Royal Geographical Society; Exploration, discovery, and scientific research
NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
Stereo=1; Dual-Channel Mono
Show: Geographic Century
Log of DAT #: Nigel Windsor
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Just tell me who you are, your name, and what you do.
I¿m Nigel Windsor. I work at the Royal Geographical Society in London and I¿m responsible for all their overseas research programs as their deputy director and I¿ve been working there for 20 years.
You have explored yourself.
Yes, it¿s been a great time in the last 20 years. I¿ve had the privilege to be with those who¿ve been embarking on remarkable explorations and journeys and I¿ve been responsible for my own projects in such places as the Great Waheebasan Sea in the sultanate of Iman, in the great rain forests of Southeast Asia, in fact in a place called the Gulangmulu National Park in Sarawi. I¿ve had the privilege to undertake research in the great Jordanian desert, in the great Himalayan kingdom of the Karakura Mountains in Pakistan, and many other places, but it¿s been a great time to be in the field undertaking these explorations.
I want to ask you a very personal question, and you can think about this one. Have you ever been lost?
I¿ve been lost on three or four occasions. The worst moment of being lost for me was in the rain forests of Sarawac. They have a rule, the local law there, that if you upset the local spirit, he will take your, take you, so you go for a walk in the forest. And the rule of course is that you never go alone, ever. But of course, you do occasionally. I was there for nearly two years, so it was a long time to be in the field and you¿re going down the track late at night and you see, in this case I was watching a flock of birds that I was trying to photograph and my guide had gone back to get another film, I think. Anyway, I was on own. And then it got dark. Now I was not worried at all, but I followed the track back, and you know how you have a, you know, you¿re gonna walk for, say, three-quarters of an hour, and you should be back by then. Well, I walked for an hour and began not to recognize the forest. The path was still there but I didn¿t know where I was. So I then cut a little notch in the tree where I was, `cause the rule is that if you get back to that spot, you¿ve got to just work yourself out. I then followed the trail for another hour and the scary thing was I came back to that same spot. So I¿d done a complete circle and by then, totally lost my bearings. And I then had to wait until, about an hour, I just sat down. I waited for an hour to see if I could hear the noise of the generator in the distance. In fact, I couldn¿t hear it, so I really was quite lost. The people in the camp weren¿t worried because they thought I was with another group, so I had the choice of spending the night there or trying to find my way back. The moon came out about 1 o¿clock in the morning and in fact I then made my way back through another track and it took me about an hour and a half to get back, so I was very relieved.
Were you frightened?
I was frightened, but not as frightened as, I mean, not fear for my death or anything, but I just frightened that that spirit, the pull of the forest, suddenly took over. And if you walk for an hour and go back to the same spot, that¿s quite frightening, you know. All sorts of things start thinking in your own mind about what¿s going on about the spirits of the forest and there¿s a lot of folklore associated with the spirits. For instance, if a certain bird flew across your path in the morning, none of the Punan guides that we were working with or the Bruwan guides would go any further because that was an omen. I remember one scientist who said ¿bahoo¿ to all that, you know, rubbish. He got bitten by a snake about ten minutes later. I mean, he ignored the advice of his local guides. He said, ¿I¿ll always listen to their advice in the future. Part of this, of course, is the rule, never go on your own, always go close with your local guides who look after you and the partnership with them, in my view, is one of the great strengths of exploring in the field in these sort of magnificent places.
You may have already answered this, but what is the best advice if you¿re lost?
I think every location, it depends on where you¿re lost. I¿ve been lost in other locations, we¿ve been lost in the desert. You then have to use your resources in terms of, is there a set procedure to fall back on. When we got lost in the desert, there is a set procedure. You institute what you call the square, square search. What you do is, if you don¿t know whether the road or the track that you¿re on is one side or the other, you know roughly, you know whether you¿re on the west or east side of it, say, for traveling north, but you don¿t know if you¿ve gone off it, if it¿s on the west or the east. So what you tend to do is organize a square search, so you drive for a kilometer in one direction, then take a bearing of 90 degrees east and drive 2 kilometers, and then you take a bearing 90 degrees east again and drive for 3 kilometers, and basically your square gets bigger and bigger and bigger until you find the road. And we did that and it was great. So there was a set procedure in place and we were okay. You¿ve got to rely on your sixth sense if you don¿t fall back on the rule book. If the rule book¿s not there, then you got to go back on your sixth sense as to what you can, should do, your knowledge of the stars, you can navigate by the stars, one is assuming you haven¿t brought your compass with you which is a golden rule, why not. You assume you haven¿t brought your map with you, why not. All those kind of things, and just, you have to use your ? to get out of it.
