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Department of Biological and Medical Sciences
Faculty of Health and Life Sciences
+44 (0)1865 483253
I have been a practising conservation professional for over 25 years, the last seven of which at senior level. Throughout my career I have initiated and delivered a variety of applied conservation management projects, all of which I have endeavoured to translate into practical tools for conservation practitioners. My current position requires me to teach/run conservation biology courses to a variety of audiences and I am consistently recognised as an excellent communicator. I have a wide range of interests and contacts in conservation/biodiversity management, all of which I utilise wherever possible in my lectures and fieldwork, with much of my external research undertaken in collaboration with statutory and non-statutory organisations.
Threatened Species Conservation
Advanced Topics in Wildlife Conservation
Ecosystem Degradation and Management
Science and Humanity
Field Course - Identification and Methodology
Field Course - Surveys and Licences
Currently I am the Director of a research cluster in a University whose work explores the linkages between wildlife protection mechanisms/policies and landscape scale ecology; the effects of land-use change on wildlife; threatened species conservation in developing countries and wildlife tourism and human-wildlife conflict resolution. A considerable element of my research interests are underpinned by the use of Geographic Information Systems as data repositories and predictive management tools. Much of the work is supported by real-time mobile data collection and management software I have devised, and I have established particular expertise in the use of real-time data capture protocols for all my field-based activities. To that end I have started a University “spin-out” company – “WildKnowledge”, raised equity for it and we are now acknowledged as market leaders in the field of mobile technologies for data management across a range of disciplines.
In the UK I am regularly consulted by those government bodies responsible for aspects of biodiversity management and non-governmental organisations involved in the delivery of biodiversity strategies. I have developed a long-standing presence in the area of ecological impact assessment, being regularly invited by prominent networks of practitioners to join them on consultancy/research bids related to this area of expertise.
Patsy Wood Trust. Wildlife Conservancies in the Mara Ecosystem (2015) - £25,000
Charities Aid Foundation - Martin & Audrey Wood. Wildlife Conservancies in the Mara Ecosystem (2015) - £50,000
Charities Aid Foundation - Martin & Audrey Wood. Wildlife Conservancies in the Mara Ecosystem (2011) - £60,000
Knowledge Transfer Partnership - Enhancing user generated content via native applications (2010). £96,627
Leverhulme Trust. Modelling the ecological potential of mitigation banking (2005) - £70,564
English Nature. BRANCH (Biodiversity requires adaptations in Northwest Europe under a changing climate) (2005) - £63,250
Currently the research group has four research strands.
1. A multi-disciplinary project exploring the efficacy of newly created wildlife conservancies (private agreements between investors and indigenous peoples) in Kenya in terms of their utility to wildlife. Under this research project we monitor and model the response of the landscape and its dependent wildlife to newly created conservancy areas and grazing management regimes. Much of the research surrounds the demographics of key ungulate species within the conservancy and to assess the impacts of the change in grazing regime upon the vegetation. To date, our contribution has been to begin to assess changes as a result of the reduction/removal of cattle and to determine the spatial and population response from the wildlife in the conservancy as a consequence. This project continues to provide detailed ecological and environmental monitoring and modelling in the Mara ecosystem, as an evidence-based approach to conservancy advocacy into the future.
2. The efficacy of mitigation measures in ecological impact assessment. Built development is one of the main drivers of biodiversity loss in the UK. Major built developments usually require an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to be conducted, which frequently includes an Ecological Impact Assessment (EcIA) chapter. By identifying the flaws in EcIA mitigation measure proposals and their implementation in developments, this research seeks to develop measures to reduce biodiversity loss and help meet the UK’s EU obligation to halt biodiversity loss. Some of our work surrounds a case study where we are examining the use of predictive tools in EcIA in tandem with an "on the ground" assessment of the utility of mitigation habitat required under EU law as part of the plan-decision making process.
3. The use of genomic approaches to enable best management and conservation of species both in the wild, and in captivity. The development of the tools provided by Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) technologies, have opened up the field of genomics to conservationists, allowing researchers to study population structure, dynamics and connectivity at a landscape scale. This is an approach that facilitates the identification of changes in population structure, genetic signatures and adaptive processes population-wide, in response to changing environmental parameters. Currently we are investigating the application a landscape genomic approach to determine the adaptive genomic response and impact of illegal shark fishing on prey species - the project is jointly supervised in a collaborative partnership with the University of Oxford and the University of Western Australia.
