Dr Jake Bicknell (Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, University of Kent)
Dr Lucy Mason (Conservation Scientist, RSPB Centre for Conservation Science)
Dr John Wilkinson (Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (ARC) Trust)
Dr Will Peach, Head of Conservation Science England and Wales, RSPB Centre for Conservation Science
Dr Malcolm Burgess, Principal Conservation Scientist, RSPB Centre for Conservation Science
Emeritus Professor Richard Griffiths, DICE, University of Kent
Jim Foster, Conservation Director, ARC Trust
Each year, 57 million non-native gamebirds are released into the UK countryside for recreational shooting. This number vastly exceeds any other gamebird release in Europe or North America, with released Ring-necked pheasant and red-legged partridge representing more than twice the biomass of all native UK breeding birds combined. The increasing number of gamebirds released in the UK has triggered questions about the ecological impacts of this activity amongst conservationists, policymakers and within the shooting community itself. While there is evidence that game estate management can benefit biodiversity, questions remain about potential ecological impacts of gamebird release on native fauna and flora. Anecdotal evidence suggests that gamebird release may be having negative impacts on protected species of reptile, but conclusive studies are lacking. Understanding the impacts of large-scale releases of gamebirds represents a major challenge.
The student will (i) investigate associations between gamebird and reptile distributions across different spatial scales in the UK, (ii) design and perform field experiments to examine potential fine-scale population impacts of gamebird interactions, (iii) use qualitative interviews to determine the socio-economic drivers behind documented increases in gamebird releases, and (iv) determine reptile contribution to gamebird diet.
The student will be supported by a team of scientists drawn from DICE, RSPB and the Amphibian & Reptile Conservation (ARC) Trust with extensive experience in UK conservation science, practice and policy, and reptile conservation. The student will gain skills in GIS and species distribution modelling, field experimental design , breeding bird survey (BBS) and reptile survey methods, transects and camera trapping, qualitative interviews and potentially molecular methods for diet analyses (benefiting from NERC facilities). The student will benefit from existing spatio-temporal datasets on gamebird release (available from APHA poultry register) and reptile distribution (via ARC Trust). The applied nature of the collaborative partnership supporting this project will ensure findings drive evidence-based policy and management resulting in lasting impact.
Relevant degree such as biology or conservation. Demonstrable aptitude for interdisciplinary research combining natural and social sciences. Good quantitative skills. Experience with reptile fieldwork. Strong interpersonal skills.