ESA at the 2023 British Ecological Society in Belfast, Northern Ireland

By Elisabeth Huber-Sannwald (Editor-in-Chief, Earth Stewardship)

ESA Executive Director Catherine O’Riordan and Earth Stewardship Editor-in-Chief Elisabeth Huber-Sannwald man the ESA booth at the British Ecological Society’s 2023 Annual Meeting. Photo credit: Elisabeth Huber-Sannwald

Where can you find more than 1,200 ecologists from more than 45 countries around the world to share exciting research results in the cold month of December (in the northern hemisphere)? Belfast, Northern Ireland! I had the honor to represent ESA at the 2023 Annual Meeting of the British Ecological Society, the largest ecology meeting in Europe, held December 12-15.

This year, I joined ESA Executive Director Catherine O’Riordan to promote ESA and its journals. I was particularly excited to be there; this was the first opportunity to introduce the brand-new ESA/Wiley journal Earth Stewardship to an international community. We explained to interested authors that this journal is complementary to the established ESA journal portfolio as it will publish results from long-term social-ecological research and community-based initiatives across the planet. It will serve as a forum for the cultural exchange of diverse knowledge systems and open opportunities for creating strong partnerships around stewardship initiatives. These initiatives foster the inclusion of diverse perspectives, especially from underrepresented peoples and regions, as well as collaborations between researchers from different disciplines of the social and natural sciences and humanities, community members and practitioners. This approach resonated deeply, especially with early career researchers and PhD students from around the world.

The British Ecological Society’s 2023 Annual Meeting was held in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Photo credit: Elisabeth Huber-Sannwald

I very much appreciated the great interest of many meeting participants who inquired about the aims and scope of the journal. Shortly after the meeting concluded, we launched the Earth Stewardship submission portal.

The venue for the 2023 BES Annual Meeting was the Waterfront Hall. When I asked for the location of the International Convention Center, the locals on the street were extremely friendly and patient, but corrected me, “You mean the Waterfront Hall? Here in Belfast, we do not have a Convention Center.” Once I found the venue, I could see that only “Waterfront Hall” can explain the iconic building at the shores of the River Lagan.

The conference started with an ice breaker in the exhibit hall on Dec. 12. Then the participants moved to the large auditorium where we were received by a magical soundscape of wildlife. What an excellent way to get us all tuned in! BES President Yadvinder Mahli then delivered his inspiring opening remarks.

Journalist and author Isabella Tree gave the first plenary of the BES Annual Meeting. Photo credit: Elisabeth Huber-Sannwald

The first plenary on Wednesday morning was given by Isabella Tree. Her talk, a real-world success story about wilding and reconnecting landscapes for farming, nature and people, was truly compelling. Additional plenaries and concurrent oral sessions filled up the remainder of the days, with many workshops held at lunchtime.

Poster sessions were held in the exhibit hall at the end of each day and were filled with animated discussions. The range of topics—community ecology, biodiversity, nature and humans, functional ecology, conservation science—attracted a wide variety of ecologists and those working in resource management and environmental science.

The exhibit hall offered opportunities to meet and share ideas with other conference attendees. Photo credit: Elisabeth Huber-Sannwald

In the exhibit hall, we met ESA members and other delegates and heard their enthusiasm for research, discovery and communication of their science. In addition to meeting with potential authors for Earth Stewardship, we also engaged delegates in discussions of other ESA programs, including the upcoming Annual Meeting in Long Beach in August.

We were very impressed by the convention center’s ability to feed all attendees lunch within an hour! Meals were completely vegan and delicious. Serving only vegan food at their meeting aligns with the BES program to move towards becoming a net-zero organization. Holding lunch in the exhibit hall provided another reason to engage in conversations near posters and exhibition booths.

ESA Executive Director Catherine O’Riordan discussed DEIJ initiatives with BES Director of Publishing Andrea Baier and Karen Devine, Director of Communities and Inclusion. Photo credit: Catherine O’Riordan

Catherine had the opportunity to sit with BES senior staff to discuss their equity initiatives and how they mirror the DEIJ task force recommendations that we are carrying out at ESA. BES and ESA are definitely sister societies, and there is much to learn from, admire about and share with each other.

We enjoyed our interactions with delegates from around the world, especially those that traveled far from Australia, Africa and South America. Lively discussions about science continued at a conference party held at a large Belfast pub where attendees enjoyed board games and billiards and traditional lively Irish line dancing.

There were excellent sessions on human-environment relationships, especially the importance of including local and indigenous knowledge in our research on conservation, restoration and governance. Kaitiakitanga—the Māori term for guardianship/stewardship of New Zealand—refers to the practice and care for protecting the land, the water, the air and the sky. Thank you to Tara McAllister for sharing your first-hand experience with your most valuable collaborators! Whether it is Kaitiakitanga or Earth Stewardship, BES or ESA, it is the transformational potential to safeguard our oikos that links us and brought us together in Belfast. A truly rewarding experience.


Basalt columns at the Giant’s Causeway were a highlight of an earlier BES meeting in Belfast. Photo credit: Catherine O’Riordan

P.S. ED O’Riordan was also able to attend the 2019 conference when BES met most recently in Belfast. A highlight of that visit was a cold, wet hike along the Giant’s Causeway with other ecologists. (This UNESCO world heritage site is named for a Gaelic legend that the rocks are the remainder of a causeway built by a giant. The result of a volcanic fissure eruption 50 million years ago, it consists of an area of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns with cliffs of solidified lava that soar 100 feet overhead.)