Let¿s talk about exploration, connection between science and exploration. What¿s the connection?
I think the driving force to getting out into the field to remote and challenging environments where a lot of true exploration is being done today, the driving force for that is something that, the adventurous spirit within you. But it¿s matched equally by the desire to learn something new. I believe it¿s the golden age of discovery today. I think more is being discovered today by groups of field scientists around the world than ever before. And it¿s this mixture of adventure and science that is driving that. The joy of learning something new about an environment you¿re working in, whether it be a new specie or a new understanding of the processes that are going on or if it¿s something more significant such as finding a new river system or new understanding about the communities that are living there in terms of social, the social interaction with that community, with that environment. Soon as you get something new, that¿s really exciting. Sharing that to a wider community then becomes a prerequisite of being a scientific explorer today. And that¿s why so much effort is put into making sure that any expeditions or field science projects that are undertaken around the world, they have to get into print. One end of the scale it¿s into a scientific journal which is academically refereed, the other end of the scale, it¿s writing for your local newspaper. In between, there¿s a broad range of areas where the sharing of those excitements and those surprises must be undertaken. If you don¿t do that, then your trip has been relegated to a holiday. And if you spend a lot of time planning the trip to go and work in a remote area, say in the great Karakura Mountains to try and understand what¿s happening to a new glassius snout. Is it moving forward? Is it retreating? How has it changed since the 30s and 40s when the old surveys were done? What kind of things are happening to that river system today? Is it different? Trying to map it out for the first time. If you¿ve done all that and then you don¿t share it, then it¿s a complete waste of time. But the excitement is being there and the passion, really, is being in these great remote locations. Sharing it with a team of good people who it¿s great to be in the field with. But bringing back new knowledge.
You also made the distinction between exploration and stunts.
Yes, there¿s a, we get a lot, we run a little unit at the society I work for, the Royal Geographic Society in London, and it¿s called the Expedition Advisory Center and our, our belief there is to help anyone who plan, wants to plan an expedition. But it¿s those that are gonna gather new knowledge that we think are worthy and worth supporting rather than those that are just trying to get from A to B. Now, there¿s nothing wrong with doing something as a stunt, but if the prerequisite is simply to write a book for your own self, then one needs to question whether the investment in that is something that¿s worthwhile. We¿ve seen a lot of stunts, you know, everything from being the first person to walk around Africa, you know, great for the individual, a great story, but will it bring back new knowledge and will it bring back something that is going to contribute to the peoples and places that it¿s been a privilege to visit. It then is relegated perhaps into travel writing, and that¿s a different world altogether. Travel writing is fine and great and we, it¿s important, but the passion for going to an area, I think, is in uncovering new knowledge and making that contribute to a better understanding of the places that we¿re visiting. Let¿s take an example- the Great Sahara. The challenges for managing the arid areas of the southern Sahara and trying to understand what¿s happening today, and mapping out, say, the vegetation zones, mapping out the traditional use of the plants of those areas, trying to understand who was there in the past, looking at the great rock art, for instance, of the Sahara, trying to uncover those parts of, say, a study of mountain system in the Great Sahara is contributing to the new knowledge that is putting baseline information down for the future.
What about going to the North Pole, the South Pole?
Very good question. There¿s a lot of expeditions. The interest in the poles is just, has just exploded, as you know, in the last few years. Many of those who¿ve undertaken projects to the polar regions have become important ambassadors for science and exploration in those regions because they have a deep-rooted knowledge of what it¿s like to operate in those areas. So let¿s take for example, Rob Swan and Ran Fines, two of the people who we¿ve worked close with. Their trips to the polar regions have provided a wealth of information that have helped a new generation of people operating in those regions. In terms of supporting the first journey to the North or the South Pole, as it were, unsupported, or what I call ¿the great last journeys,¿ and there¿s always a great last journey. The dividing line between a feat that¿s worth doing because it¿s the first to be done and something that is just another journey is a very fine dividing line. And much depends on how the individual approaches it, what he or she wants to get out of it, how they¿re going to share those surprises, and what kind of feedback they think they¿re gonna put in terms of inspiring a new generation of people who are going to undertake those similar journeys. Much will depend on who¿s paying for it. If it¿s, should funds that have been set aside for scientific research be allocated to simply a new journey that might not gather too much new knowledge? Big question.
