Protecting fish and fishermen: a video about California marine reserves

How should we protect the marine ecosystems we love to see and the fish we love to eat? Learn something about the debate on marine reserves.

I just watched this short video on the NY Times that is a good little snapshot of the challenges of no-take marine reserves that conservationists argue are necessary for ecosystem restoration. It’s about new protection of the California coast so it is especially close to my heart because that’s where I grew up and my childhood experiences of poking sea anemones in the tidepools and learning about kelp forests were instrumental in making me a conservationist.

Watch the video – it’s only six minutes and it is well done!

Conservation typically can take one of two forms: protect an area or protect a species. Obviously it then gets much more complicated (for example,
you might want to protect a time of year, such as a breeding season) but two of the pillars of conservation are ecosystem protection through protected areas and species protection. It’s therefore worth thinking about the pros and cons of protecting fish through marine reserves versus catch restrictions or size limits. What is the best approach to ensure that we still have fish in the sea and fishermen still have jobs?

 

(More videos: Another NY Times video related to fishing. All the NYTimes videos tagged as environment.)

 

Conservation on the road

I’m back! A lot has happened since the last time I blogged earlier this summer when I was in Belize for my professional placement. Since then I wrote and submitted my masters dissertation, thus completing my masters degree, moved out of Cambridge and began a journey traveling by foot and bicycle in Asia.
The title of my masters project ended up being “Understanding the socio-economic impacts of conservation: developing a monitoring strategy for integrated landscape management in Belize”. I was pleasantly surprised to receive a ‘Distinction’ for it, which has encouraged me to offer to share it with anyone who is interested in reading it. Just send me an email or post a comment here and I will send you a copy.

The journey I am on now has to do with exploring the interface between the environment, outdoor sports and adventure. I started in Nepal where I went to trek in the Himalayas with two friends, Valérie and Gerard, who have been traveling “into the green” to learn about the green side of our world and conservation efforts along the Silk Road for the past seven months. You can read their thoughtful writing about their experiences or simply be enchanted by their stunning photos on intothegreen.ch. Seeing images of terraced hillsides and massive erosion in the Himalayan foothills in my high school geography class is what helped me understand and want to be involved in ‘sustainable development’ so it was important for me to finally get a chance to see this part of the world. The picture to the left is from the plane on the way into Kathmandu.

We trekked for three weeks around the Annapurna range, an incredible place that currently supports a relatively low impact type of nature-based tourism. Unfortunately, the construction of a road along the trail threatens the future of this place as an outdoor lovers’ destination. Nepal must have some of the world’s most beautiful trails for hiking and rivers for rafting, and yet the government has so many roads and dams planned that their options for environmentally friendly tourism are gradually being lost. After failing to find a guiding company that would take me on a five day rafting trip highly recommended by a friend who had done it 10 years ago I finally found out that that experience does not exist anymore. The Kali Gandaki has since been dammed and only a three day rafting trip is now possible.

Maybe we need to start a list of Endangered Experiences…

Now I am in Thailand where I am bike touring with my friend Adam who is cycling from New Zealand back to Switzerland to raise awareness and money for melanoma research. Though he had a melanoma a few years ago, he loves the outdoors and hopes to inspire people to get outside – while being careful about the sun. Clearly it worked on me because here I am with my bicycle and no plans to go home anytime soon! His writing and photos that will make you quit your job and buy a bike too are at keeptheaspidistraflying.com.

Soon I hope to write more about nature based tourism, plastics pollution, sustainable sports and travel, wildlife highlights like Himalayan vultures and marine bioluminescence and more! Until then you can check out a few of my photos from biking and photos from Nepal on Flickr.

Business skills training for women – reflections on another workshop

We held the Introductory Business Skills for Women’s Groups workshop yesterday! We had 17 women from four women’s groups in two villages. It was great to see this level of turn out, and I really enjoyed working with the women – it felt very meaningful, particularly as most women here mainly stay in their households, do not have formal employment and are generally quite marginalized. This really seems to result in a lack of confidence, illustrated by the difficulty a few of them had just to introduce themselves without giggling in embarassment. I hope that the workshop was a small step towards giving them more confidence and a stronger voice.
The women’s workshop had several aims: give the women some business skills, inform them about the development of socio-economic monitoring, get a little bit of input from them on what their concerns are, and practice facilitating story-gathering (because story-gathering may be one of our monitoring approaches).

