Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Climate change in my backyard

A couple of years ago I noticed that my rosemary bush had become home to some strange, bronze-coloured beetles. I consulted the Royal Horticultural Society website and discovered that the Rosemary Beetle had reached Tyneside and was now residing in my backyard. The thrill of putting the most northerly dot on their distribution map was somewhat muted when I noted the damage being done to one of my favourite herbs. Reading the latest Relu policy and practice note I realise that this could be just the beginning, as new pests and diseases take advantage of climate change. The problem is that we can't easily predict which of these are going to become problematic. How can policymakers begin to plan? One dimension that is sometimes overlooked is that of human beings. Presumably my beetles didn't fly in from the continent and the nearest infestation on the map was much further south. So it seems likely that they arrived via the horticultural trade, or were brought north by an individual gardener. The last couple of Tyneside winters have seen them off - for the moment. But none of us, whether gardeners with tiny backyards, commercial growers or policymakers can afford to be complacent.

Monday, 4 July 2011

How do we know an expert when we see one?

What is an expert and how do we know one when we see one? I have been pondering this question while editing Relu's latest policy and practice note on "Field advisors as agents of knowledge exchange". It seems so simple: if you an advisor, you learn stuff then you pass it on to your clients. But nothing in life is ever that straightforward. Relu researchers have put the whole process under a microscope, and shown how the people who advise farmers: vets, land agents, ecologists and so on, digest and repackage information and tailor it to specific client needs and circumstances. That means no two farmers will necessarily get the same advice about anything, even from the same expert advisor. Vets are also innovative experimenters and bring science into the field of their everyday practice. So being an expert doesn't just mean putting on a green jacket and wellingtons. As the "models" who posed for the photograph on the front of this Relu publication would tell you, nowadays you also need a laptop computer in order to look convincing.