4. An assessment of the size and landscape scale distribution of the tiger prey base in Ranthambhore National Park. For the last seven years I have visited the Park to collect data on ungulate prey availability, using this to make population estimates for both the resident tiger population and the prey species they depend upon.
A key aspect of my recent research has been to examine the role of ecological networks in biodiversity offsetting. The work (funded by the Leverhulme Trust) is acknowledged as the first in this field in the UK and has subsequently underpinned future research across a number of organisations, most notably Natural England and defra. As a consequence of this work I led the team delivering the defra scoping study on the design of a biodiversity offsetting mechanism for England. This work has in turn led to several contract research calls from defra related to the outcomes of the report. The concept and our recommendations also feature in the Lawton Review – “Making Space for Nature”.
WildKnowledge® was originally a suite of wildlife/environmental recording software which runs on mobile ‘phones. Stemming from 2 research projects funded by the Royal Society and the Heritage Lottery Fund, the software was taken to “Venturefest” in 2006 where the product attracted both potential investors and an award – the “Technology Showcase Winner for Innovation”. In response to requests from a potentially wider user audience we devised an expanded suite of products (WildMap, WildForm, WildImage) offered under the banner of “WildKnowledge”and are now acknowledged as a market leader in the field of mobile technologies for data collection and management across a range of disciplines in both the UK and overseas. WildKnowledge specialises in recording and exploring mobile applications. In addition to operating its own “apps”, WildKnowledge also creates apps for external clients. Currently the business links itself to previous/ongoing research work which considered the need to generate (and subsequently manage) collaborative data creation and management projects; to link users to repositories of multimedia content, and to facilitate the repurposing of existing content.
Recent significant changes to African elephant (Loxodonta africana) populations have placed their management at the centre of the global wildlife conservation management debate, with most of the discussion surrounding population declines. However, in small, invariably fenced reserves found over much of South Africa, their numbers have expanded due to elevated levels of protection from poaching, artificial water provision, high reproductive success and lack of dispersal opportunities. Under these conditions, concerns arise surrounding the negative impacts of elephant feeding behaviour and strategy, with calls from some quarters for intervention options to address this ‘elephant problem’.
Research in a small (380 km2) fenced reserve in the Limpopo province of South Africa was carried out in a variety of habitat and terrain types to assess type and level of elephant impact in relation to tree architecture. Impact was assessed to be predominantly non-lethal, with only a small proportion of surveyed trees assessed to have been lethally impacted upon. Tree species exhibiting certain architectural characteristics, notably trees with a wider canopy measurement than their overall height measurement, were particularly prone to negative feeding impacts, especially damage to primary and secondary branches. Trees with wide basal stem circumferences were most prone to being killed by elephants, with the overall likelihood of a tree experiencing the most severe impact types increasing with basal stem circumference. In contrast, an increase in height was shown to decrease the likelihood of a tree experiencing severe impact types, indicating that tall trees are less likely to suffer mortality due to elephant impact.
We suggest that managers of fenced elephant reserves conduct baseline monitoring of elephant impacts. These studies indicate that width at widest point, and to a lesser extent height at widest point are likely to be useful additions to baseline vegetation monitoring. This will identify the level and type of elephant induced impacts, specifically revealing those locations within fenced reserves with a significant component of target tree species/morphologies. Ultimately this will both initiate and direct preventative management measures, we suggest primarily in the form of exclusion fencing in order to prevent access by elephants.
Large-scale construction activity associated with the enlargement of Abberton Reservoir in Essex, England was calculated, mapped and subsequently modelled to examine the effect of disturbance on four Special Protection Area designated dabbling waterfowl species, Anas strepera (Gadwall), A. clypeata (Shoveler), A. crecca (Teal) and A. penelope (Wigeon). The distribution of each species was compared with levels of construction disturbance and environmental variables using Hurdle Model analysis and spatial referencing.
