Alumni Spotlight: Nynke Blömer on interacting with policy makers, UNEP–WCMC, & her passion for bee-keeping

Nynke at Downing College in Cambridge, her current home.

Profile

Name:                                   Nynke Blömer

Nationality:                          Dutch

Year of graduating:             2016

Major:                                    Sustainability, now Earth, Energy, and Sustainability

Minor:                                    Management of Terrestrial Ecosystems at Wageningen

 

 

Interview by Tessel van der Putte, 30 April 2020

Alumni Nynke Blömer has been quite “a busy bee” over the last years. She is a young woman, actively pushing for change on the European level with policy makers, conducted several researches and internships abroad, and also founded her own the Pollinator Ambassadors initiative, a platform that empowers pollinators and local initiatives. Recently she started a new job in Cambridge and I had the pleasure of virtually siting together with her and ask her how life has been.

 

As always, let’s start from the beginning. I asked Nynke what happened after she left LUC in 2016.

Nynke: After LUC, (which I can’t believe is now almost 4 years ago!) I started my Master of Science degree in Sustainable Forest and Nature Management (SUFONAMA). SUFONAMA is a two-year Erasmus Mundus degree that takes you all over Europe. I studied my first year at Copenhagen University in Denmark and the second year at Bangor University in northern Wales. Between the two years I also did an internship with the Hortus Botanicus in Leiden (you know, the Leiden University botanic garden we all visited during our LUC introduction!). In this degree, I basically studied a mix of forestry and biodiversity conservation, but I chose to specialize in conservation in particular.

A photo of Nynke exploring North Wales.
A photo of Nynke exploring North Wales.

After I graduated in 2018, I went to the beautiful island Bonaire, which is located in the Caribbean. Here, I worked on a reforestation and parrot conservation project with the organization Echo. In particular, I worked in a tree nursery growing native trees to plant and tended to the trees in reforestation areas…. I think I watered up to 1000 trees a day! The biggest project was to monitor the tree growth and map new reforestation areas.

Nynke taking a walk on Bonaire.
Nynke taking a walk on Bonaire.

I certainly didn’t sit still, as afterwards I went straight from Bonaire back to Copenhagen. Here, I started an internship at the Dutch Embassy, with the agriculture and nature department. Spending half a year there, I then moved to work for UNEP-WCMC in Cambridge in the UK, where I have been working for 6 months now.

 

You certainly haven’t sat still! Those are some incredible experiences throughout the past four years. Also, congratulations on the job! What has your experience so far been like with UNEP-WCMC (and maybe you can tell us what a daily workday looks like for you?)

So with UNEP–WCMC I work as an Associate Programme Officer. UNEP–WCMC is quite a mouthful but it stands for UN Environment Programme – World Conservation Monitoring Centre. The Centre is located in Cambridge and our mission is to place biodiversity at the heart of environment and development decision-making for people and the planet.

I work on the topic of sustainable wildlife trade, including supporting the EU Wildlife Trade Regulation and CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species Flora and Fauna), as well as the EU Timber Trade Regulation. How that translates into what I actually do day-to-day is that I write reports, conduct research on wildlife and timber trade, and analyse international trade data. LUC really set me up with the skills for what I do now, especially using R (!) and GIS.

 

And on top of all of that, you also manage to be a Bee-keeper! I don’t know much about this, what is that like?

My passion for bees and beekeeping started way before LUC, as my dad is a beekeeper! I always had an interest in insects since childhood, so learning how to keep bees was super fun and interesting for me. That passion for beekeeping also opened my eyes to all the other pollinators, such as bats, birds, and butterflies. They are all facing a lot of threats in our current world, such as habitat loss, exposure to pesticides, and pollution. In combination with my interest for plants, this field in particular is a very interesting issue for me (pollinators are where plants and animals interact, and without pollinators some plants cannot reproduce)… It really is something I could keep going on about for hours!

 

Nynke and her dad keeping bees in the forest.
Nynke and her dad keeping bees in the forest.

This is also reason you started the Pollinator Ambassadors initiative (platform that empowers pollinators, projects and local initiatives) right?

