EScom16 Conference: Impact, innovation and al fresco discussions

16 May 2016

Vanessa Burton summarises ESCom16

Vanessa Burton, University of Edinburgh

A sunny Scottish April morning heralded the beginning of the 3rd Annual ESCom Conference, held in the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation in central Edinburgh.

The theme of this year’s conference was ‘Impact’, and the day got off to a flying start with Mark Reed giving an inspirational address on how can research can best make a difference, through being guided by 5 empirically proven principles for effective knowledge exchange. I was particularly struck by Mark’s example of the Sustainable Uplands project, which began from an article in the Guardian and continues 11 years later, with long-term face to face interaction with stakeholders being a hugely important element of the projects success, with the launch of the UK Peatland Code in 2015. Following this, we heard Graham Essom’s experiences of implementing the Ecosystem Approach in Perth and Kinross Council, which highlighted the fantastic work being done there, along with insights into the challenges associated with getting an ecosystem services approach to work in alongside existing policy and planning structures.

A sunny Edinburgh

Following the keynote speakers, we enjoyed a series of flash talks from Peter Phillips, Kirsty Blackstock, Christine Johnston, Marc Metzger and Jan Dick, where we heard about an exciting mix of Scottish case studies trialling ecosystem service approaches, analysis of Scottish government policy and strategy and new tools and data sources for ecosystem service research. (talks here)


The afternoon was filled with a great selection of workshops to choose from. Spoilt for choice, I went along to an introduction to the JNCC Tool Assessor, enthusiastically and engagingly led by Jess Neumann (Ecosystem Knowledge Network) and Matt Smith (JNCC). The Assessor takes the form of a new web portal, which with the ever growing mass of ES tools available, presents an accessible and easy way to compare a range of ecosystem service tools and choose the best one for your needs. After this, I went along to hear about the new Sustainable Land Management Options tool developed by Alessandro Gimona, Marie Castellazzi and others at James Hutton Institute for the National Trust. The GIS based tool allows users to explore the impact of land use transitions on ecosystem functions and services, and has exciting future possibilities to explore land capability, regional targets and regional preferences for land use change. Other workshop sessions included Tom Hartley from Atmos Consulting on comparing methods for delivery ecosystem service analysis, and Aster de Vries Lentsch, University of Edinburgh introducing the new STREAMLINE interview format.


A highlight of the day was the very popular decision made to hold an al fresco conference summary in the ECCI courtyard. With everyone spread out along the steps soaking up the sun, we split into smaller groups to discuss how we can best ensure that ecosystem service research has real impact into the future. With his human flipchart in the form of Mark Reed, our Conference Facilitator Osbert Lancaster did a wonderful job of facilitating and summarising the final thoughts for the day, and the relaxed and friendly atmosphere allowed everyone to have their ideas heard. 

Mark Reed and Osbert Lancaster


On day two, a smaller number of conference survivors were treated to another beautiful day, and this time we were able to take full advantage of it, with a field trip to the Inner Forth. We were met at the Skinflats Reserve by Dave Anderson from the RSPB, who guided us around the range of exciting initiatives occurring around the Inner Forth as part of the RSPB’s Futurescapes project. A great view of the landscape from Clackmannan Tower allowed us to really take in the plans for this unique area, and we even got to get our feet wet exploring the Black Devon Wetlands Reserve and Fallin Bing bog – a pretty awesome change to sitting at a computer!

All the conference presentations are in the resource section

A video summary of the conference is on our Youtube channel

The conference hashtag was #ESCom16  @ESComScot