Numbers of all four species varied throughout the study period with significant increases observed across the reservoir during the four year construction period. Findings show that the most important environmental variable was shallow water with increases in this area of habitat as a result of planned enhancement measures being of particular benefit to Gadwall, Shoveler and Teal. Numbers of Wigeon were especially variable across the site during construction and were displaced from the Main Section during the most disturbing shoreline works, behaviour we attribute to the loss of suitable grazing habitat during the construction process.
While results show some disturbance responses, maintenance of site integrity for all four species is attributed to the overall size of the reservoir complex (4.75 km2) and the phased construction programme which reduced the extent and impact of disturbance. Research presented here provides evidence for a sensitive and science based approach to better deliver conservation and development requirements. The monitoring prior to (2006–2009) and during the construction phase (2010−2013) has enabled the much needed, but often lacking, evidence-based reporting on construction disturbance effects and associated mitigation measures.
The Southern white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) is a threatened species, central to the tourism appeal of private game reserves in South Africa. Privately owned reserves in South Africa tend to be smaller than government run reserves such as Kruger National Park. Because of their relatively small size and the often heterogeneous nature of the landscape private game reserve managers benefit from detailed knowledge of white rhinoceros terrain selection preferences, which can be assessed from their ranging behaviours. We collected adult and sub-adult white rhinoceros distribution data over a 15 month period, calculating individual range size using kernel density estimation analysis within a GIS. From this, terrain selectivity was calculated using 50% and 95% kernels to extract terrain composition values. Jacob’s correction of the Ivlev’s selectivity index was subsequently applied to the terrain composition of each individual to identify trends in selectivity. Results reveal that adult males hold exclusive territories considerably smaller than those found in previous work conducted in “open” or large reserves. Similarly, results for the size of male versus female territories were also not in keeping with those from previous field studies, with males, rather than females, having the larger territory requirement. Terrain selection for both genders and age classes (adult and sub-adult) showed a strong preference for open grassland and avoidance of hill slope and riparian terrains. This research reveals white rhinoceros terrain selection preferences and how they influence range requirements in small, closed reserves. We conclude that this knowledge will be valuable in future white rhinoceros conservation management in small private game reserves, particularly in decisions surrounding removal of surplus individuals or augmentation of existing populations, calculation of reserve carrying capacity and future private reserve acquisition.
Overpopulation of African elephants (Loxodonta africana) in fenced reserves in South Africa is becoming increasingly problematic to wildlife managers. With growing opposition to culling and the high cost of translocation, alternative management strategies focusing on male elephants are being investigated. In this study, hormonal treatment via Gonadotropin Releasing Hormone (GnRH) suppression, and surgical treatment via vasectomy were trialled. Focusing on behavioural responses, we tested the male dominance hierarchy for transitivity, and examined the rank order of individuals in relation to age and contraceptive treatment received. Additionally, we studied association patterns between males within the male population and with the female herds.
Findings suggest that the treatment of one individual with GnRH suppressant is affecting the rank order of the dominance hierarchy, though it is still transitive, yet fluid (Landau’s linearity index ), as expected in a normal elephant population. Between males, association patterns were found to be weak. However, some males had relatively strong associations with the female herds, with association indices between 0.25 and 0.41. This suggests that the reduction on births is resulting in the males spending atypically large amounts of time with the female herds. The future conservation implications of this population control mechanism are discussed.
Built development is one of the main drivers of biodiversity loss in the UK. Major built developments usually require an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to be conducted, which frequently includes an Ecological Impact Assessment (EcIA) chapter. By identifying the flaws in EcIA mitigation measure proposals and their implementation in completed developments, it may be possible to develop measures to reduce biodiversity loss and help meet the UK's EU obligation to halt biodiversity loss by 2020.
A review of 112 English EcIAs from 2000 onwards was conducted to provide a broad-scale overview of the information provision and detail of ecological mitigation measures. Audits of seven EIA development case study sites provided finer-scale detail of mitigation measure implementation, and the effectiveness of their grassland and marginal habitat creation and management measures was assessed using standard NVC methodology.