A few quick reflections…

  • When we asked the women what things were ‘important for a good life’ we got a few noticeably different answers than when we asked the community leaders (a group that had only three women and eight men). The women mentioned the availability of game meat, having clothing, and having shelter. They also remembered to say land – something that surely must have been important to the community leaders but they didn’t bring it up until prompted.

What is important for a good life?

Women’s list:

1. Healthy lifestyle
2.Having enough food
3.Having good, healthy food
4. Shelter – having a house
5.Having land
6.Having money
7.Water
8.Education
9.Job – employment
10.Farming – self-employment
11.Availability of game meat – through conservation and
sustainable use
12.Clothing
13.Family
14.Electricity
15.Telephone

Community leaders’ list:

1.To work in unity
2. Money
3.Hard work – working hard (by yourself and together)
4.Food
5.Shelter (a home)
6.Clothing
7.Water – clean water
8.Planning ahead
9.Education
10.Health and healthcare
11.Rich, healthy environment
12.Justice – social justice
13.Equality
  • It is hard to know how things are going in a workshop when you don’t speak the local language! In hindsight I would have scheduled a small meeting with all the facilitators (the three Community, Outreach and Livelihood staff and the volunteer who assisted) immediately following the workshop for them to debrief me and reflect on what we had learned. I might also ask for a translator for myself – someone who is not actively facilitating but can give me the highlights of the questions being asked from the participants without interrupting the flow of the meeting (some facilitators call these ‘whisperers’.)
  • Another thing I will do differently next time is an evaluation form to find out what the women learned and what they thought of the workshop. I think they liked it because they were attentive and seemed to enjoy creating the stories of how their groups were formed and sharing them back with the whole group – but that is only my perception (though my colleague here who does speak the local language had the same feeling).
  • It was good to combine the business training with an introdcution to our plans for socio-economic monitoring, but by the time we got to talking about monitoring I don’t think the women had much energy left. This goes back to the bigger question of whether the monitoring framework is meant to be fully participatory or not. This was mainly a chance to inform the women about monitoring and get initial ideas of what is important to them in their livelihoods, but if this organisation wants to develop a fully participatory monitoring system it requires a more comprehensive approach to community involvement.

When the women described how their groups were formed and what their goals were, a pattern emerged that they had all faced the challenge of losing group members because of misunderstandings about their goals. Barts and I both reflected back to them the importance of having clear goals, good communication and a strong group structure to overcome this. This pattern is also relevant to developing a socio-economic monitoring system – it is extremely important for everyone involved to know and agree on why they are monitoring! I do feel that I am trying to live up to different sets of expectations for this project right now.

In particular if the system is going to be ‘participatory’, you need to define what you mean by ‘participatory’ and why you want to be participatory. Based on many conversations with M&E specialists before coming out here, I was thinking that we could roughly define the reason for monitoring as either principally for internal learning, or principally for external accountability – but another motivation is stakeholder (community) learning. If this is the reason for monitoring it demands a different – and longer term – strategy for engagement…one that is much more participatory. Again I am reminded the importance of clarity of purpose!

 

 

 

Facilitation heaven

My first thought last Friday after the workshop I described in my last blog entry was: I am in facilitation heaven.

I wanted to share some of my reflections on what it was about this meeting that I thought went really well. Facilitation could be described as the art of making things easier – in French facile means easy. I am sure I don’t need to tell you that conservation needs all the facilitating it can get.

