Saturday, February 15, 2020

[Repost] How to handle ‘moving targets’ in the face of climate change

Last September, I started working as a Policy Intern for the British Ecological Society. The differences in timescales and needs between stakeholders, such as researchers and policymakers, have often led to ineffective and inefficient use of resources. I was keen to develop my understanding of policymaking and the avenues for ecological evidence to feed into it before conducting further research - in hope that my future research will achieve greater impact.

Several months ago, I attended a Policy Training Day and a 'Pie and a Pint' event in Edinburgh and wrote a blogpost for the BES with my reflections on the day. (See the original post here.)
Following a successful policy training session with early career researchers, the Scottish Policy Group headed across Edinburgh for a ‘Pie and a Pint’ event to discuss how to handle ‘moving targets’ in the face of climate change, before some networking and socialising over a well-earned pie and a pint.

We started off with a series of short pitches by our invited speakers: Dr. Althea Davies (University of St Andrews) spoke about her paleoecological research on the changing range of Scots Pine and dilemmas such as Scots Pine colonising  peaty soils – posing the question of how much can we accept change and where and when can we accept it?; Nick Everett (Scottish Natural Heritage) proposed that the climate emergency we face can be seen as an opportunity to change the way we do conservation – conserving natural ecosystem functioning from substrate upwards; Prof. Anne Magurran (University of St Andrews) highlighted a thought that:

"the word conservation implies constancy but actually biodiversity composition is changing at a rate much faster than ever before and we see the ‘Shopping Mall phenomenon’ with assemblages looking increasingly similar;"

and Dr Flora Kent (Scottish Natural Heritage) highlighted the differences in marine and terrestrial conservation, and the difficulties in teasing apart human-driven and natural change.

Following an intriguing Q and A session, we broke into small groups and discussed the following three questions:

  • What changes to species ranges and ecosystems are we willing to accept and what do we value?
  • Should we engineer change to achieve pre-defined targets, or do we reduce pressures and see what happens?
  • How do we reconcile policy targets and timescales with ecological evidence and its timescales?

I wanted to draw out some interesting points from the discussions:

Ecological timescales are usually too slow for us to appreciate

It might take just 50 years for saplings to grow into big trees, but it can take thousands of years to reach full ecological complexity. How may we ever be able to appreciate restoration efforts and see the outputs we might imagine?

It was suggested that success stories like the Hebridean Mink project and the eradication of the invasive ruddy duck across the UK could be used to demonstrate both the potential to succeed and the length of time it takes for a restoration projects to take its course, allowing us to see beyond that of a lifetime and buy into the potential success of long-term restoration projects.

Putting up fences – surely that isn’t engineering change, is it?

Just to place this in context, often fences are put up to exclude large herbivores, such as deer, from certain areas to reduce overgrazing. Traditionally, this has been seen as just a method of reducing grazing pressure, but from our discussions we realized that, actually, in the marine environment this (fencing) would be beyond imagination – it would be extreme engineering.

So how much ecological engineering should we accept? Putting up a fence on land is easily done – taking a few hours so we might not even raise an eyebrow, but to set up a fence in the marine sphere would take months, if not years of planning. Many of our reserves are carefully managed to ensure that the specific habitat types remain and if we were to stop, we would lose some like chalk grassland reserves. And are the habitats we choose to protect truly the ones of greatest conservation interest or are they limited by our experience (‘extinction of experience’)? For example, is someone born in the 50s’ likely to think flower meadows are more important than someone born in 2000?

Not only must we consider shifting targets but as ecologists we must incorporate social justice…

Climate change does not equally affect all individuals – pressures like rising sea levels, water insecurity and unpredictable weather patterns disproportionately affect low-income vulnerable communities. Moreover, climate change policies can displace many of these vulnerable individuals from jobs and practices. Our discussions made it clear that instead of considering climate change as an entirely separate issue to social justice, policies need to be developed in tandem. How might we, ecologists and policymakers, ensure that this occurs? Well the short answer is – we don’t know, but I suspect that part of the solution lies in inter-disciplinary research that informs cross-departmental policies!

Thursday, October 17, 2019

How might we as early career researchers (ECRs) promote the social change needed for sustainability – a discussion at the SCCS Europe 2019

During SCCS Europe 2019, we came together to discuss the success seen in Greta Thunberg’s movement and how we, as early career researchers (ECRs), can help this social change.

