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Previous Macaulay Lectures

Each year the Trust, in partnership with The James Hutton Institute, organise the annual Macaulay lecture.

The aim of the lecture is to stimulate thinking and dialogue about contemporary environmental issues in order to honour the vision of Dr T B Macaulay from whose endowment in 1930 both the Trust and the Hutton trace their origins. Further information about Dr Macaulay can be found here.

The lectures are aimed at an informed, professional audience and each one is given by a world renown academic. The list below shows an archive of recent lectures. The most recent lecture can be found on the following page.

Soils are home to a vast diversity of life that is essential for a variety of ecosystem functions – from the tiniest microbes to larger soil animals and plant roots. The UN has designated 2015 as the International Year of Soils to acknowledge their importance and to raise awareness on the need to protect this valuable resource for future generations. Although it is well established that soil organisms provide essential services including decomposition of organic matter, nutrient cycling, cleansing of water, and regulation of pests, the complex relationships in soil are often overlooked in management and policy decisions. The Global Soil Biodiversity Initiative (GSBI) was established in 2011with the goal of advancing the knowledge of soil biodiversity science. The GSBI aims to increase the implementation of findings on the benefits of soil biodiversity and identify ways to restore, conserve and promote soils and soil biodiversity. Scientists investigating life in the soil emphasize the critical role of soil biodiversity at all trophic levels to soil functioning and plant production, and thus, our reliance on living soils for a sustainable future.

The lecture tackled the challenge posed by increased calls for policy developers and decision-makers in Scotland to base their decisions more firmly on the underlying science. Professor Sutherland argued that the current processes often lead to poor and slow decisions and the inefficient or problematic use of resources. He outlined various problems and described methods that can help individual policy developers and decision-makers and also improve the decision-making processes.

In the 21st century, the scale and intensity of human impacts on the biosphere and biodiversity are widely recognised: we live in the Anthropocene, the era of humankind. Through the 20th century the conservation movement developed strategies to defend nature from human pressure. There have been successes but human impacts continue to grow.

Impoverished and novel ecosystems are being created that have no exact 'natural' analogue. These make any simple idea of 'naturalness' profoundly problematic and challenge our understanding of conservation. Are current conservation strategies suited to future challenges? Do they need to change, and if so how?

Achieving increased levels of productivity using existing land whilst causing minimal environmental damage is one of the greatest challenges of modern agriculture.  Sustainable intensification, as the concept is known, was the subject of the 35th T.B. Macaulay Lecture, delivered by Professor Jules Pretty OBE, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Essex.

The theme of the paper is 'countryside change - policies, practice and prospects', it is used to explore and discuss a number of topics that are important in relation to land use and the research undertaken at the Macaulay. The main drivers of countryside change over the next two decades, and how policies and technological opportunities will influence the likely direction of change and the rationale for research at the Macaulay is discussed. The paper presents some of the important contributions that the Macaulay has made in providing objective information about the processes of change and the tools whereby change can be managed and forecast. The unique features of the institute research environment and how it relates to the university sector will be highlighted. Finally, the paper deals with the need to consider research as an investment in the future

It could be argued, with some force, that the development of "Western" agriculture has represented an effective symbiosis between biology, chemistry and engineering. Understanding the basis of crop and animal production systems has led to the targetting of engineering advances and novel chemicals that have, together, sustained the productivity increases of the 20th Century.

In my talk, I would like to consider, from a biological point of view, whether this symbiosis can, and indeed should, continue. I wish to address three questions: "What is theoretically possible?"; "What is practically feasible?"; and "What is socially desirable?".

I will start from the position that the aim of developed country agriculture is to produce the safe, high-quality food that people want, at a price that they are prepared to pay, using techniques that they accept as being sustainable. I will then consider these three questions from two standpoints: commodity production at global prices; and niche market production where added value resides further up the food chain. I will argue that the technology interactions will differ markedly in these two approaches, and that much research is predicated upon the assumption that the first standpoint is the only viable one. I will question that assumption and consider how biological research can impact upon high-value production systems.

The lecture will look at the implications of the transition to sustainability for Scottish governance. It will reflect on the role of the Scottish Executive, the Scottish Parliament, the non departmental bodies, business and civil society. It will also introduce the role of sustainability appraisal as a policy evaluation mechanism. Finally, it will assess how far Scotland has come, and has to go to meet the transition to sustainability.

As the energy industry arrives at a pivotal crossroads, Karen de Segundo looks at whether renewable energies will help society solve the critical question of how to meet the world's increasing energy needs. Whilst many regions, including Scotland, look to a renewable energy future, the audience will hear a realistic examination of the pro's and con's of renewable energies including commercial viability, predictability, storage and competitiveness.

How much change can an ecosystem or society undergo and still function properly? Understanding the components and structures of systems is one thing, but knowing how to manage them in a desirable state for future generations is what lies at the heart of resilience management.

The history of our planet is essentially a tale of two entities, the geophysical earth, and the life it supports, as well as their interactions. Through a cascade of entwined transitions, major geological changes and information-processing, life has co-evolved over billions of years to finally generate the habitat for Homo sapiens. We are, however, radically and abruptly transforming the Earth to the extent that we now live in an era that is unlike any that has gone before. In this so called "Anthropocene", modes of planetary operation and natural global cycles have become strongly influenced - if not dominated - by the demands of our ever increasing industrialization. Yet this may be only the beginning: geoengineering and terraforming schemes have been proposed for re-designing nature at humanity's will, possibly perverting long-term co-evolution. The lecture will try to tell a short story of the Earth through its past, present and future, emphasizing the danger associated with a rapidly decreasing wisdom-to-power ratio.