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The lichen on the gatepost

Joanna Rooke previews National Science and Engineering Week

2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity.  As part of the celebration, and to do our bit to help this global issue, the British Science Association will be focussing its attention on transforming National Science and Engineering Week (NSEW) into a cornucopia of earthly events, activities and celebrations. 

NSEW runs from 12 to 21 March. The Association’s plans aim to increase awareness, make people realise the importance, relevance and beauty of biodiversity and inspire and enable people to do their bit to save biodiversity in their area.

Lack of awareness

Global biodiversity is under threat.  The International Year of Biodiversity is an international initiative instigated by the United Nations to increase awareness, halt the loss of biodiversity and celebrate success stories. 

To many, biodiversity conjures up images of lush tropical rainforests, coral reefs and savannahs. To others, it means our own indigenous array of flora and fauna.  However, a survey commissioned by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in September 20091 showed two shocking statistics:  50 per cent of people asked knew nothing about biodiversity at all and had not even heard of the term, and 49 per cent of people asked had not given any thought to the loss of biodiversity in the UK or abroad.  The levels of awareness of biodiversity issues are clearly dangerously low.

What on Earth

One activity as part of NSEW will be the What on Earth project.  We are asking the public to take their cameras out into their local park/garden/hedgerow, snap the wildlife they don’t recognise and then upload it to the ‘What on Earth’ website.  Photos submitted to the site will be identified by scientists and experts from a range of organisations as well as members of the public, bringing the experts and the public into direct contact and communication with each other. 

The strength of National Science and Engineering Week is its capacity to use the media and momentum of activity to attract a large number of people who would not ordinarily consider taking part in biodiversity activities. By encouraging the public to interact directly with scientists in an unintimidating way, we are trying to give people an appreciation and understanding of biodiversity in their local area – even if it’s just to learn a little about the mushroom on their lawn or the lichen on their gate post.  

The What on Earth site will highlight other biodiversity projects.  We hope to leave a legacy by encouraging visitors to the site to go on to support other conservation organisations.  By making the project a neutral and collaborative venture, we hope that it will be mutually beneficial to all of the experts and organisations taking part and that we will all profit from increased awareness and participation.

Continuing theme

National Science and Engineering Week really is a perfect opportunity to draw attention to the overall issue, get large numbers of people involved and highlight the key players in the field, for which the support of the public is critical.

In addition, throughout 2010, the Association will be continuing the theme of biodiversity within all of its main events: the Science Communication Conference (24-25 May, in London) and the British Science Festival (14-19 September, in Birmingham). Local branches of the Association are also planning events.  Themed sessions and one-off events within each programme are currently being developed in order to strengthen the overall contribution to International Year of Biodiversity and increase the impact of the message to our audiences.

For further information on the British Science Association’s plans for the International Year of Biodiversity and how to get involved in National Science and Engineering Week, please visit

1  Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (September 2009), Public Attitudes and behaviours towards the environment – tracker survey.  A research report completed by TNS.  Available at

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Joanna Rooke
Joanna Rooke is the Manager of Regional Programmes at the British Science Association
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