What about just purely amateur explorers or just people who put on a backpack and walk into the mountains or the desert, they¿re doing it not to expand human knowledge but maybe to expand themselves, for self-enlightenment.
We, we, we really, this is a network of people we really have a great association with. More and more people are getting in touch with us simply to do something that is off the beaten track, going to places that very few people go to, wanting to learn everything about that area before they go, doing the research about who¿s been there before. I could name several key routes that are being undertaken in the Himalayas this summer by groups who are following in footsteps of those who¿ve explored earlier, taking earlier maps, and are gonna record in their own diaries what they see today. Now, that exploration for those individuals, they¿ll have a fantastic time. If they pay for it for themselves, that¿s great and we encourage that and indeed our database of contacts and information, advice, we really encourage that. It¿s all questions that come down to who funds them. I would say that those who are in that position have a unique opportunity to come back with good images, a good story, a good statement about what¿s going on there today, an association with local communities which they then should consider trying to publish, even if it¿s in a local newspaper. It doesn¿t matter, it¿s the sharing process. So I urge all groups who come to embark on their adventurous holidays, and by gosh, some of them are extremely adventurous these days, to consider the whole process of sharing that with others. The sharing process, I think, is really important.
What about people who pay $76,000 to go to the summit of Mount Everest?
Yes, every location has its own what I call ¿limitations.¿ I¿ve never been to Everest. I¿d love to go. I¿ll never be able to afford that to do so, but I can understand why those who can afford say this is something I passionately would like to do and if I can go with people who¿re gonna make it safe and give me a time that is going to, that I can value for the rest of my life, why not. The issue for me here is how many people should be on the mountain, and if too many people can buy their way to be on the mountain and leave too much of a rubbish tip at the Everest base camp and then put others in danger because they themselves are not mountaineers, then I think that leads to, in a sense, what are the ethics of putting other people in danger because you yourself simply want to do something of that standing. There¿s a balance. And it¿s not for me to pass judgment on that, but other than to say I think the mountain itself deserves particular respect in not having too many groups on the mountain at any stage, and that¿s something that the government¿s got to decide on how many groups it¿s gonna allow in at any one stage.
And it¿s not just Everest. It¿s the jungle, it¿s the desert, people going on paid expeditions and so forth, ecotourism.
The dividing line between scientific expeditions and ecotourism is getting narrower and narrower and narrower. And there¿s great organizations that are finding the common divide. Earthwatch, you may have, you may know Earthwatch, which is launched here in Boston, provides an outstanding opportunity for the adventurous spirit, this partnership between adventure and science, if you like, partner up that adventurous spirit to get involved in exploration in the field. I really admire that. But the issue comes back to is how pristine are the environments you¿re having that privilege to explore because the forest¿s disappearing and so many areas that are being threatened are being threatened because too many people are going there or the land is no longer, no longer has the status of being sustained as an area, a protected area. Every protected area of the world, I think, deserves better scrutiny in terms of it being recorded for what¿s there and that information being made available to governments to help in their long-term planning. I think tourism plays a role in providing an income to maintain that balance, so long as not too many, again it¿s the balance, not too many go in and completely ruin an area. One might like to say that the Massimar in Kenya has too many visitors because the poor old cheetah and the poor old wildlife are being hounded and you don¿t see them in their natural habitat anymore. So who loses out? The local communities, maybe, the tourists, and of course, poor old cheetah. Delicate balance.
Let¿s talk about the century. We started out the century with no human, to our knowledge, having ever been to the North or South Pole, and now we¿re about to launch an expedition to Mars. This has been a remarkable century, hasn¿t it?
