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In a ground-breaking first for NMMU, the university’s Sustainability Research Unit (SRU) and the Southern African Program on Ecosystem Change and Society (SAPECS) initiated a winter school on ‘Ecosystems and Society’, attracting top academics and more than two dozen postgraduate and post-doctoral students from seven universities, including NMMU, to the university’s George Campus at the start of the winter recess.

The SRU-SAPECS Ecosystem and Societies Winter School, presented in collaboration with the Council for Scientific and Industrial research (CSIR), SANParks and the universities of Rhodes and Stellenbosch, was aimed primarily at PhD students in their first year of study who are “finding their feet in the complex field of social-ecological systems research”, said Prof Christo Fabricius who heads up the SRU at NMMU George. The link between ecosystems and society is at the core of these students’ research and involves disciplines such as environmental science, conservation ecology, botany, zoology, anthropology and geography.

Learning facilitators for the five-day workshop included Dr Reinet Biggs of the Stockholm Resilience Centre; Dr Georgina Cundill, Prof Heila Lotz-Sisitka (Rhodes University); Dr Luthando Dziba (CSIR); Prof Christo Fabricius (NMMU); Dr Rika Preister (University of Stellenbosch); and Dr Dirk Roux (SANParks and NMMU). A number of experienced PhD students furthermore participated as tutors and facilitators.

The Winter School commenced with a field trip in and around the Garden Route National Park where practitioners working at the interface of ecosystems and societies highlighted the practical challenges they face.  This was followed by seven interactive capacity development sessions between new scholars, established academics and senior postgraduate students.  Students were required to bring along their own research proposals and methodologies, which were refined as the workshop progressed, and evaluated at the end of the meeting.

Dr Dirk Roux

Photograph (by Aneri Roos): - NATURAL LABORATORY … NMMU Research Associate, Dr Dirk Roux, of SANParks discussing the main features of the Wilderness rivers’ catchment with postgrad students attending the ‘Ecosystems and Society’ winter school at NMMU George Campus.  The winter school attracted students from across the country and further afield, including representatives from the US and SADC region.

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