Laura Bellingan, the Society of Biology’s head of policy, looks back on her trip to Transylvania to visit senior policy advisor Barbara Knowles. Barbara has worked to protect Romanian haymeadows and communicate about science, with her Motor Neurone Disease as no barrier.
Looking back over the year a large number of policy relevant stories and trends come to mind – almost all of which have been covered in our weekly newsletter, and from a personal perspective one truly memorable event was my trip to Romania to visit Barbara Knowles. Barbara is the editor of the Science Policy Newsletter, scouring the web for relevant and interesting stories and compiling the collection each Wednesday.
My visit was timed so that I could attend the Haymeadow Conference that Barbara and colleagues were hosting and I have written a few lines about this before. The conference pages are now online and well worth a look; but alongside the interesting talks and the PowerPoint presentations there was much more to learn from just being there, looking and talking. A diverse group of us enjoyed the collective sense of adventure staying in log cabins in the high meadows and having been well-fed with food and data we got out and climbed the surrounding hills to see the flora and fauna first-hand and understand the agricultural context. Steep slopes and occasional rain were no deterrents. The general sense of enthusiasm kept us climbing towards both grand views and tiny clumps of rare and beautiful plants – soundtrack supplied by the very abundant crickets. It’s good to get out of the office! I could see why Barbara loved the area and is investing so much effort in trying to support it and its people.
Motor Neurone Disease has already robbed Barbara of the ability to join us on foot but not her determination to stay involved. So we saw some adventurous 4×4 driving and Barbara’s infectious smile as she kept pace with us whenever possible. In the final stages of the descent she transferred to a new snazzy off-road wheelchair, badly needed on the rugged roads. Her knowledge of the local ecology, which she is so keen to share, is extensive and fascinating, you should visit her website at Treasures of Transylvania.
Over time Barbara has achieved her other mission of communicating about science through increasingly unconventional methods. She recently transferred from using voice-activated software to compile and edit the newsletter to using a headmouse – a reflective dot which she wears on her forehead. This allows her to direct the on-screen mouse, control her internet browsing and generate content; amazing to see in action. Barbara is a consummate communicator and this talent continues to enrich her life and ours.