; just as we always have done.  And, of course, trans-national challenges such as protecting our migrating birds, tackling climate change remain, which is why we shall work internationally, as we have done so for over a hundred years, and will continue to act across Europe with our Birdlife International partners to tackle the many challenges facing nature.  In short, we shall continue to do whatever nature needs."

His blog ended: "Given that contact with nature is good for the soul, I recommend a visit to a local nature reserve this weekend."  Sadly, it wasn't obvious that anyone in politics took this sound advice.

Although reading the comment section of a blog isn't always worth the effort, it was with this post, even though, 5 days on, only a handful of comments had been made.  Keith Cowieson, Director of Songbird Survival, said this:

"It is always dispiriting when one’s advice is rejected by the country’s voters, and that is the risk that you run when Charities engage in national political debate.  On the assumption that RSPB membership broadly represents the society from which it is drawn, it is also probably fair to assume that RSPB membership was fairly evenly divided over whether to leave the EU too. Indeed the demographics may even suggest that members were more likely to have voted for LEAVE than REMAIN.

In this case, "demographics" is code for older people.  But, as I noted on Monday, there are other demographics (e.g., class / youth / ethnicity) at play here and the assumption that RSPB membership is fully representative of the country at large seems (to me) doubtful.

Cowieson adds a (small p) political point:

"Perhaps Council now ought to reflect upon whether or not our Society should be taking overt high-profile positions on such political issues, rather than simply laying out a balanced set of threats and opportunities as it sees them, without recommendation.  I for one would favour more emphasis on the seemingly humdrum but core bird protection-related issues and less high-profile politicking from our Society."

Then says ...

"I suggest that the Society as a whole would do well to follow the Scottish Government’s (and RSPB Scotland’s) example, as recently illustrated by its ‘Understanding Predation Project’ by attempting to engage more with lay people and take their ‘hands-on’ practical conservation and management experience into account more often, when formulating policy positions and proposed management prescriptions.  In this respect, you will recall that one of the recommendations from the review of RSPB science 3 years ago was that the Society ‘…..should undertake more social science.  Whilst biological research should remain fundamental to the society, we believe that economic analyses, conflict resolution, human behavioural studies, political science and governance are increasingly important in trying to find practical solutions to environmental problems’."

And ends:

"... we all know that the CAP was not delivering for wildlife at a continental and national level.  Now we can at least attempt to fix our national part of that problem – for as we all well know, one size does not fit all.  Perhaps a fresh look, root and branch review of Countryside Stewardship, Glastir, Scottish Rural Development Programme and Northern Ireland Countryside Management Scheme is in order?  Positive, listening and constructive engagement with future National, Regional and Local government bodies and agencies, and with local fishermen, farmers and land managers (who will all be looking for advice and guidance in a period of transitional uncertainty), should pay dividends.  We have the opportunity to develop truly inclusive, flexible and adaptive solutions for many of the challenges that our wildlife faces.  The Society can and should be at the forefront of these efforts – let’s seize that opportunity."

This is something of a call to arms in the post-referendum period as we forge our brave new world.  It might be well if all such charities questioned themselves like this.


Brexit, farmers, wildlife, landscapes and learning

📥  Comment, News and Updates

There is much angst (an inappropriate word, surely) among those who speak for wildlife, and the biosphere more generally in the UK, following the referendum, but there is also a growing sense of realism that there's a job to be done, and that this is an opportunity to forge a better settlement between farming, conservation and rural communities.

When the Common Agricultural Policy goes (an opportunity if ever I saw one) there will be a need to re-think agricultural payments of all kinds, and a chance to forge policy (4 policies, more like) that makes agriculture fit for wildlife and for rural working and living.

This is a chance to create something truly good for us all – that would make the countryside much more of a living landscape and an outdoor classroom than it has been for years.  I do hope the wildlife charities will get together to seize this, probably unique, moment.


One badger, one vote

📥  Comment, News and Updates

There is something of an argument for giving wildlife the vote, given how much humans depend on it (well, the biosphere in general) for our continuing well-being and survival.  Putting this into operation is the difficult thing.  One badger, one vote, might have a progressive ring to it, but it would surely be a policy too far, and anyway there would be great difficulty in keeping the electoral register up to date, let alone arranging for postal votes.