  1. Planning as a team. I drafted a design and then spent several hours revising it with the team here. We also jointly came up with the specific wording of our three key messages that we wanted the participants to leave with. From past experience I know that it is essential to make sure you design a plan that the ‘owners’ of the process are comfortable with and believe in. I was very grateful to the director, programme manager and programme officers here for making so much time here to make sure we had a good plan.
  2. Using a story well. Mr Bartolo Teul (“Barts”) began his introduction to the workshop with a story. I am a big believer in the power of telling something in a story format to have more effect. I recently finished a book called The Story Factor (Annette Simmons) about the art of using stories to inspire people without tellingthem what to do. I have been looking for inspiration for good stories that would be relevant to my work – and how to deliver them effectively, and Barts showed me a fantastic example.Knowing that the community leaders here occasionally bristle at the idea of their authority being challenged, he began the workshop by telling the story of a Rabbi who was constantly questioned and challenged by one particular guy. Everyone else couldn’t understand why the Rabbi let this be and didn’t confront this man who kept challenging his ideas. But he never did. And then one day when that man died, and all the other people saw how much the Rabbi cried at his funeral they asked him again, but why are you so sad? And the Rabbi replied, because he was my only friend. He was the only one who listened and took the time to challenge me and correct me. All of you stand by and let me make mistakes. He was a real friend.This story set the scene for an open discussion and was an indirect way to kindly ask people to leave their egos at the door and take the time to learn from each other.
  3. Being in the hands of an expert facilitator. Barts is from this area and has been with this organisation since they were founded nearly fifteen years ago. I knew he had great knowledge of the communities, but it wasn’t until I saw him in action, managing this tough group of people, that I was able to bask in the glow of a truly great facilitator. There is something about knowing your context and your audience that is essential to participatory community work. And the wisdom of experience too. Not that I think my role in facilitation wasn’t important in this situation too – but I would never have achieved the same impact if I had tried to be the lead facilitator.My role as a facilitator in the process was: to understand the meeting convener’s objectives and help them design an agenda that will achieve them, to prepare every detail in advance (preparing the flip-charts, cutting out pictures, getting the invitations out, planning logistics, etc), to ensure the smooth flow of the workshop as it happens (by having an annotated copy of the agenda for all the staff to remind us of the key message in each session, and the materials needed at each stage), to fill in content and process when appropriate, but then – and this is when a facilitator is in heaven – to be able to sit back and let the real expert run the show.
  4. Intentional participation that works. We intentionally designed the workshop to ensure we would not be talking at the participants for too long. We had a well planned activity with a clear reason for why we were getting people to participate. And the best part is, everyone participated very actively and it stimulated exactly the kind of discussion we needed to have! In all likelihood we would not have gotten that level of reflection without first having people participate in an activity that got them moving, thinking and talking amongst themselves.
    5. Challenge and conflict. A smooth flowing meeting isn’t the objective of good facilitation, and in fact it can be a symptom that people are not comfortable enough to raise any issues they have. So it was actually reassuring when we got some raised voices and pointed questions at the end. The concerns were legitimate – the communities were not getting information passed back to them from their community representatives who sit on the organisation’s Board. However, bringing this up gave us all a chance to make an action point to repeat this workshop with the community reps, and for the staff to go to the communities directly to share information with them directly.
For anyone interested in facilitation and learning processes in the context of conservation and sustainability issues, I highly recommend the blog written by two women who have taught me a lot about facilitation and inspired me to keep improving.  You Learn Something New Every Day

Workshop report: participatory engagement with community leaders

A few weeks after my last blog entry about the challenges of getting the participation of community members here in Belize, I now have progress to report. Last week we ran a workshop for community leaders from all three villages and it went really well! 11 out of 15 people turned up, including three women – and they actively listened and participated throughout the morning workshop. Now they know about the project, we have their blessing to continue and we have some new perspectives from them to incorporate into our selection of indicators.
As CupExperience and Diego Juffe commented on my last post, it was very important to give people some tangible examples of how monitoring would help them and to show empathy. During this workshop we took a lot of time to listen to the community leaders.

The meeting was clearly an important step in terms of getting their approval and buy-in, and also in terms of clarifying expectations. The participants recommended we repeat the workshop with members of the organisation’s Board, in particular the community representatives on the board.

Image below: The participants interpret and place images of different assets and activities on the wall chart that is separated into the six ‘livelihoods capitals’ as suggested by the Sustainable Livelihoods Framework. This framework is a way of thinking about grouping what everyone needs for a good quality of life in the categories of: financial, natural, social/cultural, political/legal, physical (built assets) and human.

Image below: People use colored sticker dots to vote – we asked them to put a different color sticker depending on who has responsibility for each feature of ‘a good life’ (meaning sustainable livelihoods).

Image below: Bartolo points to the graduation cap placed in the Financial Capital section. I expected it to go in the Human Capital section because it relates to education and skills. But apparently this was linked to financial well-being because the perception is that if you graduate from high school you can make more money. I also asked if it might be there because it costs money to go to high school, and they agreed.

Image below: Once everyone had put as many stickers up as they wanted, the head of the Community, Outreach and Livelihoods team was able to facilitate a very informative discussion. My aim through this exercise was to have a discussion that would bring the perceptions of responsibility for community well-being to the surface and then bridge into discussing which elements the NGO can influence, and therefore which elements it will try to monitor. For example, there was a clear abundance of dots representing the communities and the NGO in the natural capital section, so we were able to talk about how we work together to assure and improve natural resources in the area.