The whole question of discovery and exploration the last century is a remarkable story. The interest in the heroic age that¿s just turning at the moment is phenomenal. I¿ve just been looking at the old maps that Shackleton drew of his early surveys on his bid to the South Pole. And of course, his first bid to the South Pole, he didn¿t make it. He turned back, you know, 170 kilometers from the South Pole. That was a brave thing for him to do, but it was all part of the heroic age of exploring those areas for the first time, mapping them, and bringing that scientific knowledge back. And Shackleton had the reputation, of course, of not losing anyone on his projects. Over the next 20 years, the exploration of Antarctica and the polar regions just exploded, and we¿ve seen from that an evolution, if you like, of science underpinning the need to go and learn more about the great biomes of the world. I first came on board in terms of the scientific exploration of tropical forests back in the mid-70s. What a subject! Until you¿ve been in the tropical forests and `til you¿ve had a chance to be with people who really understand how complex it is, you realize how little we know. I worked there for whatever it was, nearly two years, and it was the tip of an iceberg. It comes to a head when we list the fact that out of all the animals and plants of the world, we¿ve only names one and half million, but the current estimate, total figure, from my colleagues at Q, the Royal Botanic Gardens Q in London, is in excess of 50 million. That means 48 and a half million animals and plants yet haven¿t been found or named or given their right and proper place in the big scheme of things. Now the need for scientific exploration to be part of understanding that, particularly in tropical forest areas, particularly in coastal regions, particularly in the seas, is a huge task ahead, and right now is the golden age of discovery with more people undertaking projects in the field, trying to uncover these secrets, at, you know, at a small level. It¿s collecting small pieces of the jigsaw. And I would argue there¿s more to be done here, on planet Earth, than there is in terms of going to Mars, but that¿s me, being a Killjoy, in realizing, in what I believe is the huge task ahead, on poor old planet Earth, which is not coping very well with the vast changes that, say, have taken place in the last hundred years.
Most people, I think, would say that everything has been discovered, there¿s nothing left.
Well, I¿d love to show you the files and the people who are in touch with us. I think this year we will have 400 expeditions on our database. We will have groups going to find new cave systems in China, we¿ll have groups going to study and uncover new secrets in the tropical forest canopy, we¿ll have school groups going to remap what¿s happening to glassius snouts, and as part of that, build up a picture of what that glassius is doing, i.e. how much ice there is in the world, adding to that knowledge. The list is continues. Of course, there¿s very few places in the world that there hasn¿t been a photographic footprint, but don¿t forget, we may have mapped and we may have imagery, but in terms of scientific exploration to understand, we are just beginning. And there¿s a huge list of projects to be done by anybody who takes an interest in the great biomes of the world.
And then there¿s undersea.
Well, one of the, my, my society has only just embarked on marine exploration. We¿re a bit behind and catching up with the biggest frontier and we¿ve embarked, as a particular project, to study of the Indian Ocean, to look at an undersea ridge that is 2000 kilometers between Seychelles and Ricious. It¿s a bit like a mountain ridge in the middle of the ocean that divides up the Indian Ocean. Why is there, how is it formed, what¿s the mapping of it, who lives there, what are we gonna find on one side versus the other, how it effects the current and the climates, are all the questions that we¿re gonna be asked. I promise you we¿ll come back with a lotta new knowledge.
As you say, you¿ve seen a lot of explorers, and you know about the giants of the 20th century, Scott, Amudsen, Peary, Hiram Bingham at Macchu Picchu, all these people are different personalities, they¿ve had different approaches. Is there anything that links them with people, for example, you¿ve seen? What motivates these folks to go out into the unknown?
I think everyone has that quest. We all have that quest within us, actually. It¿s just whether there¿s an opportunity for it to be fired up. I think, in the journey from playpen to rainforest or playpen to glassius snout, we all can leap onto that journey at any stage. It¿s actually an influence as to whether one¿s parents take you to the hills when you¿re young. It comes down to that. Do you have a passion for getting onto the hills? Do you have a passion to go into the woods and explore? Do you have a passion to look round corners and ask questions? And I¿m in touch with so many young people who are of that mold that I think that that quest is within us all, it¿s just whether there¿s an opportunity for it to be fired up. I hope that the funding we give to groups and the inspiration and the patting on the back and saying, ¿Yeah, go on, get out there and do it. If you don¿t do it now, it¿s going to go.¿ That kind of enthusiasm is part of capturing, if you like, the same spirit of the explorers of the past. They were brave, those days, there¿s no doubt about it. Shackleton was brave. He was brave to make the kind of decisions he made. He was brave to go into the unknown and there¿s no doubt that for much of the exploration today you don¿t need to be as courageously brave as that, but nonetheless, if you¿re working in the tropical forest canopy, you need the skills of a mountaineer, you need the knowledge of a botanist, you need the courage to spend time up in the unknown for long periods, and I¿d say that that sort of magic is still there. As so many more people are in the field now than there were then, you¿ve got equally broad range of characters and individuals who make up the very complex but very exciting picture of exploration today.