The idea of Pollinator Ambassadors started in Copenhagen last year, after I went to a World Bee Day event that was organized by the Slovenian Embassy and the European Environment Agency. There, I met Nadine Schuller who is a beekeeper like me, and she asked some critical questions to a speaker from the European Commission. I was immediately intrigued and so after the presentations were over, I went up to her and we talked about beekeeping. We connected about the struggles young people face working in conservation. Hence, together, we went up to the speaker from the Commission that day to address our concerns and critical thoughts. Next thing we knew, we were invited to give a presentation at the European Commission at the Directorate General for Environment in Brussels on pollinators and funding needs for grassroots conservation projects!

Nynke at DG-Environment in Brussels next to a poster on the EU Pollinator Initiative.
Nynke at DG-Environment in Brussels next to a poster on the EU Pollinator Initiative.

We took a train from Copenhagen all the way to Brussels (which took 16 hours one way!) in September 2019 to give our presentation and appeal on the matter. We talked about the needs of small conservation projects and how there aren’t many opportunities to get funding at EU level when you aren’t registered as an NGO or business – but as a local or individual initiative. Also, we raised our concerns about employment in the environmental sector, as we all know a lot of work needs to be done to reach EU biodiversity targets (yet the people doing the work on the ground are often unpaid and underpaid).

Let’s say that train ride back to Copenhagen was very fruitful as we had many hours to come up with ways in which we could do more for pollinators. That’s where Pollinator Ambassadors was born! Since then, our work has grown, and we just started offering online beekeeping courses!

 

I think your story is very telling about how important it is to be courageous and assertive when you get the chance, and to raise your voice with policy-makers in discussions. What is a big life-lesson or advice you took from this experience you would like to share with LUC students?

I think that engaging with policymakers can really lead to positive change! Recently we heard back that smaller grants are in the pipeline, which is great news for grassroots projects.

Another lesson would be to occupy spaces where you want to make impact. One piece of advice we got from someone at the DG-Environment in Brussels was: Don’t be a ficus. Meaning that if you get the opportunity to speak up and create positive change, don’t sit in silence but speak up! For example, after our presentation we got invited to a Youth for Biodiversity workshop with inspiring youth leaders from all over Europe. Part of that group now started another initiative – Biodiversity Action Europe – to create a Call for Action for biodiversity conservation at EU level, written by youth. The Call for Action will be published in the coming weeks, so keep your eyes peeled!

 

Talking about LUC, what is your best memory from LUC?

Ah… there are so many good memories from LUC! It was at LUC that I discovered my passion for biodiversity conservation, a career path that I didn’t know much about before, but now couldn’t imagine my life without.

One fond memory in particular would be eating a salad with ingredients from the Roof Top garden. But overall, I’d have to say the third year was the best year for me. I studied at Wageningen University, went on a field course to the Philippines (my first time outside of Europe!) and I lived with amazing housemates in Beeklaan. And of course… the Dies Fatalis in our last year takes the cake (#livefastdieyoung #badgirlsdoitwell video), it was such a great way to end three amazing years!

 

What a good memory we both share there! Do you often still see and speak students or professors from LUC?

I still keep in touch with many LUC friends, it’s always so interesting to hear what they have been up to and to catch up over a coffee. Unfortunately, I don’t see them very often, but hopefully once the situation improves, we’ll be able to meet up again.

 

Also chiming in Frenkchris’ question from our last interview in here, “If there is one professor you could take to a club or a restaurant in The Hague, who and which would it be?”)

As for Frenkchris’ question, I am not sure who I’d pick to go to a club, but it would be great to catch up with my LUC tutor and capstone supervisor Thijs Bosker. A question I’d like to ask the next interviewee, would be: what was your favorite soup from the Cafeteria on floor 1?

 

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and memories. One final question I have: is there a project in the pipeline you would still like to accomplish or any dreams you have for the future?

I daydream a lot and make lots of plans, some of which never happen, and some come true years later. It’s hard to say what my future holds, but I know I want to keep working to create positive change for people and the planet. And at some point, I’d like to be able to keep my own bees and a small garden with veggies!

 

Thank you, Nynke!

 

 

 

 

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