On 10-14 October 2022 Alexandra (Sasha) Tisma and Clara Veerkamp participated in the European Ecosystem Service Partnership (ESP) conference in Crete, Greece. The ESP is a worldwide network to enhance science, policy and practice of ecosystem services for conservation and sustainable development. Members meet bi-annual, but after years of COVID pandemic lockdowns and restrictions, this was the first in-person conference for many of us.
Under the theme ‘Ecosystem Services empowering people and societies in times of crisis’ the conference focused on i) understanding the multiple values of nature, ii) transformative change, iii) how to design and promote change towards the future we want, iv) and how ecosystem services can be better embedded in education.
There have been 40 sessions spread out through the conference week, and each morning a keynote speaker welcomed us by a moving speech. For example, Esther Turnhout (professor and chair in Science and Society at the University of Twente) shared her insights on the science-policy relationship (which are according to her ‘locked-inn’, as this relationship is not linear and ‘science is not neutral’ but constructed within certain frames and underlying values which we taken for guaranteed) and how to transform science to be truly impactful (e.g., remarking the science policy contract, fostering pluralism, putting justice and equity centre stage). Definitely food for thoughts! Eszter Kelemen (senior research at non-profit company in Hungary) provided interesting examples of how to engage with diverse social groups which are commonly not presented in our research, and how we can learn from it, particular to reflect on our own used frames and values.
Clara: “Together with colleagues from RIVM and the JRC (Joint Research Centre), I co-hosted an interactive session on barriers and success factors for mainstreaming ecosystem services in policy and decision making. We had very different presentations from all around Europe, which often illustrated examples on how to get ecosystem services on the policy agenda, while it seems like we had less experiences on how to support policy design and implementation. On the last conference day, I shared my work on modelling ecosystem services in European urban areas, in a super crowded room and lots of (good) questions.“
Sasha: “The theme of the session that I organized together with Paul Giesen, Alexandra Marques, Emma van der Zanden and Rob Alkemade was “Landscape aesthetic quality”. Funny enough this subject was categorized by a colleague from Germany as “socially marginalized”. True, it is not only marginalized in this conference but in ecosystem services universe as well. The reasons are simple – it is not easy to model and measure landscape aesthetic, specially not on global scale as we did. Nevertheless, we had rich conversation, vivid and dynamic session with the full room, lots of questions and compliments for our own work. All six presenters were physically present which brought the feeling of good old times back.”
Altogether, it was overwhelming to reconnect with colleagues and friends, and to meet new ones after years of COVID restriction and online meetings. We had numerous inspiring conservations during the conference sessions, field trip (to a cave in which, according to the legend, the god Zeus was raised) and, of course, the shared Greece diner in the evenings. Unfortunately many of us did get to experience ‘a time of crisis’ when the heavy rainstorm hitting Crete on the day after the conference made returning home challenging.