You still have to be willing to take some risks.
I think the risks are always going to be there, but the risks, assessing the risks to make sure that once you¿re in the field, you tap into the procedures that are at your disposal. If you¿re a climber, you¿ve got, you can make sure you¿ve done your training beforehand. Yes, I think the important thing I can say here is that making sure you¿ve tapped into the body of knowledge before you go. If you¿re going to go down the route of wanting to explore in the mountain regions, you need good campcraft skills, you need to know how to be happy in the field, you need to be able to get yourself out if there¿s an emergency, you need to know what to do if you break or twist your ankle, and if you¿re doing rock climbing or mountaineering, you need of course those skills and to be under your belt, so you can reduce the risks any stage. But the opportunities to visit great locations with those skills which you learn at home, if you like. In UK, we were lucky to have so many areas of the UK that you can go and camp out and learn campcraft skills and be close to the, close to the land, and spend nights underneath the stars, and if you want to do it in the middle of the winter, that¿s good training for polar exploration, we¿re very blessed with that. So I think it¿s in here, it¿s in the mind, in terms of what you want to achieve.
During this heroic age, competition was a big motivating factor. National competition, personal competition. Are you saying that competition maybe isn¿t the paradigm for exploration now?
I don¿t think it¿s quite the competition. Planting the flag at the pole, you know, you were doing that for national pride. There isn¿t that now, I think it¿s much more international, much more global, and so it should be. There¿s certainly a healthy competitive spirit in the types of studies that are being done, but we must work together. Poor old planet Earth needs the knowledge. Every four days there¿s a million extra people arriving, so the areas that we¿re talking about are under great pressure. And also, scientific endeavor and scientific exploration must contribute to long-term and better management of planet Earth, so I think we¿ve got to work together. There¿s got to be a global alliance here. And I think that¿s very healthy and very positive. The climbers may think differently. It¿s still great to be the first climber at the top of a particular mountain or the cavers, equally. So there¿s still some healthy competition in certain areas of expedition work.
What fields, what areas of the world, will be the theaters for the 21st century?
I think teamwork is going to be a very important part. To bring together groups of people of different disciplines and getting them to work together to understand what¿s happening in a particular region is going to be a high priority. If we want to understand, say, a particular protected area, let¿s just say the Massimar National Park in Kenya, and understand what¿s happening there, we need a team of skilled people to look at everything from the mapping, the surveying, the earth science, the geology, the geomorphology, the hydrology, the botany, the zoology, and on top of that, we need an understanding of the social and economic infrastructure that is shaping that area. So the teams, I think, are gonna grow in terms of being international and interdisciplinary, and I think that¿s where funding is going to be made available for those kinds of developments. That¿s particularly going to happen in the huge agenda, which we¿re only just beginning, of exploration of the oceans. And that¿s already happening, with a large number of international collaborations. And indeed, governments are putting much more money into making sure those programs are international, such as the world ocean circulation experiment and such as projects that are associated with things such as the global ocean observing system, basically, much greater collaboration between the scientific community. So scientific teamwork, I think, is one. Two, is that it¿s got to be much more applied. I think that there¿s going to be real pressure on the explorers of the future to come up with answers that affect the welfare and the livelihoods of the communities that they¿re serving. We need to understand better how to harness arid areas, so that those who have to move to arid areas to make a livelihood can learn how to manage that based on their traditional knowledge, but also the new technologies such as irrigation, such as helping the farming communities make a life out of that. Linked to that, but not always associated, is the large numbers of protected areas of the world that have been set aside as national parks, game sanctuaries, sites of scientific interest, to become a focus for this scientific endeavor, because those protected areas play a role in looking after the habitats they represent. So the future of protected areas in providing theater for long-term, ongoing research and exploration, I think is a very important partnership. And that¿s only going to be sustainable if the information that¿s collected goes into the hands of the governments who own those protected areas and are inspired as part of that to understand better what the priorities should be. We¿re going to see such huge pressures on many protected areas that are forests at the moment in terms of those protected area parts being sold off for commercial gain because there are such pressures on those governments who need an income, quite rightly, to look after and serve their communities. So the scientific story that then has to be uncovered to help in the long-term management is going to become, I think, a feature of exploration in the future. So that¿s three. The fourth sort of area, of course, is the new technologies. It¿s quite exciting to be able to call up now on our databases really exciting satellite imagery, aerial photographs, and zoom in to any area of the world. You, know, it¿s not long that, in terms of the future in the next 20 years, to touch of a button, we can call up any map of the world at any scale and zoom in to find out what¿s there, and perhaps with a bit more database