BIOSEC: our best bits
25 August 2020
As we near the end of the Project BIOSEC, the team reflect on their personal and professional highlights of the last four years. Read on for our BIOSEC ‘Best Bits’!
BIOSEC has been the best experience – a personal and a career highlight for me. I could not believe it when I got the news that the grant had been successful - I had a long train journey home from London, but my husband and son (Feargal and Oisín) were waiting for me with beaming smiles, champagne and flowers. Then reality set in and the screaming with excitement turned into just screaming. How will all this work get done in 4 years!
I needn’t have worried. We have all grown as members of the team and as people during the project: developed new skills, gained more confidence, welcomed new babies into the team and channelled our inner divas! We have had loads of fun too; training our North American members in the ancient art of conkers, exchanging dog training tips, discussing Peaky Blinders, not to mention the essential and lively whats app group. We planned a big wrap party for the end of the project, but COVID had other ideas. So there is only one thing for it: BIOSEC The Reunion tour in 202……
Outside European Parliament, Brussels before Knowledge Exchange in January 2020, and BIOSEC in the beginning…middle….and end!
‘A tale of two cities’
My almost four years with the BIOSEC project saw me visit many cities for research and conference activities. While each of the cities I visited had an impact on me, two cities stand out as central to my BIOSEC ‘best bits’: This is my ode to Brussels and Sheffield!
Brussels: Aside from the obvious benefits of time in Brussels (Belgium fries and beer, of course!), I look back at my time in Brussels as one of my BIOSEC best bits. I started my fieldwork in Brussels, wracked with anxiety and so worried about doing everything ‘wrong’. But, I quickly found my feet and actually became quite attached to the city. Returning in January 2020 with some of the BIOSEC team to hold a knowledge exchange event at European Parliament felt momentous, as I reflected on how far my research had come since arriving for the first time on a freezing, grey day in February 2018.
Sheffield: And the city that brought us all together! As a native Sheffield-er I am obviously biased about how brilliant our city is. But it has been a real joy for me to work with such an amazing team and make some life-long friendships in the city I call home. From the coffee shops, to the falafels, beers in the Closed Shop, lunch breaks in the park and the walks in the Peaks, I really feel the spirit of the city has had a role in shaping the friendships and working relationships that made BIOSEC a veritable success.
Picking up the best bits of my journey with BIOSEC is not an easy task. The excellent mentorship could be a strong candidate for the title. The cosy Elmfield Lodge inundated with plants adopted during the life of the project is also unbeatable. Being recognised as one of those ’awful people from Sheffield’ ready to speak out against militarisation at posh conservation gatherings is an unparalleled guilty delight too. Over and above, for me, BIOSEC is a chosen family.
Therefore the team’s conviviality gets my pick. Hand-pulled noodles lunches, after-drinks following up political ecology roundtables before the pandemic, or teaming up in social bubbles for safe picnics and walks in the Peaks with our non-human companions are my memorable heart-warming moments of BIOSEC.
Arriving in a sunny Cambridge for our workshop with Fauna & Flora International, June 2018.
For me, BIOSEC will always be both an evolution and a revolution.
Evolution: it has been really interesting to see the intellectual direction of BIOSEC evolve over the last four years. At the beginning, the project was formed of ‘Work Packages’ with seemingly discreet – and at times conflicting – areas of research. But an ever-expanding team and network of Fellows brought fresh ideas and collaborations. Gradually synergies emerged and our work started to knit together conceptually. As the only non-academic member of a research team, it’s been pretty awesome to witness this intellectual evolution from the outside, looking in. I’ve loved being part of a team and project that feels to me like an intellectual force field; so much energy and originality, and a healthy dose of non-conformity.
So, now for the revolution part!
Revolution: The first time I realised that BIOSEC was saying something ‘a bit different’ was about a year into the project. Rosaleen, Hannah and Laure had an article published in The Conversation that talked about the militarisation of conservation, called “Foreign ‘conservation armies’ in Africa may be doing more harm than good”. There was a backlash –the force of which took us all a bit by surprise – and it became clear that there were people ‘out there’ who really didn’t like what we were saying (we didn’t get nicknamed ‘those awful people from Sheffield’ for nothing!). Sometimes our ideas have made for uncomfortable reading, but I personally view that as a good thing. I like that through BIOSEC, our team has built a platform from which to question the status quo, expose the grey areas, overlooked species and structural inequalities. George recently described the team as being ‘activists’, and I couldn’t agree more. Vive la révolution!
Above: Building gunshot detection devices in the afternoon
Below: and watching the band setting up in the evening.
All my favourite bits of BIOSEC must be the ones that were entirely unexpected – not least because I joined Team BIOSEC rather unexpectedly in 2017 after I stumbled across anecdotes of the illegal bird trade in the Western Balkans while doing research for a different project in the region.
When I started my fieldwork in Serbia and Albania, little did I expect to find a group of regional bird conservationists who were so passionate about understanding and tackling bird crime across the Western Balkans. These conservationists kindly shared their experiences with me, an outsider whose background was in political science and who had a lot to learn about ornithology. I feel privileged that they took the time to patiently explain migration patterns, breeding seasons, and national hunting and conservation laws while I tried to put the pieces together.
Certainly, I never thought that I would be participating in a bird conservation conference that was closed with an exclusive concert by the famous Serbian band Irie FM. But, most importantly, I did not expect that my research would ever lead me to participate in a workshop on how to build gunshot detection devices. Yet, these experiences gave me insight into the emotionally and physically demanding situations that these conservationists and activists are confronted with every day. But they also showed me the strong sense of community, support and friendship that would result from these shared hardships and passion for a joint cause. I feel very lucky to have been the unexpectant observer in situations like these throughout the course of BIOSEC.
‘A new research agenda’
If one ever comes across the term “BIOSEC”, what images does it conjure up? A vibrant research team? A programme inhabited by cutting-edge research and provocative questions about conservation-global security nexus? An incubator of new research agenda in political ecology? BIOSEC enlightens political ecologists and critical Marxists to challenge the conventional wisdom and bring granular insights into the effects of the securitisation of conservation.
BIOSEC Meals: sampling cuisines, debating pop culture and making research breakthroughs.
Moving from France, the land of hour-long lunch breaks, to the UK, the country of desk-based Tesco meal deals, there was one thing I really missed: proper sat-down social meals.
Thankfully, over the length of the BIOSEC project there have been many occasions to share good food and good conversation. Sichuan hand-pulled noodles have been a firm team favourite, with neapolitan pizza and espresso martinis solid runner-ups. Turkish delights and pineapple cookies have also brightened shorter breaks. Peaky Blinders and Ru Paul’s Drag Race have been analysed at length. Responsible puppy training and plant care have been considered as well. In the midst of all this, research advice has been shared and wildlife conservation trends debated. The end result is hopefully long-lasting collaborations and friendships.