Photo credit: Edina Török

What is Greta Thunberg’s movement and possible reasons behind its success?
Greta Thunberg is a 16-year old Swedish environmental activist who has brought the issue of climate change and its risks to worldwide attention, and is holding individuals and nations to account for their inaction against this imminent threat. She has inspired millions of people, including schoolchildren, to participate in climate strikes alongside each other. We suggested that the urgency of the issue, Greta’s unique personality and the clear logical explanations she gives are all possible reasons why so many people have been drawn in. Through these strikes, schoolchildren who will suffer the brunt of climate change are allowed to have their voices heard, and fight for future generations as well.

How might we, as individuals, help this social change happen?
One way we can help is by pushing for changes within institutions. Within an institution there is a possibility for wide-scale coordination to drastically reduce carbon emissions, such as through carpooling to work or staff buses to pick up colleagues from nearby villages. Changing preselected options, such as making vegetarian meals the default canteen choice, at least on certain days of the week, is another way to achieve a widespread impact. However, we also discussed the problems of importing vegetables from far afield, rather than using local produce and therefore reducing carbon footprints. One way of improving this would be the publishing of carbon footprints and the setting of carbon budgets for individual restaurants and other institutions.

As researchers, another method suggested was to educate people on climate issues, and we highlighted the importance of approaching this major challenge through an interdisciplinary lens, as there are many stakeholders at play. For example, at the University of Göttingen, there is an interdisciplinary programme, which awards a certificate for taking modules from different disciplines focussed on ecology and sustainability. Similarly, Mid-Sweden University is developing relevant sustainability modules to be taken by all students. An interdisciplinary module of this kind also is provided by the University of Helsinki. Building on this, we discussed the importance of connecting different departments in their research, such as creating research platforms collating research on sustainability and building projects. At the Corvinus University of Budapest, there is a Corporate Sustainability module forming part of the MBA, where students research their own lives – looking at the consequences if everyone acted as they did.

Institutional change has a great impact on society, but making it happen is hard.
Changes made by individuals are often much less visible and seen as minor, but we suggest that it is actually these changes that often lay the groundwork for institutional changes to follow. Therefore, we must not belittle these changes, as seen in the plastic bag levy and indoor smoking ban being introduced in the UK following the growing consumer consciousness of the negative effects of these everyday practices. We acknowledged the dilemma of how corporations, which do the polluting, can get away with their unsustainable actions by shifting the blame onto consumers; whilst we should push for polluters to be responsible, we believe that this does not reduce the importance of making changes in our personal lives – “our own gift to change”.

We shared ways in which we, as international participants travelling to SCCS Europe 2019, can voluntarily compensate for our carbon emissions by changing our individual habits. Here are just a few of our ideas:
  • Reducing meat consumption, especially of ruminants not grown on semi-natural grasslands
  • Shifting towards ethical banks – looking at what your bank is investing in
  • Quitting smoking
  • Using your green space, such as planting vegetables – reducing costs of imports
  • Using refillable bottles, instead of plastic cups and bottles
  • Thinking about the costs of fashion products – both in its production and waste
  • Shopping at zero-waste (no packaging) stores
  • Supporting local communities’ produce
  • Carbon offsetting – either directly with airlines and train companies, or setting aside money for investing in solar panels on your roof
  • Encouraging the individuals concerned about the environment to vote – putting environmental issues on the government’s agenda

Photo credit: András Báldi‎

Just from discussing this together, perhaps we have resulted in the organisation of institutional change to mitigate our carbon footprint, albeit at a low level – what change might be possible at a higher level? We also would like to further encourage organisers of future SCCS conferences to make every possible effort into making our events less heavy on our environment. 

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Autumn-sown crops, an overwinter food resource, facilitate recent mute swan population increase

The British mute swan population has increased dramatically since the 1980s. Using variation in population change across regions in England and Wales, we asked what factors could have led to this increase. Recent autumn-sown cropland expansion can explain part of the story.

In a changing world where many species are in dwindling numbers, many conservation interventions target specific species in hopes to facilitate their population recovery. But often identifying the factor that pushed the species into its decline is very hard. One way of approaching this task is to look at population increases, to understand what factors are closely associated with the increase and examine if this knowledge can be transferred to help other species in decline.

Setting the scene…

British mute swan population have increased dramatically since the 1980s (Breeding Bird Survey). The low numbers prior to this are attributed to the high prevalence of lead fishing weights in the waterways deposited from coarse fishing, which were ingested by the mute swans when foraging. In the 1980s, there was considerable research linking the high mortality observed in mute swans to the use of lead angling weights, which resulted in the national ban (e.g. Birkhead & Perrins, 1985, Biological Conservation). The increase since the 1980s has been largely attributed to the success of this ban.