links through the website, come up with a printout of who¿s been there and what kind of information is available. The excitements of then building, of exploiting that in terms of making it available to people in the field, develops the ethos of the field university. There are a large number of centers around the world, many of them in the States that have been established over many years, but particularly perhaps in the developing world, where these centers become a center of, a focus and a center of excellence for scientists to create a field university thinking where research, education, and training can go on together, where those from different cultures, different nationalities, different creeds can work together as part of these international teams, embarking on a 50-year program of research. They merely add a small piece of that jigsaw, but these centers will become, I think, the future base camps for huge scientific endeavor. And if these centers are in protected areas, so that they are beautiful locations, it¿s inspirational to be there, there is a protectionist policy in place, by being there you¿re adding to the knowledge of past scientific work, there are plots, there¿s long-term monitoring, there¿s a bibliography of work to tap into, there¿s books published, there are people you can talk to say, ¿Hey, what was your research in, say, the great fungi of the area?¿ The fungi of Mooloo National Park is one topic that I have particular interest in, because the scientist who arrived, after six weeks, he said, ¿I have found enough fungi here, to, all new to science, enough fungi here to keep me busy for 20 years.¿ So it¿s always become a pet story of mine, that when you go to an area, what¿s happening to all the fungi, the decaying matter, and how do we understand what¿s happening to that system. If that, all that could be added on so there¿s a network of information being added to by everybody who goes to those centers, it means that any student, any scientist, very soon, within the next five years, can tap into the website, can tap out their research interests in their particular habitat, let¿s take Mangrove systems, mangrove swamps, have an interest in working those, say in Africa, and out will come a list of centers that welcome international scientists to go and work with the local research community to tackle, if you like, a list of research projects that can add to understanding that particular biome. And that leads on to the fact that these centers will become future centers of exploration for a huge international community. And I predict that that¿s going to be a major development over the next five years.
How many such places are there?
A large number. I mean, if you tap out on the website, if you go to the, search the web, I spent a day doing this not so long ago, and potentially, there was something like 50,000 sites, but they¿re all, but at the moment, I don¿t know whether they welcome international communities there often for a local school or a link to university. But the concept being is that all those centers, if you have a research interest in where they are, what they¿re in the Arctic, the polar, in desert regions, in the mountain regions, rain forests, mangrove, oceans. They¿ve become sort of observatories in terms of centers where you can go and observe what¿s going on. I think that that network will grow so that there can be a real cross fertilization of ideas from scientists from different nationalities working together for periods of, say, only up to, say, six weeks that can contribute either to their dissertations, their Ph.D.s, or just a love of their particular chosen subject, and I think that will, that will grow. Part of our own database at the society, I think we have about 120 centers on our database now that we know welcome international scientists and they give you, you know, they go to a kind of field hotel, you can go and stay there for 10 dollars or 20 dollars, of course you¿ve got to get there. But for the price of a cheap bus ticket or a cheap air flight to get to these locations, particularly if they welcome you, means that you¿re dropped into a rich research environment in one of the great biomes of the world, so long may that list, long may that work.
What is it about space that makes you not so interested and will space ever attract the interest of the Royal Geographical Society?
Yes, this is quite a per- of course it will. And exploration, indeed, we, we have taken great interest in what¿s happened in the past. It¿s just not on our agenda because it¿s so expensive. And I think we will honor and applaud the achievements of those who are involved in space exploration and we will say it is important for the future. Look at how much we¿ve benefited from the earlier space programs and much of what we¿re doing today is a product of that. We applaud all that, but I think I¿m talking more about the guy on the street, the academic that we¿re dealing with who is keen to contribute to what¿s going on on planet Earth, so it¿s a good mixture, if you like. I think, I think my key line is that there¿s so much to do on planet Earth. Let¿s get resources to do that, to look after this fragile world we¿re on.
Describe the RGS.
The Royal Geographical Society was founded in 1830 by royal charter at the time with the mission to collect and disseminate geographical knowledge, so very similar to the National Geographic. I¿m over in Washington at the moment to develop closer links with the National Geographic and we have so many common interests. We have a rich history and a heritage of nearly a million maps, a rich archive of exploration activities over the last 169 years and today, the pillars of our work relate to research, exploration, and education and as part of that, contribute to the discipline of geography at all levels. So we¿re very keen to make sure that those who are geographers or are potential geographers who have an interest in geography can use the resources we have at the society in London either as a member or as someone who can tap into our databases or our libraries to enhance their own understandings. And it¿s a busy time and it¿s an exciting time for us.
