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21-23 MARCH 2017

Final OpenNESS Annual Meeting in Smolenice, Slovakia

A new research fellow for OpenNESS

The Centre for Environmental Management (CEM) at the University of Nottingham employed a new Research Fellow in Ecosystems and Health for OpenNESS, named Conor Kretsch. He will mainly work for Work Package 1 – particularly looking at how conceptual frameworks can be utilised to develop understanding of links between ecosystem services and well-being and competitiveness, and how these frameworks can inform strategies for land use and resource management, and governance structures. Conor kindly answered a couple of questions about himself, his background and what he expects from his contribution to OpenNESS.

  1. Can you briefly introduce yourself?

I was born in Dublin, Ireland. I come from a family of scientists, engineers and artists, and have worked in all three areas in the past 20 years. I graduated from University College Dublin in 1997 with a BSc in Environmental Biology, including some study in the health sciences – immunology, veterinary medicine, environmental toxicology and public health. I have been based near Galway City in the west of Ireland for most of the past 9 years. I have recently started work as a Research Fellow in Ecosystems and Health at the Centre for Environmental Management (CEM) at the University of Nottingham, where I will be working closely with Marion Potschin and Roy Haines-Young.

  1. What is your professional background?

My first full-time job after graduating was with a pharmaceutical manufacturer, where I first worked on integrated pollution prevention and control, but soon moved on to ecological risk assessment including assessment of new drug entities and related processes. One of the drugs I worked on was Zinconitide, a drug derived from cone snail venom, which helped develop my interest in links between health and nature. During that job I also studied Environmental Engineering at Trinity College Dublin, and took classes in Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

From 2001 I moved into other consulting roles with firms in Ireland and the UK, focusing on biodiversity, EIA / SEA and risks assessments, water quality, and health. I also started work on approaches for corporate ecosystem service reviews to help businesses understand their impact and dependence upon ecosystems. Overlapping with this, from 2003 I started working with UN agencies to develop a programme of work around biodiversity and health, which resulted in the First International Conference on Health and Biodiversity in Galway, Ireland in 2005. A recommendation from that conference was that there was a need for a global work programme to help bring health and environmental sectors together on the issue of biodiversity and its impact on well-being – and as a result I established the COHAB Initiative (Co-operation on Health and Biodiversity) in 2007, as an international NGO working to link biodiversity and health in science, policy and practice.  I have been the Executive Director of COHAB, based in Ireland, since then.

I also lecture occasionally at University College, Dublin and at the National University of Ireland, Galway, on biodiversity and human well-being.

  1. What will you be doing for OpenNESS?

My main role in OpenNESS will be to work on Work Package 1 – particularly looking at how conceptual frameworks can be utilised to develop understanding of links between ecosystem services and well-being and competitiveness; and how these frameworks can inform strategies for land use and resource management, and governance structures.  The concept of “territorial competitiveness” often discussed in the EU includes notions of social, economic and environmental competitiveness, within a wider realm of global connectivity – I’ll be involved with work on frameworks to help link these concepts and with ecosystem services and natural capital.

  1. Why would you like to work specifically for OpenNESS? What is your ‘thing’ with nature; with ecosystem services and natural capital?

I have always had a passion for biodiversity – not just an interest in wildlife, but in the variety of life and how it influences global processes.  In addition to my health interests, I am also a freelance artist specialising in wildlife art, which has also given me an interest in cultural associations.  My upbringing – coming from a well-travelled family and living in Ireland during the troubled 1980s - also gave me a passion for social justice issues.  So for OpenNESS I am particularly interested in helping to develop frameworks for understanding how biodiversity, and its link to ecosystem services, can inform our perspectives on well-being wider social issues, including the way that culture shapes the way we think about, use, and manage biodiversity and ecosystems. I’d like to develop some models of how these frameworks can ultimately help to drive social competitiveness and fairness.

Since this also connects to economic competitiveness I hope to bring my experience of corporate ecosystem service assessments into work for OpenNESS too. There are a number of ecosystem review toolkits for businesses that have been developed in recent years, but there is a need for an overarching framework that is relevant to all business sectors. Also, the way many government agencies and departments operate is very similar to a business model – they provide or “sell” services to a specific set of customers, they work within a market system and under tight regulation, they have a similar corporate structure and have the same issues of supply vs demand, overheads and resource management, and they face the same issues in sustainability – so the same concept of competitiveness and ecosystem sustainability can be applied to local, regional, national and multi-lateral governments. A framework for illustrating the connections with ecosystem services in this area could be quite valuable.

Photo: Conor Kretsch