But this is why we have wildlife charities.  They are the ones that, through their campaigning, urge us to vote always with wildlife in mind.

We were urged to do this in the recent referendum, being constantly reminded by the RSPB, Wildlife Trusts, the saintly Bob Geldof, and many others, that we'd all soon be going to hell in a handcart if we didn't vote to remain in the EU.  Except it would seem not to have worked, and the handcart is outside the door.

But perhaps it did work; perhaps the wildlife charities really did influence people to vote to remain.  But, maybe these were the wrong people.  Maybe they were going to be pro-EU anyway.  Maybe the sort of people who listen to messages from wildlife charities were always likely to be pro-EU.

Maybe the wildlife charities should make greater efforts to influence those that don't think usually like they do, such as people with only a handful of GCSEs to their name (if that), 68% of whom, according to YouGov, are likely to have voted to Leave.


Wildlife never voted for Brexit

📥  Comment, News and Updates

As I sit here on Saturday morning mulling over the popular vote last Thursday to quit the EU, there are already stories of wildlife flexing their muscles and flapping their wings in preparation to leave a country so out of touch with globalisation and the modern world that it cannot recognise the value of migration and cultural pluralism.

It is said that the pandas in Edinburgh zoo have already asked to be sent home, that the parakeets have left London's parks, and that a disorderly queue of rodents is forming along the south coast waiting for small boats to carry them back to the embrace of EU institutions and safety – and the goldfinches that are normally in my garden have probably gone off to Spain.

But this is all surely premature.  No exit can take place before the UK government triggers Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, and, as there must be doubts as to whether it ever will, the dozen or so EU Presidents might be best advised to bide their time and do nothing to hasten a Brexit that might never take place.

Direct democratic instruments such as referenda sit uneasily in a parliamentary democracy such as the UK's.  The Brexit referendum is not legally binding, and it is the House of Commons that has to give substance to it.  Given that there is, currently, about an 80/20 split in favour of EU membership in the Commons, that is, something of an issue for those MPs who are for continued membership, especially if their electorates are also in favour of remaining.  What are they to do?  Well, follow their consciences, of course.  Tricky.

If we are to wait for a new prime minister before Article 50 is triggered, the act of triggering it would have to be in a Queen's Speech.  Surely, it is not out of the question that it would be voted down, and the government with it, leading to an election which might (or not) lead to a pro-Brexit Commons.

I think the pandas should stay where they are and also bide their time.  Meanwhile, is that a goldfinch I hear ...



The Earth still turns

📥  Comment, News and Updates

When I switched on the TV this morning (about 0400), it was obvious that, despite the wildlife vote and tendentious videos about dirty beaches, we had voted to leave the EU.  Of course, whether we actually shall is quite another matter.

I thought I'd better go for a walk to check that all was still well with the natural world, despite all the dire predictions.  Well, the sun was up, the birds were singing (rather cheerfully, I thought), the cows were contentedly chewing in the fields, the newly-minted ducks were still pottering about on the canal, and a grey heron was alert to possibilities (there are no EU fishing quotas on the Kennet & Avon), and the pyramidal orchids in the hay meadow that passes for my front lawn in summer are still doing what they do best – being just fabulous.

It would be misleading to think that all's well with the world, but equally wrong, perhaps, to be too gloomy about the future on this bright, bright, sunshiny day.


UK Education: is it fair and fit for purpose?

📥  Comment, News and Updates

This was the title of a St. George's House seminar then Tuesday which I went to by kind invitation of the NUS.   A great setting, of course, and we met in a room (the Vicar's Hall) where it seems it was "not impossible" that Queen Elizabeth I and William Shakespeare might have both been at the same time.  Well, if so, I hope they had been better prepared for their meeting than we were.

The answer to the first question is, of course "No", but then unfairness seems to be built into the human condition, unless that is, you can have control of your genes, parents, domicile, luck, etc.  Is it just? would have been a better question, but that wasn't on offer.  As it was, much time was wasted by the bien-peasant teachers present railing against the existence of independent schools – as if anything could be done about that, save, making all schools independent of government orthodoxies and political prejudice, of course.

