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The science of saving wildlife: RSPB Centre for Conservation Science launches

Last modified: 26 February 2014

Scientists downloading tracking data on beach

Image: Andy Hay

The UK needs to push forward an ambitious programme of cutting edge science if we are to save some of our most threatened species.

That’s the message from the RSPB’s chief scientist Dr David Gibbons as the organisation launches the RSPB Centre for Conservation Science at the Royal Society in London tonight (Wed, February 26th). This new initiative – which includes an online science hub - is dedicated to discovering solutions to 21st century conservation problems and celebrating the achievements of some of the country’s top conservation scientists through a new series of awards.

The RSPB has a team of more than 60 scientists in the UK and overseas involved in field research, species monitoring, testing conservation solutions and then publishing their findings in peer reviewed journals – pushing back the boundaries of our knowledge on wildlife.

Innovative methods 

This year sees a busy programme of projects including plans to attach cameras and GPS trackers to lesser black backed gulls to look at their interaction with wind farms and utilizing thermal imaging drones to count birds. Other projects include research aiming to get to the bottom of declines in turtle doves, lapwings and Nepal’s red headed vultures.

"...the winners were those whose work stood out as providing intelligent and practical solutions to the problems nature faces here in the UK and across the globe."

Dr David Gibbons, head of the RSPB Centre for Conservation Science, said: “These projects are fantastic examples of researchers using the latest technology to investigate why species are declining and how we can save them.

“The threats to our wildlife are serious – last year’s State of Nature report, which our scientists played a key role in compiling, revealed that 60% of UK species are in decline. Now more than ever we must pull out all the stops to investigate the issues and develop robust methods to restore their numbers. That is why we are embarking on one of our busiest periods of research yet, with scientists spread across the UK, and further afield.

“Our research can help solve problems for people as well as wildlife. With a range of partners we have shown how blocking moorland drains in the uplands might reduce the risk of downstream flooding, as well as boosting the food supply of moorland birds. 

Pulling together years of work

“We are building on around 50 years of history from the first field researchers employed at the RSPB so I am very proud to be launching this new venture which will take our scientific work into a new era. We will be opening up our work to the scientific community, and the wider public, with a new online hub, a database of hundreds of our scientific papers and three new annual awards to mark the best work in the field of conservation science.”

At today’s launch Dr Alienor Chauvenet will be presented with an RSPB Conservation Science award for outstanding PhD thesis. Dr Chauvenet’s thesis, written while she was at the Institute of Zoology and Imperial College London, developed a model for planning the translocation of threatened species and applied it to the nationally endangered New Zealand stitchbird.

The second award, for a scientific paper of great conservation importance, goes to Dr Anthony Waldron and co-authors for their study ‘Targeting global conservation funding to limit immediate biodiversity declines’ published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the USA. The study revealed that the 40 countries with the lowest spending on conservation contain 32% of the worlds threatened mammals.

The final award recognises an outstanding contribution to RSPB Science and will be presented to Dr Ron Summers whose research in Scotland over several decades has made a vital contribution to our ecological knowledge of species including capercaillie and Scottish crossbill.

A great number and quality of nominations 

Dr Gibbons added: “Although this is the first year for these awards we were very surprised at the number and quality of the nominations.

“But the winners were those whose work stood out as providing intelligent and practical solutions to the problems nature faces here in the UK and across the globe. It was inspiring and heartening to read about all the fantastic research being carried out and I hope this work will form the basis of conservation work for many years to come.”

The new online hub at rspb.org.uk/science launched today will feature a database of peer reviewed papers written by RSPB scientists. Today also sees the publication of Where Science Comes to Life, a report on some of the most important work carried out by RSPB conservation scientists over the past decade focusing on ten case studies.

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