IUCN World Congress, Marseille, September 2021

By Jonathan Carruthers-Jones

After the endless months of COVID enforced routine, a trip to the IUCN World Congress in Marseille felt like quite an adventure. The IUCN congress is the world’s largest conservation event, attended by thousands of practitioners, researchers and policy people working on conservation. But as things turned out, the day in Marseille was only the beginning…

IUCN National committees discussing resolutions. Photo by Jonathan Carruthers-Jones
Generation Nature stands, outside main congress event. Photo by Jonathan Carruthers-Jones
Convention on Biological Diversity goal to protect or conserve at least 30 percent of the world’s land and ocean areas by 2030
Maps of protected areas in France in the main public hall. Photo by Jonathan Carruthers-Jones

I was there with Adrien Guetté, a fellow researcher now based at the College of International Agro-Development (ISTOM) in Angers, to present a wilderness map of France. This project – CARTNAT Cartographie de la naturalité – had been simmering away for years and emerged out of the work of the IUCN France working group on wilderness (https://uicn.fr/aires-protegees/wilderness/).

CARTNAT – Cartographie de la naturalité – Jonathan Carruthers-Jones, Adrien Guette & Steve Carver with support from the IUCN French Committee, WWF France and Wild Europe.

CARTNAT has recently been adopted by the French Government and incorporated into the new French Protected Areas strategy for 2030 (https://ofb.gouv.fr/la-strategie-nationale-pour-les-aires-protegees). The IUCN congress was attended by French politicians all the way from the Secretary of State for Biodiversity, to the Armed Forces Minister and indeed President Macron himself. Perhaps no surprise then that there were a lot of journalists around although I was not expecting three of them to bombard us with questions as soon as we had finished our presentation. Adrien and I answered a few questions and were polite but we were both keen to finish as quickly as possible and get back outside where we could take our masks off, and take in the fresh air and sunshine of Marseille.

Back at my desk a few days later I received an e-mail from Adrien saying that one of the journalists was from Le Figaro – the oldest of the three main French newspapers—and her article was already on-line ! It was then published in the weekend edition of the newspaper with a circulation /distribution of just over three hundred thousand paper copies.

Media coverage in Le Figaro for CARTNAT – Cartographie de la naturalité – Jonathan Carruthers-Jones, Adrien Guette & Steve Carver with support from the IUCN French Committee, WWF France and Wild Europe.

That reminded me I should probably make good on my promise to contact the other journalists, and so I looked for their profiles on-line. I discovered that they had also already published a piece on our project, and it was already online (https://www.sciencesetavenir.fr/animaux/biodiversite/la-nature-sauvage-de-france-cartographiee_157401 ) – a reminder that journalists do not work to the same deadlines as academics! As if to underline the speed of developments, we were then telephoned by a journalist from one of the main French television channels TF1, who had seen another article in the weekly magazine Journal de Dimanche. He was keen to understand what we were doing and discuss how it might be communicated to a broader audience on their nightly news program, Journal de 20h.

Within days, reporters had flown down to the far-flung corner of the Pyrenees where Corridor Talk fieldwork is underway… a whirlwind of organisation and we managed to gather a small group to participate in a filmed version of the fieldwork we are running for Corridor Talk Work Package 2. This involved two trips up the mountain and off the beaten track, one of them in especially wet weather conditions. We finished off with a few filmed sequences in my office showing how the wilderness map had been made and then reporters David de Araujo and Christophe Moutot were off back north. The whole thing had taken less than 24 hours. After another 24 hours had passed, hours of footage had been edited down to three minutes and was broadcast to an audience of around 6 million on the evening news.

The whole experience was a steep but refreshing learning curve in how complex research projects can be ‘vulgarisé’ as they say in French – popularized and made accessible for a general audience. I for one take my hat off to the journalists and reporters who can work so quickly and with such focus to translate ideas and communicate their value to the wider world. 

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