Following the usefulness of this workshop, next week we are running one with members of women’s groups that work together to make and sell jewelery and baskets from local non-timber forest products. I’m really excited because we’re going to combine the workshop about monitoring with an introductory training to the basic business skills they need to run their groups. I’m going to use material from a group project earlier this year to introduce advertising (marketing), finding customers, tracking finances and inventory and group management.

Should locals be involved in social and economic monitoring?

I am in Belize for 7 weeks where my masters project objective is to help a local NGO design a practical and locally-relevant system for monitoring the social and economic impacts of their work. This NGO does both conservation work to protect a corridor it owns, and community work to improve the livelihoods of the local people and train them to farm in more environmentally sensitive ways.
The first challenge that I’ve come up against is an unexpected one: the communities are apparently skeptical of this NGO (and indeed all other NGOs in the region) and may be unwilling to take part in defining what social and economic factors we should be measuring.

From our point of view, understanding what works and what doesn’t should enable the NGO to improve the assistance it gives to the farmers, thus improving the situation for the farmers. Although I haven’t had the conversation with them yet, my colleagues here think that communities will see this as a waste of their time – they only want to be involved if they see tangible benefits to them.

The interesting thing is that all the documents I’ve read about participatory socio-economic monitoring make it sound like the communities really wanted to get involved, were interested in spending time doing it and put up no resistance.

Is that the case in most places?

How do we convince the communities that they should help us decide what to monitor? (Or should they?)

How can we get them involved? Do we need to pay for their time?

Agriculture and conservation: my basic introduction

You’ve been told to make eco-conscious decisions at the grocery store, but what if I told you that food production may be the biggest threat to biodiversity, and the hardest challenge we’ll face in the next 40 years? Before coming on this course I didn’t have a big picture idea of this challenge, but I think all conservationists need to know what we face. This is wildlife and food security on the line.

Agriculture may just pose the most serious threat to biodiversity: the main reason species face extinction is loss of habitat. Here’s a quick breakdown of land-use by humans that to give you an idea of the scale of habitat loss for agriculture:

  1. We have 13.4 billion hectares of land surface on Earth.
  2. Of that, 3 billion hectares could be suitable for agriculture and for housing.
  3. We’ve already converted 50% of that for food production (it’s under cultivation).
  4. And the other 50%? Well it’s flat enough and gets enough rain and has soil on it, so we could grow food there, but most of it happens to be tropical rainforests. Hmm…do we really want to rip that up?

Not only does agriculture have a land footprint, it also has a resource footprint. Agriculture accounts for 30% of all greenhouse gas emissions and 70% of our global use of freshwater.

Next, let’s think about population growth and food demand. When I was born, population was 4.4 billion. We are now at 7 billion, and when I am trying to enjoy my retirement from my conservation career, we may well be past 9 billion. A recent UN report now says it will surpass that and we’ll hit 10.1 billion by the year 2100! Additionally, each of those people is going to be eating more. For many that is a good thing because they are currently undernourished. However,

More people + ‘bigger appetites’ = more food needed (2-3x more!)

So how do we do that without converting more wild habitats and while minimizing impacts? This is a major challenge that the world faces in terms of food security and biodiversity. Options have tended to fall into two camps:

a) Land sparing: increase yields on existing land and set aside other areas for biodiversity
b) Land sharing: farm the land in more wildlife-friendly ways, creating a finer mosaic of different land uses that species can tolerate (challenge: decreased yields)

So which one is best for biodiversity? Which one is actually happening?
As usual, it depends. Here are a few things it could depend on:

  • Sensitive species: If the species you want to save are very sensitive to any land use change, you may want to set aside good quality habitat for them and then intensively farm another area, because they won’t even survive a wildlife-friendly mosaic. Also referred to as density-production curve. (Read Green, et al., 2005 for the full model)
  • Societal preferences: Do we want to separate food production and biodiversity conservation? (land-sparing) Is it possible in the context you are working in?
  • Policy environment: If you farm intensively, are the complementary policies in place to actually protect the spared land for biodiversity? (Read Ewers, et al., 2009)
  • Resource footprint: Intensive, high-yield agriculture will spare land for wild nature, but we need to consider to what extent its other impacts may offset that. Impacts include: water use, phosphate use, greenhouse gas emissions and pollution run-off from fertilizers.
  • Specific local conditions: these factors could guide whether we should spare land or share land: (Read Fischer, et al., 2008)
    • Topography: complex areas better for wildlife friendly mosaics, big flat areas may be better for intensive, high-yield agriculture
    • Overall productivity and sensitivity of the landscape (e.g. if the soil is naturally nutrient-poor, intensive agriculture will be very damaging and should be avoided)
    • Land ownership patterns: many small fields or fewer large ones
    • Socio-economic factors: yields are not always lower in wildlife-friendly agriculture, for example if a farmer knows his land well he can optimize yields. Also, miminizing costs (usually from fertilizers and pesticides) may be more important to the farmer than maximizing yield.
    • Societal preferences (mentioned above)
  • Non-food cultivation patterns: biofuels are taking up a large proportion of our arable land
  • Tackling the demand side: per capita food consumption should increase for the mal-nourished, but as people get wealthier they eat more meat and dairy products which require far more resource inputs to produce. Should we be trying to change dietary preferences?

Food for thought

Population growth and increasing per capita consumption will require us to produce 2-3 times more food within 40 years! The response to that challenge from land-use planners, governments, environmental agencies and the agriculture sector will have a huge influence on the persistence of biodiversity over the next century. So,

  • How can we usefully bring these people together to set wildlife-friendly food and agriculture policies?
  • Who is already doing it, and doing it well?
  • What role, if any, is there for the market and major grain traders of the world?

Here are some very rough notes I jotted down during a class discussion on the topic:

Now, over to you for some comments!

Reading list:

Balmford, A., Green, R.E. & Scharlemann, J.P., 2005. Sparing land for nature: exploring the potential impact of changes in agricultural yield on the area needed for crop production. Global Change Biology, 11, pp.1594-1605.

Ewers, R.M. et al., 2009. Do increases in agricultural yield spare land for nature? Global Change Biology, 15, pp.1716-1726.

Fischer, J. et al., 2008. Should agricultural policies encourage land sparing or wildlife-friendly farming? Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 6(7), pp.380-385.

Green, R.E. et al., 2005. Farming and the fate of wild nature. Science (New York, N.Y.), 307(5709), pp.550-5. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15618485.

International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (2010)
Reports available at: http://www.agassessment.org/

Matson, P.A. & Vitousek, P.M., 2006. Agricultural Intensification: Will Land Spared from Farming be Land Spared for Nature? Conservation Biology, 20(3), pp.709-710.

Royal Society theme issue (2010)  “Food security: feeding the world in 2050”
Available at: http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/365/1554.toc

What does the ‘most powerful unelected man in the UK’ have to say about big business going green?

Some insights about the social contribution of big business, after a talk by the former CEO of the UK’s largest supermarket chain, Tesco.

This evening I went to listen to Sir Terry Leahy, former CEO of Tesco supermarket chain speak about the role of big business in society. Though he recently retired, during his 14 years as CEO he led huge growth in the company. I think it’s important for conservationists to listen to what people like him are saying so that we can understand how to work with the forces of business – because for better or worse, they have a big influence on what we are trying to achieve.

I also wanted to see what a Fortune ‘European businessman of the year’ (2004) and a winner of the European Business Leader Award (2005) would be like – especially considering the controversy about him and Tesco.

Let’s start with some quick background: Tesco is the largest supermarket chain in the UK and has stores worldwide. It employs 500,000 people; it holds 30% of the UK supermarket share; Leahy earned over £5 million last year; it has ambitious carbon reduction targets; many speak of the Tesco-ization of the UK. What does that last point mean? When Tesco arrives, other small shops are put out of business, the high street loses its diversity, customers lose options, local grocers go out of business. (More on this later.)

Well, in spite of my preconceptions about terrible Tesco, it turns out Mr Leahy was a good speaker and very thoughtful and reasonable in his approach to the social responsibility of business. I was impressed. I hope they can meet their targets and that his successor remains committed to them.

A few points he made that should give conservationists some insight:

Business’ role is to make profit, but it is guided by three forces: the market, laws and government regulation for the comon good, and by its own conscience and moral judgement.

Big business drives productive innovation and delivers net benefits. However, along the way there are costs and benefits, and if your on the losing side it can be hard to see that there are net benefits. [Harsh, but hard to disagree.]