The increase in mute swan population number, the decrease in incidence of lead poisoning found in mute swans and the decrease in proportion of deaths attributable to lead poisoning over time does support this explanation (e.g. Sears & Hunt, 1991, Wildfowl). And there is clear evidence that the ingestion of lead from angler’s weights and ammunition kills birds and has a detrimental impact on local mute swan populations (e.g. Newth et al., 2013, Eur J Wildl Res).

However, there are signs that this might not be the whole story, as although mute swan blood lead levels dropped in the years following the ban, the decline of lead levels did not subsequently continue, despite the expected decrease in ingestion of legacy lead angling weights with time (Perrins et al., 2003, Avian Pathology). During this period, there were also other changes that may have contributed to the observed population change. Winters have become warmer, which may improve overwinter survival; autumn-sown crop area has increased, which may have improved overwinter survival and breeding success; and waterways have improved in water quality, which may benefit mute swans by allowing their natural food resources, submerged aquatic macrophytes vegetation, to grow better (e.g. Rowell & Spray, 2004, WWT/JNCC).   

With my supervisors, Jenny (UEA), Rhys and Debbie (Cambridge), we looked at the relationship between mute swan abundance change and the factors described above at a regional level, to ask which factors were likely to explain the observed change. 

How do the regional changes in these factors relate to the changes we see in the mute swan population? Is there a factor’s map that looks rather similar to the swan change map?


Analysing the spatial variation shown in the data above, we found that increased autumn-sown crop area was strongly linked to mute swan abundance increase. This makes sense because autumn-sown crops are used as an overwinter food resource for the mute swan, and more food improves survival and allows females to reach peak breeding conditions earlier on in the breeding season. This allows earlier laying of eggs, larger clutch sizes and greater fledgling success, improving breeding success. 

What does this mean for conservation?

Removal of poisons from the environment is clearly important for the conservation of species as it allows increased survival, however, our findings suggest that other factors (i.e. autumn-sown cropland expansion) may be important to facilitating population recovery. Conservation interventions, to facilitate population recovery, therefore need to both remove poisons from the environment as well as focus on other factors, such as improving productivity.

Autumn-sown cropland expansion has helped the mute swan population recovery. However, this is only part of the story – there are some regions that have increased in mute swan abundance without the corresponding increase in autumn-sown cropland. Other factors are also likely to have contributed to the population recovery of the mute swan, but were not detected in our data. Future studies done at even smaller spatial scale, e.g. waterways, will likely reveal more factors.  

Saturday, August 17, 2019

BES Macroecology 2019!

A couple of weeks ago, I went on an amazing and long train journey down to Penyrn (Cornwall) to attend the British Ecological Society's (BES) Macroecology 2019 Conference. It was a three day event, with the first day being an early career researchers' development day focussing on how to do research with impact.

What are Conferences?

Conferences are events where researchers meet and present their research and share insights. BES Macroecology 2019 was an incredibly friendly conference with researchers from many different career stages and institutions. There are powerpoint presentations as well as poster presentations, and often workshop and discussion sessions focussing on specific issues. Here, one of the sessions I attended was a toolsharing workshop - where I learnt many neat tricks ranging from, allowing you to check through figures, using datastorr for handy versioning with updated datasets to inserting skrrrahh() at the end of your code to let you know when your code has finished running.

The topics presented were so diverse and exciting - I couldn't possibly describe them all. Isabel Fenton told us about her research understanding macroecological and macroevolutionary processes through looking at species shifts in the fossil record across latitudes with past climatic change - with species becoming more equatorial whilst keeping their range size constant in cooling periods. Sam Shrimpton took us through one of his Master's projects about the variation in eye size scaling across adults and larvae in frogs - difference in investment depended on ecotype, with fossorial species having much smaller eyes that expected. Varun Varma has been working on bananas in the BananaEx project, which looks to achieve sustainable banana trade - he has found a huge variation in response to the recent climate change and differing technologies across the world, predicting future change to have a negative impact outside of Africa and rewards for more investment in technology for African producers. Macroecology is really diverse - with research from many different fields weaving in.

