Alice Stuart

Alice Stuart


I grew up on animal encyclopaedias and fishkeeping, so when I chose my final-year specialisation for my Natural Sciences degree from the University of Cambridge, Zoology seemed the fitting choice. My undergraduate project was titled “The traffic dynamics of leafcutter ants” and, after watching hours upon hours of grainy footage of ant trails, we found that wild Attine ants use lanes to optimise worker efficiency, something previously only shown in captive colonies. It was from this project I found the excitement associated with using robust evidence to find out how the world around us operates.

At heart, however, I am a conservationist. Despite our best efforts to prevent it, we are currently experiencing biodiversity declines unlike any seen in human history. Limited conservation funds must be channelled to where they are most effective and I believe that, when used alongside effective involvement of local populations, a solid, evidence-based approach to conservation is the best way to achieve this. For this reason, I have joined Professor William Sutherland’s group for my masters to work on evidence use within the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, a tool often used by governments and practitioners to set conservation priorities.

Alice Stuart

Agri-environments and Water

University of East Anglia, School of Environmental Sciences

PhD title: “How can we achieve biodiversity net gain?” – a CASE partnership with Anglian Water.

We live in an era characterised by the global impact of humans on the planet. The biodiversity consequences are well known and it is critical to devise strategies to prevent further biodiversity loss and to maximise the delivery of ecosystem services. ‘Biodiversity offsets’ are a means of delivering compensation for unavoidable biodiversity loss associated with planned development, and are increasingly required through legislation and national or international policies. ‘No net loss’ offsetting delivers a neutral outcome for biodiversity, whereas ‘net gain’ offsetting policies are favoured by many stakeholders.

However, views on biodiversity offsetting range from outright rejection to qualified acceptance amongst both experts and civil society. This presents significant legitimacy issues for developers, threatening their ‘social license to operate’ (SLO).

This research will work with Anglian Water as a business case study. Specifically, the objectives are to:

1)conceptualise net gain based on global policy and practice;

2)identify the expectations of different stakeholders, including civil society, of net gain;

3)evaluate existing approaches to the delivery of net gain; and

4)determine how Anglian Water can deliver net gain in their region with minimum risk to their SLO.

I will use Anglian Water’s five-year plan as a case study, along with stakeholder engagement (including interviews) and expert elicitation approaches, to develop an understanding of the legitimacy implications of different conceptualisations of net gain. Metrics (e.g. value of native and non-native species) will be used to evaluate the biodiversity outcomes of the different conceptualisations.

I am in the privileged position to have benefited from two internships. The first, with the science team at BirdLife International, set me on a course to try and work out how evidence is used in the IUCN Red List and whether there may be biases that could impact the conservation of less popular and less well known species. The second was a studentship with the bird department of Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, where I gained an insight into the inner workings of a highly conservation-focused zoo, got rather closer to some baby flamingos than I had expected, and learnt to chop fruit into really tiny cubes.