When you stop writing columns for Resource after nearly five years, it is tempting to read over what you have written. You come across some pieces you are still satisfied with, but also some embarrassing rubbish. Much more interesting are the things on which you have completely changed your mind.
For instance, I once wrote a piece ridiculing nature conservation organization Natuurmonumenten’s member consultations. These were intended to give Natuurmonumenten’s supporters a say in the nature management implemented by the organization. I wrote with a little more nuance, but the gist of my argument was: leave nature management to ecologists who have studied it in depth, and keep others as far away from it as possible. To make sure my piece had a link to WUR, I addressed it to Jeroen Dijsselbloem, chair of Natuurmonumenten, and a WUR alumnus and chair of WUR’s supervisory board. In addition to a coffee date with Dijsselbloem, the column brought in a series of emails from WUR folk who wholeheartedly agreed with me. ‘Nail on the head!’ someone wrote.
But since then, I have become convinced that it is crucial for fair and effective nature conservation to take multiple perspectives into account, and that the local knowledge of practitioners matters just as much as the scientific knowledge of, say, ecologists. In my PhD research, I seek to substantiate this by focusing precisely on what farmers have to say about nature. Looking back, I am surprised that I got so many positive responses to a piece in which I pretty much advocated keeping a lot of people out of the nature management debate.
All this reminds me of the column called ‘180 degrees’ that the Dutch daily paper De Volkskrant used to run. It gave a platform to people who had radically changed their minds. An idea for Resource, perhaps? WUR is an organization in which – in spite of all the dialogue sessions it holds – different camps have sometimes dug in pretty deep. It is easy to stay in your own bubble and cling to your own rightness. But those who never change their mind are not thinking. So let’s shine a light on changes in perception, and celebrate them. Long live doubt, long live those who change their minds!
Vincent Oostvogels (26) is in the second year of his PhD research on biodiversity restoration in dairy farming. He dreams of one day being able to keep a few cows himself. This is his last column in Resource.