Searching for Erna Bennett
Speaking of custodians and guardians of genetic diversity no one fits the bill better than our very own Erna Bennett.
Born in Derry and growing up in Belfast, if my calculations are correct, Erna will be 85 years old in this the International Year of Biodiversity. Erna was one of the early pioneers of the genetic conservation movement. In fact as Pat Mooney and Cary Fowler highlight in their book Shattering (University of Arizona Press , 1990),
it was the colourful, outspoken Ulster-born Irish revolutionary who first coined the phrase ‘genetic conservation’ and brought substance and strategy to the term for the world community
Erna had a brief spell at the Scottish Plant Breeding Station in the mid-1960s where she wrote two seminal papers, ‘ Historical Perspectives in Genecology’ in 1964 and ‘Plant Introduction and Genetic Conservation: Genecological Aspects of an Urgent World Problem’ in 1965. Both papers are in the Scottish Plant Breeding Station Record and may take a bit of searching to uncover. Erna joined FAO in 1967 where she was instrumental in influencing FAO to become more involved in collecting plant genetic resources. Unfortunately the relationship with FAO turned rather sour as Erna became increasingly concerned about the involvement and control by powerful private interests of plant genetic resources. She was forced out of FAO in 1982 but has certainly kept active since that time.
Over the past year or so I have managed to find some information on Erna but generally information is scarce considering the pivotal role she has played in the early nurturing of the global plant genetic resources movement. I have stumbled across interesting materials on the internet but again not a lot. If anyone has any information they would like to share about Erna I would be delighted to hear from you, especially people who might have worked with her or know more about her writing. After leaving FAO she focused on journalism so there must be a fair bit of that around.