‘There is a darkness threatening the biodiversity of this planet. There is one generation that can act.’ No, not a line from a new blockbuster film, but the words of the RSPB's Chief Executive as he opened the 17th Student Conference on Conservation Science (SCCS).
More so than in perhaps any other field in biology, young conservationists may feel overwhelmed by the tasks that lie ahead. Conservation is poised to become increasingly interdisciplinary, international and ambitious, and it must also gather pace. It is encouraging therefore to see the SCCS in its 17th year, with 161 graduate student delegates (including myself) attending the most recent conference on 24–26 March 2016 in the Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, UK.
A varied programme of plenary lectures stimulated discussion covering the length and breadth of conservation, from fieldwork to policy and business. Taylor Ricketts of the University of Vermont, USA, took the much-discussed topics of ecosystem services and pollinators and through elegant field studies provided a new and quantified perspective. Nancy Knowlton of the Smithsonian Institution, USA, shared success stories on the theme of #OceanOptimism, and Mike Barry from UK retailer Marks & Spencer gave an unfamiliar perspective from business.
For this young conservationist, a highlight was the insightful evening lecture from Tom Brooks, IUCN, Switzerland, entitled simply Does conservation work? The answer was a robust and resounding yes, we simply need more of it: heartening words from someone at the centre of global conservation efforts.
A series of workshops (a feature that sets SCCS apart from many conferences) gave delegates a chance to experience primers on broad topics such as statistics, genetics and experimental design or hear from experts such as Oryx's editor Martin Fisher, and Bill Sutherland, who leads Conservation Evidence. The body of the conference consisted of 32 talks from students who had come from as far afield as Iran, Madagascar and Cambodia (and as close as Cambridge). Most other delegates brought posters, which generated engaging discussion during the coffee breaks and lunch sessions.
Attending conferences, presenting research, and networking are important parts of our development as scientists. But SCCS goes further, providing an opportunity for early-career conservationists to immerse themselves among like-minded people from all around the world—an opportunity not to miss.
The next Cambridge SCCS will take place during 28–30 March 2017. Updates will be posted on the conference website (http://www.sccs-cam.org). There are now sister SCCS series in Australia, China, Hungary, India and the USA. Dates and application details are on the SCCS Cambridge website, http://www.sccs-cam.org.