Plenary speakers, notable researchers from the field, are invited to give talks, about their experiences and research. The plenaries were fantastic with Marlee Tucker fascinating us with her work in understanding how human activities affect a form of animal behaviour, namely movement, through animal tracking data, and in turn how this affects species interactions and ecosystem processes. Nick Payne taking us through his research linking heating tolerances (very important with climate change) in the laboratory to wild populations, which showed similar patterns - and he suggests using mechanistic niche modelling informing ecological understanding with physiological understanding. Dave Hodgson showing us the power of databases, like COMPADRE - which are full of life cycle demographics for lots of species from primary reviewed literature, to answer questions in ingenious ways - studying species in their native range to predict invasives but using existing datasets. Jess Haghkerdar was selected as the student plenary and she talked about her exciting work looking at how taxonomic and functional diversity, and functional composition change over successional time.

Aside from hearing the fantastic array of amazing research that is going on, it was a brilliant opportunity to get to know other people working on similar topics to me and share insights on what works and doesn't work. It is a great way to build collaborations and in fact, since the conference, a list of useful datasets, that people have come across in their research, continues to be compiled (, and it is hoped that it will become a resource people can refer to in the future when looking for datasets.

My first conference presentation!

It was my first conference presentation at the BES Macroecology conference, and I could not have asked for a kinder or more friendly audience! I presented some of the results from my Master's project on the regional drivers of mute swan population change in England and Wales. The questions were really useful and so many ideas I have never thought of before came up as well. Since then, I have incorporated lots of these ideas into my project. It was so amazing to talk to people about my research and to see others as excited about it!

Truly a fantastic conference with brilliant people

I really enjoyed the three days at conference, and I came away with ideas exploding out of my head! One thing I've decided to do after this conference is to develop a game as part of outreach (inspired by the early careers day!) - the specifics of it haven't been decided but watch this space! I really feel that engaging people from all walks of life is the key to achieving conservation success - so I want to start introducing ecological concepts through a board game of some description. 

Thanks to everyone for making it such a lovely conference to be part of - amazing presentations, brilliant discussions and everything! I want to say a huge thank you to the hosts of this year's conference - Dr. Regan Early and her research group (Fundamental and Applied Biogeography research group - FABio) and the BES Macroecology Committee/Team.

Looking forward to BES Macroecology 2020 in Liverpool!

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Diving down a rabbit hole...

Over the past couple of weeks, I've been trying to track down data to understand how agricultural crops have changed over the last 40 years or so - and largely this has been rather frustrating.

I wanted to obtain annual regional estimates of the winter crop area of oilseed rape (which the swans love), barley and wheat between the 1970s and 2010s - and that doesn't sound too hard when you know that each year this information is collected from farmers across the country in the June Agricultural Census...

My knight in shining armour - the June Agricultural Census:
The June Agricultural Census was administered by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Statistics Census from the 1970s. So each June, farmers across the country report the area of each crop on their farm (e.g. rape grown for oilseed) and this data summarised by Parishes. Then the MAFF produced 10km² summaries from these.

So I went on a mad google for this data and after a couple of days it appeared that this data was kept in the National Archives. I was ecstatic and started planning a spontaneous trip to London to visit the Archives.

Freedom of Information Request needed to get these data...
But then, closer inspection of the webpages told me that this data wasn't actually freely available to the public, even if I went down to the Archives.  I needed to submit a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, detailing my project's research aims and methodology, for them to reconsider opening up the records again for the public - so of course, I quickly submitted the FOI requests for the records I needed but it could be up to 20 days before anyone would get back to me about this.

The duration for this project is really only about 4 months, which is really short for a research project. I couldn't just sit and hope that in 20 business days the FOI request would be approved (basically a month!). So I begun looking for other resources that might have summarised data from these records, such as books and online data repositories.

There are Agricultural Statistics in the basement of the library!!!
You would not believe my excitement when I found the volumes - Agricultural Statistics: England and Wales; Agricultural Statistics: United Kingdom; and The Digest of Agricultural Statistics; in the basement of the UEA Library. 😉 Here there was data, from the June Agricultural Census, on the area of each crop summaried by counties. They didn't cover all the years I needed but this was a START!

Following 5 days:
She frantically copies the area of each crop within each region from the volumes - almost as though these volumes (which are really rarely sought) will be taken from her at a moment's notice, and emails libraries - here there and everywhere, in search for the years in which volumes are missing from the UEA collection. 

Down a rabbit hole...
But then it turns out that the county and region boundaries used in these volumes have changed a lot over the years (an example below) and I can't actually use these data as it doesn't match with the region boundaries of the other external factors (e.g. water quality) we are measuring 😔
→ Back to searching for ways to access the June Agricultural Census data I go...

