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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. An archive of recent lectures is available here.

33rd T B Macaulay Lecture - Living on a Shrinking Planet: Challenges and Opportunities for Sustaining Global Land Use

Land use has generally been considered a local issue, but is becoming a force of global importance. Worldwide changes to land resources are driven by needs for food, fibre, water and shelter for six billion people. Global croplands, pastures, plantations and urban areas have expanded in recent decades, accompanied by increased energy, water and fertiliser consumption, and by biodiversity loss. These changes have increased human consumption of the planet’s resources, but undermine the capacity of ecosystems to sustain food production, maintain freshwater, regulate climate, and restrict infectious diseases. We face the challenge of managing trade-offs between immediate human needs and the long-term capacity of the biosphere to provide necessary goods and services.

32nd T B Macaulay Lecture - Does the idea of Integrated Rural Development still have any place in Scotland?

Recently, the OECD review of rural policy in Scotland argued that integration is needed between the many organisations involved – a conclusion that harks back to earlier models of Integrated Rural Development. This talk asks whether the concept of Integrated Rural Development still has any meaning in the context of the new approaches to rural governance being adopted within Scotland and more widely across Europe? These approaches are characterised by multi-level interactions (including vertical and horizontal partnerships) between public, private and voluntary sectors, in what is sometimes seen as a 'nobody-in-charge world'.

The talk seeks to link the question about integrated rural development to re-theorisations of concepts of spatial planning, place-shaping, capacity-building and neo-endogenous development. It considers how rural development policies in Scotland, and Europe more generally, might be re-cast through supporting the empowerment of local communities. The talk will conclude by asking how we might strike an appropriate balance between enabling and mobilising local actors to pursue their own strategic agendas and the desire of governments to impose their agendas. Might rural communities actually be better served by 'disintegrated rural development'?

31st T B Macaulay Lecture - The ground beneath our feet

One of the great scientific challenges is trying to understand how the operations of ecosystems, on which we all depend, are regulated by their biological complexity. Nowhere is this challenge more intractable than in soil, site of many essential services such as carbon and nutrient cycling, and home to great - and largely unknown - biological diversity.

New approaches and technologies offer real hope of progress in tackling this problem, but there is an urgent need to communicate the importance of soils to the global ecosystem and to human civilisation, to slow or halt the damage being done to the world's soils.

30th Macaulay Lecture - Lessons For Ecology, Conservation And Society From The Serengeti

The most serious problem facing human society today is that the ecosystems in which we live are becoming unsustainable.Species are being lost and resources are being consumed at unprecedented rates-but just how much can we lose? The Serengeti ecosystem in East Africa has been well studied for nearly 50 years. Protected areas such as these act as ecological baselines where human-induced change is kept to a minimum. Lessons from these baselines are vital in understanding other areas of the world.In this talk Professor Sinclair will draw on almost half a century of his own research, demonstrating its relevance to the way society must manage their own systems for long-term sustainability.

29th Macaulay Lecture - Where on Earth Are We Going?

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.

28th Macaulay Lecture - How much change can an ecosystem or society undergo and still function properly?

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.

27th T B Macaulay Lecture - A Renewable Energy Future? Challenges and Opportunities

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.

26th T B Macaulay Lecture - A Scottish perspective on the Transition to Sustainability

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.

25th Macaulay Lecture - 21st Century Agriculture - If New Technology is the Answer, are we asking the Right Question?

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.

24th T B Macaulay Lecture - Countryside Change - Policies, Practice and Prospects

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