Businesses have values in addition to profit-maximization. This is not just to satisfy customers, but to satisfy employees who want to work for a company they can be proud of. [All the more reason to share environmental values with members of the public.]

Tesco’s four issues for community engagement are: local community, education, diet and health, and climate change.

On climate change: “We have to have a second revolution in consumption. We need to decouple the supply chains from fossil fuels.” Their targets: 50% emissions reduction by 2020; 0 emissions by 2050; 30% emissions reductions in their supply chains by 2020.

Reasons he gave for environmental problems (related to his sector): inefficiencies, market failures, absence of better economic alternatives, and some gaps in scientific knowledge.

His views on the future of business: the future social contribution of business will be more than it is today [phew!]. The current era of greenwash will be shortlived because the companies that don’t make genuine changes won’t last, and sustainable practices are becoming standard. In the future companies will have to ‘be green to grow’ (and yes, it’s all about growth).

And finally, he doesn’t think that Tesco reduces consumer choices. If, as some say, 70-80% of the locals didn’t want Tesco, then they would have gone out of business, and that’s not the case. All monopoly inquiries have shown Tesco is not one. [I’m not sure I agree about the consumers really having a choice, and I also think that we shouldn’t rely so much on consumers to make the right choices.]

What I would have liked to know:
In addition to the impacts of climate change that Tesco is right to address, agriculture is arguably the biggest threat to biodiversity. What role can big business play in having a positive influence on land-use decisions? What specifically can we expect to see from Tesco and other in the next 20 years in terms of leading biodiversity-friendly land-use policy? (e.g. through their influence of supply chains relating to palm oil production).

Which country ‘owns’ the most ocean?

Managing our natural resources is especially difficult in the oceans where species not only move huge distances, but it’s also not entirely clear who is responsible for which piece of the ocean. Nonetheless, some countries have rights over huge areas of ocean and we should learn from their experiences.

If you think about who has responsibility for which parts of the Earth, you probably think of a world map with blocks of land parcelled up and run by various countries. However, in addition to that each country can claim up to 200 miles of ocean directly off of its coast – these are called Exclusive Economic Zones or EEZs. And then there is the open ocean, also known as the high seas, that no country has exclusive rights to. The high seas make up 60% of the earth’s surface: talk about a headache for management.

So what countries have big EEZs – in other words, which ones have the responsibility for the largest areas of our oceans? Before today I would have guessed that an island nation with a huge coastline, such as Indonesia, might have the largest EEZ. I found out that it’s in fact the US that has the largest EEZ! Larger than it’s land surface! Check out this map:

Image from National Geographic DailyNews article (link on this blog)

I recommend also reading the article where I found this: http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2011/03/30/overfishing-101-a-beginners-guide-to-understanding-u-s-fishery-management/

What’s interesting is that I’d recently heard that the US claims to manage almost all of its fisheries (quite a statement considering most fisheries worldwide are basically a free for all). This article, written by an American, actually makes it sound like they have a lot more work to do. The author, from Pew Environment Group, will continue to explain US fisheries issues in subsequent articles.

Let’s see what we can learn about managing marine resources from the country with the largest territorial ocean claim!

Note: there are many more nuances to high seas issues, EEZ claims and marine natural resource issues – but those will be for another day.

What does it mean to say “I am a conservationist”?

On whether we can we call ourselves conservationists and what discipline merits the title best.

Last night, at a dinner with a club of self-named ‘explorers’, I was talking with an elderly gentleman who said he’d been a field tropical ecologist for the past 60 years, so I asked if he considered himself a conservationist. To that he retorted that he hates the idea of saying “I am a conservationist” and continued to berate the idea saying it was a ridiculous thing to claim (because it was not specific enough I think – but he wasn’t entirely clear).

A little later he eventually asked about what I do, to which I answered: “I am a conservationist.” He scoffed and groaned and shook his head and asked what I had done to qualify for this role. He appeared disgusted when I told him my first degree was in environmental science and policy, “Did they teach you anything useful in that course? What did they teach you – did you learn anything about ecology?” I told him I had, but the emphasis had been on political science and public policy and as I was starting to explain that people working in conservation need not all be ecologists and conservation requires an understanding of people, politics, social issues and more he stopped listening!

So I doubt I made a good impression on him but I frankly don’t care too much because later as he was  introduced to give a small speech he was referred to as the rudest man in the whole club.