Map of England and Wales with Region Boundaries, taken from The Digest of Agricultural Statistics, 1991
Map of England and Wales with Region Boundaries, taken from The Digest of Agricultural Statistics, 1996
Final note:
It is extremely important to think ideas through and play around with preliminary datasets before diving straight in. Thinking through what results are needed to answer your question, and therefore what data you need to collect or find, and whether obtaining this data is feasible - this planning process is vital to ensuring that time and resources are used effectively. If anyone is interested, there is a fantastic book out there - Ecological Census Techniques - where Bill highlights his Reverse Planning Technique. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Charting the unchartered...

In science, you often hear researchers submitting project proposals to research councils and other funding bodies to apply for grants. In a sense, it is basically an attempt to convince the funders that it is a fantastic idea to back your project. With limited funding available, it is incredibly important to persuade them of the importance, urgency and impact of your research and present the best case of why they should fund you here and now. But whilst your research might be addressing pressing issues and the findings will result in you saving humanity, the funders also need to know that your project's aims and methods are sound and realistic with the given time, funds and people associated. So writing a compelling BUT succinct (funders have tonnes of applications to read through) AND accessible (as your funders are unlikely to be experts in your particular field of study) summary of your proposed research is actually quite a tough job!

Proposal writing time...
Whilst I don't need to convince any funding bodies for my Masters' project, I have to present my project ideas in an enthralling proposal to my supervisors and faculty, as part of my course. I must coax them into trusting that I have thought through the research question and designed a good explicit project plan, with reasonable methodology for data collection and analyses, so they can be confident (well largely so...) that I can carry out this (realistic) project. So last week I sent off my proposal...

Here, I will attempt to convince you to fund care about my research project in a very short summary of my proposal.

Lead the Way: Regional Drivers of English Mute Swan Population Change, Cygnus olor

Largely based on the Nature Conservancy Council Report (1981), which found lead poisoning as the single greatest cause of mute swan deaths in the UK,  a legislation was passed in 1986 banning the import, supply and use of lead angling weights in coarse fishing. Lead has been well documented to be metabolic poison of wildlife, but there was no quantitative evaluation of the effectiveness of this ban until a recent paper by Wood et al. (2019, Biological Conservation). This paper concluded that the ban explained the observed national population increases in mute swans.

However, a closer look at the regional variation in population trends by my supervisors, Rhys and Debbie, suggests it is unlikely that the population changes are driven by solely this one factor- for example, regions of low coarse fishing also show population increases following the ban. In addition, previous analyses by Chris Perrins and colleagues (2003, Avian Pathology) found that blood lead levels in 2000/01 were very similar to concentrations found in 1989/91, which suggests no further decline in blood lead levels, despite the expected decrease in the encounter rate of lead angling weights with time.

Focussing on the spatial and temporal variation in population trends across England, this project will use long-term datasets of demographic trends (i.e. productivity and survival) and environmental factors to investigate the extent to which different demographic drivers contribute to the observed population changes, at both the regional and national scale. Environmental factors I will investigate include: weather, agricultural crops (esp. oilseed rape), water quality, and of course, lead exposure.

*Following on in my proposal, the sources of these data were detailed and the proposed methods of analyses were also described and justified. *

Implications and Outcomes
This work will expand the evidence quantifying the effectiveness of legislation on lead angling weights in reducing exposure and decline of bird species. The evaluation of the effectiveness of conservation measures (including legislation) is exceptionally important because conservation action must be targeted at those with the greatest effectiveness, in order to use the limited resources afforded to conservation and also to ensure effective measures do not get disregarded in policy and new developments. In addition, this project seeks to identify the drivers behind some of the regional population declines (which are currently unknown) and this information will be of great importance to conservation practitioners in developing more targeted interventions at a regional scale.

*At the end of my proposal, I provided a list of anticipated problems and a contingency plan, alongside a detailed weekly plan of the work (e.g. what analysis to run and what to write up) and the costs. *

Well, I guess now the question is...are you convinced?

Monday, February 11, 2019

Planning a four month long project with field work seems a little tricky...

Following on from the three ideas I had last week, I finally decided upon the idea which focusses on how urban noise influences parent-offspring communication. So I met up with Jenny again to discuss how it could be done...

Developing the Urban Noise and Parent-Offspring Communication idea

There is quite a bit in the literature about how urban noise and parent-offspring communication are related, with many studies looking at how urban noise influences chick begging calls and nestling success through observational (observing changes in breeding success along natural noise gradients) and experimental (manipulating noise levels at different nest boxes) studies. So what could I study...?

