New BirdEyes member: Johan van de Gronden

Johan van de Gronden becomes BirdEyes’ development director

When I apply a bird’s-eye view on my career it takes a bit of effort to piece together the mosaic of landscapes unfolding beneath me. I see a novice diplomat overwhelmed by lush tropical forests on a wild coast in South America, a merchant and young father on the southern tip of the African continent, a UN career guy in a Scandinavian capital, a WWF chief roaming projects and programmes from the Arctic to the Pantanal, a civic leader on national cancer control in his home country and a writer behind his desk in a small Hanseatic town on the former shores of the Suydersee. Quite a migration covering large distances in space and themes! From philosophy to diplomacy, poverty alleviation, project management, procurement, conservation, life sciences, fundraising, organisation and finance to reflection and writing, encompassing three continents.

Many years ago, my journey crossed the flight of Theunis Piersma. We battled a bit in the air, losing a feather or two over a topic, or a staff member perhaps. Yet since then, we regularly fly along, sharing a sense of wonder and purpose in this strange and transient life on a blue planet. I had never imagined we would one day work side by side in the same institute, as to me he represented science with a capital S, whereas I am ever the pragmatist running organisations and drumming up public support while occasionally producing personal or literary essays on the side. And yet the twain shall meet. Because science needs to be told, boundaries transgressed, and new horizons explored.

What a gift it is to be able to join such a daring and innovative initiative as Birdeyes. As parttime development director from 1 January I hope to somehow help bring society closer to science and vice versa, surrounded by a bunch of brilliant researchers who care deeply about the living world. A living world we increasingly start to see in its dynamic complexity, i.e., not over-simply reduced to some biological determinant. We share the world with a plethora of sentient beings whose intricate lives and biographies we’re only beginning to understand. And yet, we’d better hurry up, learn, and disseminate that knowledge faster as our own fate is intricately entangled with theirs. Allow me to go into moult first this autumn, so I can join you in fresh plumage on the northern shores at the start of a new year.

Centre for global ecological change at the University of Groningen

Birdeyes is a science and creative centre that views the world - almost literally - through the eyes of birds. More and more birds are flying around with tiny transmitters, loggers and other high technology on their backs and legs. This generates an unimaginable amount of information. By cleverly combining such data with other sources of information, and by using new ways to tell stories and share the insights with, BirdEyes strives to open up a new knowledge network. The centre aims to be an innovative part of the University of Groningen and is linked to the Rudolph Agricola School for Sustainable Development. BirdEyes, with empirical and inspirational roots in the farthest corners of the world.

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