Despite higher than expected levels of mitigation measure implementation in completed developments, EcIA mitigation proposal information and detail has seen little improvement since a 1997 review, and the effectiveness of the habitat mitigation measures studied was poor. This suggests that measures to improve ecological mitigation measures are best targeted at ecological consultants. A recommendation for EcIA-specific training of Competent Authorities is also made.
An understanding of the ecological systems which dictate landscape form and function must be achieved in order to objectively view development led landscape ecological change. Habitat fragmentation, loss and isolation of habitat patches and reduced connectivity are having a significant detrimental effect on the way our landscapes function. A conservation planning tool which considers these issues in tandem with planned landscape level change, whilst incorporating species and habitat specific details, is necessary if we are to ameliorate the ecological impact of built development. A landscape scale modelling approach was developed for a case study area in the South Midlands of the UK to investigate spatial targeting of habitat extension areas. Habitat extension opportunities currently arise as a consequence of existing planning regulations and conditions and are likely to increase as the concept of habitat "banking" is embraced. Ecological networks and ecoprofiles were employed to guide the location of these extension areas via an examination of the landscape ecology effects of area composition, size and location. The ability of extension areas to contribute to landscape functionality was determined spatially. Habitat extension areas identified by the approach increased the existing ecological network size by a factor of over 2.7:1 and were able to deliver the majority of habitat creation targets set out in regional Biodiversity Action Plans (BAPs). 100% of wetland, unimproved grassland and broadleaf and mixed woodland creation targets were met, whilst 75% of the lowland heath target could be achieved. Semi-natural habitat mosaic areas of over 3700 ha which incorporated habitat of more than one type were identified, with such areas determined to be of importance in achieving landscape improvements for a wide range of species. We conclude that rapid assessment tools such as that employed in this research will have increased utility in conservation planning as the British landscape continues to experience both sustained and elevated levels of built development pressure. (C) 2011 Elsevier GmbH.
Rare and threatened habitats in Europe must be restored and enhanced in accordance with the European Union’s Habitats and Species Directive. In the United Kingdom, conservation and expansion objectives for species and habitats are outlined in the Species Action Plans and Habitat Action Plans. Site identification for these measures has to date been ad hoc without consideration of either the existing “stock” of the natural resource or the ability of the surrounding land use to deliver the enhancement (enlargement) of a given habitat. Using a Geographical Information System, we outline a targeting system for creating new woodland in association with existing ancient woodland in the Chiltern Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The aim was to create woodland blocks of at least 100 ha, as being of the most benefit to biodiversity. We identified existing patches of woodland between 20 and 50 ha as cores for habitat expansion and classified land use in terms of its suitability and proximity to these core areas for tree planting to meet the targets of the statutory body. Our results suggest that the targeting method employed is a useful tool for habitat restoration.
Webber, A.W., Thompson, S., Bailey, N. & Priston, E.C. (2017). Using Geographical Information Systems (GIS) at sites of negative human-wildlife interactions: current applications and future developments. In: Human Wildlife Conflicts: New Dimensions (Eds: Webber, A.W., Hill, C.M. & Priston, E.C.). Berghahn Books.
Maldonado, O.I., Amoke, I., Anderson, S., Frost, C., Gibbons, H., Kaelo, D., Sopia, D. & Thompson, S. (2015). Maasai Mara Conservancies Cultural and Natural Resources Action Plan. The Nature Conservancy, Virginia, USA.
Treweek, J., ten Kate, K, Butcher, W., Venn, O., Garland, L., Moran, D. and Thompson, S. (2009). Scoping Study for the Design and Use of Biodiversity Offsets in an English Context. Defra.
Piper J., Wilson E., Weston J., Thompson S. & Glasson J. (2006). Spatial Planning for Biodiversity in our Changing Climate. English Nature Research Report No. 677, Peterborough: English Nature.
Impacts Assessment Unit, Oxford Brookes University. (2003). Assessment of Plans and Projects significantly affecting Natura 2000 sites: non-mandatory methodological guidance. EU.
Full member of the International Association of Landscape Ecologists
Trustee of the NGO Tourism Operators for Tigers
Associate of the The Environment Bank
NERC Highlights Panel Member 2015 - Critical Natural Capital