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Environ 25: Sustainability and Opportunities for Change

The 25th Irish Environmental Researchers Colloquium (Environ 2015) was held at IT Sligo from April 8th to 10th and was co-hosted by the School of Science and the Environmental Sciences Association of Ireland (ESAI).

The ENVIRON colloquium is the largest annual gathering of environmental researchers in Ireland with over 280 researchers attending this year. The event continues to provide a wonderful platform for postgraduate students and postdoctoral researchers to present their research to a wide audience. Since its establishment, one of the main strengths of the colloquium has been that it attracts delegates from a wide variety of disciplines providing a unique opportunity for specialist researchers to learn what is happening outside their own research area.

In today’s research world there is an increasing emphasis to tackle societal challenges and impacts, in other words to look beyond our laboratory and field work, and by engaging with stakeholders, find sustainable solutions to real life issues. This was reflected in the theme of this 25th colloquium, ‘Environ 25: Sustainability and Opportunities for Change’. The colloquium theme addressed the need to review environmental change since 1991.

The conference began on Wednesday April 8th with two workshops on: ‘Introduction of the use of R in Environmental Statistics’ (Dr Cóilín Minto, GMIT) and ‘Communications in Science’ (Dr Cara Augustenborg, Impact Research Management and David Dodd, DECLG). These workshops were attended to full capacity and the feedback was very positive from those that engaged in both the statistics and the communications training.

Environ 2015 opened on the evening of Wednesday April 8th with a question and answers style panel debate, open to the public, on the popular topic of 'Paying for our water: quality and quantity matter'. The panel comprised of Jerry Grant (Head of Asset Management, Irish Water), Fiona Regan (Director of DCU Water Institute), and Michael Fitzmaurice (Independent TD for Roscommon-South Leitrim). The lecture hall was full to capacity, with over 100 in attendance. The debate was ably chaired by Austin O Callaghan, Communications Manager at IT Sligo and each speaker had five minutes to present their views on the topic. This led to questions from various members of the public to the panel about the water charges issue. The debate was very lively with informed and individual replies from each of the panel members.

The colloquium was formally opened on Thursday morning by Professor Vincent Cunnane, President of IT Sligo followed by four keynote speakers: Dr Richard Thorn (President Emeritus, IT Sligo), Dr Micheál Ó Cinnéide (EPA Director), Marianne Kettunen (Senior Policy Analyst, Institute for European Environmental Policy) and Dr Brian Motherway (CEO, Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland). Each speaker had a theme specific to their own expertise in the arena of sustainability.

Four concurrent sessions followed the plenary session for the rest of Thursday and for Friday morning. These sessions spanned 15 environmental topic areas, with a total of 110 oral presentations. For the first time in the Environ series, there were sessions on Invasive Species, Nanotechnology, Environmental Socioeconomics, and Sustainable Agriculture – these are cross-disciplinary research areas which were largely unknown or unexplored in the early years of Environ. There were also 85 posters on display, covering the spectrum of sessions, which were viewed during each the coffee breaks and the lunch-breaks. In reviewing the abstracts for oral and poster sessions, we were amazed by the diversity of the research within all the sessions, which is a testament to the researchers, their supervisors and to the vision of the funding organisations.

The poster sessions were held in the lower section of the new IT Sligo Food Court, and this space also held a wide range of exhibitors from environmental agencies, organisations and suppliers. During the breaks delegates had the opportunity to visit these sponsors, who are an integral and valued part of Environ colloquium.

On the Thursday night, the social event was held in the Clarion Hotel. The event was kicked off by the IT Sligo traditional music society, providing a lively ambience to the wine reception. Over 175 delegates came to the event, enjoying a buffet meal and socialising with fellow students and researchers. For mature delegates, there was the chance to catch up with old friends from all parts of Ireland. Postgraduates meeting for the first time at Environ 2015 are likely to cross paths many times during the course of their careers.

The Winner of the Best Oral Presentation at Environ 2015 was Alwynee McGeever, TCD student, for her presentations entitled ‘Scots Pine: A native Irish Tree?’ Kate Moore was the winner of Best Poster Presentation at Environ 2015 for her work entitled ‘Deer exclusion Rhododendron cleared sites promote the recovery of plant communities and invertebrates in the oak woodlands of Killarney National Park.’ The joint prize sponsors for both these presentations were the School of Natural Sciences TCD, EPA, and the Family of Maximillian Von Sternburg. There were five other prizes including the Biodiversity prize won by Pamela O’Boyle, IT Sligo for her presentation on ‘Typology of High Nature Value farmland in a Northern Atlantic pastoral landscape’ sponsored by the Institutes of Technology, Ireland (IOTI).

Throughout ENVIRON2015, there was a great opportunity for the 325 delegates to network with fellow researchers, and with industry, agencies and policy makers. We hope this continues to inspire them to think ‘outside the box’, to explore global research trends and technologies in search of a cross disciplinary vision.

I would like to acknowledge the ESAI Council and especially Sinead Macken for her expertise in organising and managing Environ 2015. Many thanks to all involved at IT Sligo, including the postgraduates, organising committee, IT Services, building office and administration. Thanks to those, independent of IT Sligo and the ESAI, who volunteered to present keynote addresses and chair sessions especially our generous sponsors. We are extremely grateful for the continued sponsorship of Environ by all sponsors, but especially by the EPA whose support is invaluable.

Environ 2016 will be held at the University of Limerick and I wish the very best to the new convener Ronan Courtney.

Dr. Frances Lucy

Convener Environ 2015,

Director CERIS research centre, IT Sligo

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