Fit for purpose is a different matter, and is much the more important issue.  Indeed that was why I went, thinking that we might get the chance to explore how children / schools / the curriculum could be helped to face up to existential issues such as climate change, the challenge offered by the sustainable development goals, and the fact that the rest of the world exists.  No chance; too many people were fixated by the problems of teacher supply about which "something needs to be done" (again!), and by teacher training more generally, or by disagreements over how good / bad Finnish schools have now become.  It would be easy to blame the rather self-indulgent co-ordinator for all this, as he just followed where most people wanted to go (apart from reading some very dodgy verse – which he thought was edgy) in the lunch break.

Here are the highlights:

  • the deranged woman who thought we'd need to wait 500 years before we could know climate change was real
  • the recruiter for a top finance firm who had given up recruiting from Russell Group universities because he could not guarantee quality
  • the independent school bloke who spoke up for the needs of the neglected social classes C D&E.  His point was that their parents need help to help their children and he focused on interesting maintained sector attempts to do that – a point echoed by the Head of Ofsted in a recent speech

That wasn't much to show for a day, but happily was ...

  • great conversations with the NUS
  • finding that the admirable Tim Oates has written on Finland and the ...
  • Born to Learn animations which I shall be recommending to the (equally admirable) parents of my grandchildren.

Not an entirely wasted day, then.


A two orchid summer after all

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Two years ago, two pyramidal orchids popped up in the meadow which takes over my front lawn every summer.  Last year, there was no sign of them.

This year they are back, and I did not notice their growing.  I had given up hope of seeing them again as the usually large numbers of ox-eye daisies that usually dominate the meadow had not turned up either, except as a trickle.  I put it down to the weather in March / April / May (rather than to climate change).

So, something of an equilibrium is restored in my head at least.  All cannot be so bad if it's a two orchid summer, and there's the bonus that I can gaze on them without spending a drop of carbon.



HEFCE’s Sustainable Development framework

📥  Comment, News and Updates

"What's happened to HEFCE’s Sustainable Development framework that they consulted on 18 months ago", I hear you ask.  Well, gathering dust, of course, electronically speaking.

There are, however, rumours that HEFCE top brass may well be thinking about whether to start thinking about whether to think about sustainability again sometime soon – but if so it will probably just to put it out of its misery.  Here's what I said when the draft framework was published.


The road to serfdom

📥  Comment, News and Updates

Last week, The Guardian carried an article by Peter Scott (no relation) with the title: This bad bill will put universities on the road to serfdom.  

It begins:

"The government’s argument that its new higher education bill will give legal backing to both academic freedom and institutional autonomy, as well as supporting research, needs to be treated with caution and a good dose of cynicism.  Many parliamentary bills read like Soviet-era diktats.  In clause piled on sub-clause, secretaries of state give themselves powers that they claim (and may even believe) they do not really want and will hardly ever use.  Even by these low standards, the present bill is a shocker.  Does the secretary of state really need powers of “entry and search”?"

I am always amazed that parliament allows governments (of all stripes) to ram bills full of powers that someone may need in the future to spare them the trouble of having to go back to MPs for approval.  It is as if the Monarch and the Privy Council [PC] had never evolved into anything more subtle and democratic.  Mind you, the Cabinet is only really a sub-committee of the PC so perhaps we should not be surprised.

Scott says that:

"Buried under this mound of new regulatory powers are a few limp restrictions intended to protect academic freedom and institutional autonomy.  But the whole thrust is to do precisely the opposite by making universities more accountable – to students notionally, but really to politicians.  With the introduction of the Teaching Excellence Framework a new tyranny of metrics is actively being prepared.

Indeed, and would you trust the new-style HEFCE with any of this when conflicts of interest are built into its remit?  I think not.  It won't be spending much time speaking truth to power.

Let us hope that some backbone in to be found in the House of Lords to prevent at least some of this degrading, egregious, meretricious nonsense passing into law.