Thursday, 7 July 2011

Café Connect 1 – Sunday 3rd July, Kirkwall

Dr Rene van der Wal (Reader at the University of Aberdeen and dot.rural’s Natural Resource Conservation theme Lead) kicked off the Café Connect pilot series in the awe-inspiring setting of St. Magnus Cathedral, Orkney with his talk entitled ‘Birds, Bees and Digital Conservation’.

I (obviously!) know Rene’s an ecologist but, still, his passion for birds really struck me on the ferry from Aberdeen; while everyone else was (unsuccessfully) battling with the inevitable seasickness, Rene set up camp at the stern, bird spotting armed with binoculars and his ears acutely tuned to squawks.

Before the talk, I squeezed in a quick visit to the Tomb of the Eagles and the Neolithic village of Skara Brae, shamelessly spreading the word en-route!

A slight ‘teething problem’ [no banner stand pole] meant we resorted to tying the dot.rural banner stand… to the pulpit!

Despite the cheesy sound bites on BBC Radio Orkney beforehand, the turn out was lower than expected; perhaps due to the distracting sunshine that day, or maybe the fact that one-off pilot initiatives, by definition, haven’t yet built up a known and engaging brand within the local area…

Nevertheless, Rene’s talk was superb – asking whether digital innovation can inspire, or even re-connect people to our natural environment – detailing the dot.rural NRC projects on red kites and bees, complete with an interactive ‘identify the bumble bee’ exercise (c.f. the dot.rural bee project).

The audience included representatives from the Orkney Field Club (Penny) and the RSPB (Kenneth) volunteers. Hence, when combined with the talk topics, the Q&A session ventured into discussion of: OrkBird, a well-established, local bird identifying and audio/visual recording community database, similar to iSpot; the potential sociological impact(s) of crowd-sourcing methods; the challenges associated with working within such an interdisciplinary research group; and the importance of such community initiatives in maximising the involvement of people in the different layers of natural conservation. There was also lots of discussion of how the school communities and voluntary organisations of Orkney can get involved with the red kite story-telling and the bumble bee recording projects, respectively.

The night ended with a fascinating impromptu cathedral tour from Fran with her excellent and very animated storytelling, revealing the hiding (and final resting) place of St Magnus’ remains – hint, look for the marked stone in the south-east pillar – and bringing the legends to life.

As the sun was setting we headed to the standing Stones of Stenness…

…and the Ring of Brodgar where Rene suggested I eat (yes eat!) some Bell Heather…

…before preparing for an early (5.00 am!!!) check-in for the Stromness-Scrabster ferry on Day 2.



  1. I'm very sorry I missed this! I knew the event was on, but I missed Radio Orkney that day, and did not realise it was part of the Cafe Connect project.

    I must admit, although I am a great fan of the Cathedral (and of its staff, and of its use for a wide variety of events), I don't think it was a particularly great choice for an event like this. Your web site mentions that Cafe Connect is based on the Cafe Scientifique format. A quote from

    "Cafe Scientifique is a place where, for the price of a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, anyone can come to explore the latest ideas in science and technology. Meetings take place in cafes, bars, restaurants and even theatres, but always outside a traditional academic context."

    I'm always in favour of pushing the boundaries, I don't really think that a cathedral is the best venue you could have chosen in Kirkwall (and I don't think Kirkwall was the best location within Orkney, either - I hope that future phases will see events in places like the Scapa Flow Visitor Centre & Museum in Hoy, or the Gable End Theatre Green Room Bar, also in Hoy, or the Top Bar of the Stromness Hotel, or the Pier Arts Centre, or ...... many other much more suitable venues for unintimidating discussion of technical or scientific matters, in a relaxed atmosphere!

  2. Hi Sweyn!

    Thanks for all your comments. I do take your point, although I wouldn't consider the cathedral to be a traditional academic context.

    Just a quick note... the nature of Cafe Connect means that locations and venues are driven by the local Cafe Connect Champions (in this case a HIE representative who responded to our open call for host communities).

    Re the alternative venues you mentioned... If you, or someone you know, would like to get involved in future, similar initiatives as a Champion, then it'd be great to keep in touch!


  3. Ruth Kirkpatrick21 July 2011 at 15:13

    Hi Sweyn and Claire

    Unfortunately we were restricted to the mainland of Orkney because of the travel schedule. The call was for varied and interesting venues and given that Orkney's night had to be a Sunday, this did limit us. I think the combination of a Sunday night, a scorcher of a day, the men's tennis final at Wimbledon and it being the school holidays did result in a much smaller audience than we would have expected in Orkney.