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‘Footprints’ Science & Nature Conference 2022

What connects fox poo, migrating birds and pangolin scales? The answer is that these were all subjects mentioned by the speakers at this year’s Science & Nature Conference, which took place on Saturday 3rd September at Cambo Gardens.

The theme of this year’s conference was ‘Footprints’, with talks covering a diverse range of topics, from animal tracks and signs to wildlife crime to biodiversity. The conference also featured a tour of the edible gardens at Cambo, and a panel discussion with four local farmers.

We were delighted to welcome Professor Sir Ian Boyd from University of St Andrews as our keynote speaker. Ian kicked off the conference with a look at sustainability on a global scale, and highlighted the challenges facing the world in order to reach a more sustainable future.

Ian was followed by Professor William Austin, also of St Andrews University, who introduced us to ‘blue carbon’ – the carbon stores found in coastal wetlands. These habitats are often overlooked in the discussion of our carbon footprint, but they have huge potential to sequester and store carbon from the atmosphere.

Next was a panel discussion with four local farmers – Ian Brunton, Claire Pollock, Nikki Storrar and Sam Parsons. The discussion began with each farmer describing their own farm and farming methods, and changes they have made in recent years in the face of economic and environmental pressures. This was followed but an open discussion on the future of farming, and the challenges and opportunities with which farmers are faced. An hour did not seem long enough for this discussion and it could have gone on well into the afternoon if we had not had to break for lunch!

The afternoon section began with a hugely entertaining talk from zoologist Donald Malone, looking at how to identify animals from their tracks and signs. There are many signs which can be used to identify wild animals including footprints, scratch marks, the remains of their prey and, you guessed it, poo. The talk concluded with an illuminating game of ‘name that poo’.

Donald’s talk was followed by a tour of the gardens at Cambo by Alison Butler, the Edible Garden Co-ordinator. As well as showing us the impressive array of fruit and vegetables produced at Cambo, Alison described the principles of no-dig gardening, which helps to preserve the community of organisms in soil, improving the soil health and its ability to store carbon.

The penultimate talk of the day was given by Professor Rob Ogden of the University of Edinburgh. Rob is the Director of TRACE Wildlife Forensics Network, an NGO which uses DNA technology to investigate wildlife crimes. As well as describing some of the applications of genetics to crime investigation, Rob explained how his team are training people the world to set up independent labs and tackle wildlife crime in their own countries.

Our final talk was given by Dr Alison Johnston of the University of St Andrews, who spoke about the beauty and importance of biodiversity. Using the example of coffee, Alison showed how the decisions we make every day can affect the survival of species thousands of miles away. Coffee plantations in Central America have resulted in the loss of forest habitats and a decline in bird populations that use these habitats. By putting a little thought into your everyday choices – like sourcing shade-grown coffee which helps to protect forests – you can help to reduce your impact on the planet. A great message to end the conference on.

I would like to thank everyone who spoke at and attended the conference for making it such a success, and for all the generous donations from participants. I would also like to thank our funders - the Climate Fringe and the Longstone Trust, administered by Foundation Scotland.

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