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Policy, practice, science and decision making: a tough balancing act

Professor William Sutherland will deliver the 37th Macaulay Lecture
"There is a serious gap between science and practice. We have great ecological research, but most decisions are made independently of the science, while we learn little from our successes and failures.

What are the challenges faced by policy developers in Scotland, at a time of increasing calls on decision makers to base their conclusions more firmly on the underlying science and avoid inefficient use of resources? These issues, and many others, will be at the heart of 37th T.B. Macaulay Lecture, to be offered by Professor William J. Sutherland, Miriam Rothschild Professor of Conservation Biology at the University of Cambridge.

Speaking ahead of the lecture, which will be held for the first time at the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Professor Sutherland said: “There is a serious gap between science and practice. We have great ecological research, but most decisions are made independently of the science, while we learn little from our successes and failures.

My research shows that few conservation management decisions are based upon the scientific literature and almost nothing is documented in a manner that is accessible to others. This gulf between science and practice is understandable. We need the structures to make it possible for practitioners to use the science.”

The T.B. Macaulay Lecture is an event organised by the Trustees of the Macaulay Development Trust and the James Hutton Institute to support sustainable land management through research and education. Eric Baird, Chair of the Macaulay Development Trust and Professor Iain Gordon, Chief Executive of the James Hutton Institute, extended the invitation to the scientific, academic policy and agricultural communities to attend the Lecture.

Professor Gordon said: “We are deeply honoured that Professor Sutherland is able to deliver this year’s lecture. The James Hutton Institute is also very proud that we can continue the long established tradition of organising this prestigious lecture, which is so much a part of our legacy from the former Macaulay Land Use Research Institute. Professor Sutherland’s theme of ensuring that policy developers and decision makers have the right forms of evidence to help in their decision making is at the very heart of what we are trying to achieve through our research.”

On behalf of the Macaulay Development Trust, Eric Baird added: “The Trust is pleased to invite Professor Sutherland to stimulate the new thinking that is needed. We also welcome the hosting, by the Royal Society of Edinburgh, of this year's lecture. It promises to be an occasion where science, policy, and practice can meet.”

The Lecture will take place at the Royal Society of Edinburgh, on 25 September 2014, from 10:30 am. Attendance is free but places should be booked in advance by emailing events@hutton.ac.uk or phone +44 (0)344 928 5428

Notes for editors

Members of the press are welcome to attend the 37th Macaulay Lecture. To confirm your attendance please contact Events or phone +44 (0)344 928 5428.

Professor William J. Sutherland holds the Miriam Rothschild Chair of Conservation Biology in the Department of Zoology at the University of Cambridge. His research interests largely involve predicting the consequences of environmental change. He has written The Conservation Handbook and From Individual Behaviour to Population Biology and edited Managing Habitats for Conservation, Ecological Census Techniques, Behaviour and Conservation, Conservation Science and Action and Bird Ecology and Conservation: a Handbook of Techniques. He is currently heavily involved in exploring a range of ways of integrating conservation science and policy especially through the development of evidence-based conservation.

The annual T.B. Macaulay Lecture is held to honour the vision of Dr Thomas Bassett Macaulay, President and Chairman of the Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada, whose benefaction founded the original Macaulay Institute for Soil Research in 1930. He was a descendant of the Macaulays from the Island of Lewis and his aim was to improve the productivity of Scottish agriculture. This vision continues today in its successor the James Hutton Institute, a world leader in land, crop, water, environmental and socio-economic science.

More information from: 

Bernardo Rodriguez-Salcedo, Media Manager, Tel: +44 (0)1224 395089 (direct line), +44 (0)344 928 5428 (switchboard) or +44 (0)7791 193918 (mobile).


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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.