Noisy nests on fledgling calls?
One avenue I could consider is how a noisy nest would influence parent-offspring communication in the fledgling period. Communication is really important because fledglings are very vulnerable at this stage and still dependent on their parents for food. Moderate levels of noise in the nest could affect call development, as well as auditory development. It has also been suggested that perhaps changes to call structure (to avoid masking by urban noise in the nest) might have positive effects on signal transmission later in life, including the fledgling period (Leonard & Horn, 2008, Behavioural Ecology). But the reason this has not been done yet in the literature is because it is so tricky to carry out. Fledglings have a low survival rate (which means I would need to find a large number of nestlings to start off!) and they spread out over much greater area (than nestlings!), but working out how to record and measure the fledgling calls to their parents is probably the biggest challenge here!

I'm used to noisy streams, so I'll be fine in noisy urban areas?
Another avenue I could look into would be to see if birds that live in natural noisy environments (e.g. by streams) cope better with noise than those who live in quiet havens. Some birds who live by these natural noisy environments have changed some of their signal features, such as using more pure tones in the American dipper - which would reduce the effect of masking (Warren et al., 2005, Animal Behaviour). Also, I could look into whether birds in noisy urban environments cope with noise better than those is quiet rural environments.

After a bit more thinking, I got an idea of splitting my project into two:

Using BTO Nest Record Scheme and Noise Maps
In the UK, we are very fortunate in having so many passionate volunteers participating in bird surveying schemes, which allow us to understand changes in bird behaviour with changes in the environment at a national scale. One of the schemes by the British Trust for Ornithology, the Nest Record Scheme, consists of volunteers finding nests and documenting details of location, habitat and the nesting attempt over the breeding season. These data are vital for research as well as monitoring bird populations over time, allowing conservation concerns to be identified and addressed efficiently.

In accordance with Environmental Noise Directive (2002), DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) conducted strategic noise mapping across England. Thus using these two datasets, I could investigate if the effects described in experimental studies can actually be detected across the national dataset. I could locate areas where noise and breeding success were likely to be related and identify the associated noise characteristics - amplitude, frequency etc.

Experimental manipulation 
Conducting an experimental manipulation, using the noise characteristics that have been found to have an effect from the above analysis, would allow me to test more explicitly whether or not it is indeed these noise characteristics that are resulting in the observed reduced breeding success, or whether it was some other environmental factor that covaried with these locations. This approach allows me to identify ecologically relevant noise characteristics (as there is no point in increasing noise levels indefinitely in experiments if they never occur in the real world) and then understand the biologically relevant relationship between these noise characteristics and breeding success - providing evidence for conservation action. 

But in order to do this experimental manipulation, I would need a licence to disturb breeding birds from Natural England, in accordance with the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, on which there is approximately a waiting time of 12 weeks (which would take me to at least early May - when the breeding season would have already started...). So whilst it is very exciting, the licence is very unlikely to come through in time. However, as both parts of the project could be stand-alone projects by themselves, I could still investigate the relationship between breeding success and urban noise - studying just the first part using Nest Record data and Noise Maps, being purely data analysis. But still fantastically cool!

Drivers of changes in mute swan populations

Before I left the meeting though, Jenny suggested that there might be another project I would be interested in, which would looking at mute swan populations and understanding the drivers behind their population change in recent years. In 1987, there was a ban on the use of lead fishing weights and since then, the population has at least doubled across Britain (Wood et al., 2019, Biological Conservation). It was thus suggested that this increase in population was due to this ban. However, as there are many other environmental variables (and because this is biology), it is unlikely ever to be this simple. So I would be working with amazing minds, Prof. Rhys Green and Dr Debbie Pain, in Cambridge, as well as Jenny, to disentangle this intriguing issue.

A pair of mute swans at the UEA Lake last night

On a related note, this project emphasises the importance of testing the effectiveness of regulation and conservation interventions. There is a real paucity of studies in the field looking at this and this means that downstream it will be very hard to justify the persistence of these actions. Whilst it can be suggested from inference that the mute swan population have increased due to the ban, there is little quantitative evidence (apart from Wood et al., 2019) evaluating this. There could be other factors leading to the increase and our ignorance of this could potentially be very costly for the populations we are supposedly trying to protect with our policies and legislations. Here, I must highlight the importance of Prof. Bill Sutherland and his teams' work ( trying to evaluate evidence behind conservation interventions to promote those that are most effective.

What next?
So very much like last week, I need to make my mind up between the two fantastic projects and then actually begin planning my work on them!