What naturalists stand out?
Well, I mean, there are two people I immediately admire, is Aldo Leopold, who, great environmentalist who once said that, ¿Humankind, or mankind,¿ I think he said at the time, ¿is tinkering with the environment and the absolute prerequisite of intelligent tinkering is to know all the parts, to know and save all the parts.¿ And I always felt like, I refer to that in my talks to say, ¿If we¿re going to be tinkering with our environment, goodness sake, let¿s learn what¿s there, so that when we take it apart, the spring, the key spring doesn¿t go BRRING and fall into the river.¿ And of course, E.O. Wilson, you know, the real father figure of biodiversity, who¿s been so committed to bringing to the world the importance of us taking a much greater interest in all the animals and plants that we¿ve been talking about. And it is interesting that the biodiversity convention is now one of the best signed conventions between all heads of state around the world. We¿re lucky in the UK, in terms of we¿ve got a lot naturalists who have been instrumental in shaping thinking and priorities for conservation, but conservation with purpose for the communities, and Peter Scott, of course, the son of Scott of Antarctic, who helped up the World Wildlife Fund, played such an important role in that. He was, he was one of the great figures as far as I was concerned when I was going through my training. If I could put my finger on two others, David Attenborough and David Bellamy would be two who have shared their own passionate interest in the subject and highlighted the urgency to undertake conservation work to a greater community, David doing it through his passion for the subject and his series, the huge series that he¿s been doing on television on life on Earth and life of plants and so much, has converted a whole new world of people to take a much greater interest in conservation through an understanding of the flora and fauna of the world, David Bellamy, as a campaigner, has really been fighting hard to say, ¿We have so much out there, but it¿s so precious and it¿s disappearing so fast, and we must all work more closely together. And his cries have been heard by a large number of people and influenced a large number of people. But, you know, that¿s just a snapshot. We have a large number of people at the university levels who¿ve been thoroughly committed to uncovering, in natural history terms, the ¿secrets¿ and as part of the golden age of discovery, I would say that, you know, a good 50 percent of those who are doing these studies come from the natural history stable and our own Natural History Museum and Royal Botanic Gardens Q in Q and Edinboro are a real powerhouse of a large number of people who are really active today.
Are there comparable geographical societies in many countries?
Yes, there are. There is a good network of geographical societies and groups of people attached to universities who are doing similar kinds of activities. The alliance between all the geographical societies of the world is something that I think is gonna come higher on the agenda, to share our respective commitments and to identify research priorities. But we¿ve got close links with the Canadians, of course, very good links here in America, and through the Association of American Geographers. We¿re very, have great admiration for all that the Australians have been doing. That was established by Dick Smith in his activities. And within Europe, of course, close to all the geographical societies. There is a good network. I think the new age of geography is rekindling that interest and if we can bring the passion of exploration and discovery and match it with good, sound academic understanding, then we¿ve got a more robust agenda internationally.
What¿s the new age of geography?
My view is this balance between nature and culture, to understand how the two can survive. McKinda, one of our great geographers, talked about the importance of finding this balance between culture and nature and for us, it¿s those who have an understanding of the Earth, the life, and the social sciences, which of course is geography, to prepare statements that take into account the importance of both. To conserve both within a development plan that looks after them both in a sustainable way. And finding those secrets is part of making sure that the image of a panda or an elephant or a rhinoceros, say, of which a lot of conservation money is being spent to look after is matched by and related to an understanding of how the communities who serve and are associated with the areas can be linked together and finding that link to serve, if you like, a huge growing population is a very, very important task, an important agenda for us. And discussing that at a political level with politicians, with captains of industry, with those who are decision-makers, as well as inspiring a new generation of young geographers to take an interest in this is something that we believe very strongly is on our agenda.
Is overpopulation a component?
A driving force, of course, is to come down, is to understand better how we can manage the growing population. It¿s not for us to say there should be those controls as geographers, it¿s more important to say, ¿How can we manage this?¿ But if, as I said earlier, a million extra people every four days, extra, net gain, is quite a sobering thought.
END OF INTERVIEW