Dr Mark Hancock

Senior Conservation Scientist, Conservation Science

Background

I work in partnership with a wide range of research and practitioner collaborators, both within RSPB and externally. Together we carry out science that supports large-scale restoration of key ecosystems in northern Scotland, and the species associated with them.

My work is focussed in the forests and hills of Cairngorms Connect, the UK's largest habitat restoration project; and in the peatlands, rivers and lochs of the Flow Country, one of the world's largest blanket bogs.

In Cairngorms Connect, my work involves coordinating a team of scientists from our partnership organisations, via collaborations with universities, funders and practitioners, to deliver a programme of science work that supports large-scale ecosystem restoration in this landscape.

In the Flow Country, my work involves supporting staff and students, via joint working with different RSPB departments including Forsinard reserve, and with universities and other collaborators, using science to inform the restoration of blanket peatlands damaged by non-native afforestation.

I co-supervise five PhD students whose projects support ecosystem restoration, by building understanding of

  1. peatland restoration effects on riverine ecosystems
  2. photosynthetic microbes as indicators of degradation and restoration.
  3. native woodland expansion in Cairngorms Connect – its benefits and constraints
  4. the climate stressors on microbial processes and carbon sequestration in peatlands
  5. the impacts and restoration of peatland forestry

External Activities

  • 2014-21: Rivers and Lochs Institute (University of the Highlands and Islands): Advisory Group member

  • 2019 to present: Chair of Cairngorms Connect Scientists' Working Group

Partners and Collaboration

  • Professor Roxane Andersen, Environmental Research Institute, University of the Highlands and Islands

  • Dr. Steven Andrews, Highland Council

  • Dr. Jens Arne-Subke, University of Stirling

  • Dr Rebekka Artz, James Hutton Institute & NatureScot’s Peatland Action

  • Prof. Colin Bean, NatureScot / University of Glasgow

  • Prof. David Coomes, University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute & Centre for Landscape Regeneration

  • Dr. Paul Gaffney, Environmental Research Institute

  • Kenny Kortland, Forestry and Land Scotland

  • Dr. Nick Littlewood, SRUC Aberdeen

  • Dr. Ashish Mallik, University of Aberdeen

  • Dr. Nancy Ockendon, Endangered Landscapes Programme / Cambridge Conservation Initiative

Contact

Dr Mark Hancock

Senior Conservation Scientist, Conservation Science

RSPB Scotland, North Scotland Office, Etive House, Beechwood Park, Inverness, IV2 3BW

mark.hancock@rspb.org.uk

Google Scholar

Specialisms

Ecosystem services Protected areas UK species Upland Woodland

Selected Publications

Effectively integrating experiments into conservation practice

Making effective decisions in conservation requires a broad and robust evidence base describing the likely outcomes of potential actions to draw on. Such evidence is typically generated from experiments or trials that evaluate the effectiveness of actions, but for many actions evidence is missing or incomplete.
We discuss how evidence can be generated by incorporating experiments into conservation practice. This is likely to be most efficient if opportunities for carrying out informative, well-designed experiments are identified at an early stage during conservation management planning.
We consider how to navigate a way between the stringent requirements of statistical textbooks and the complexities of carrying out ecological experiments in the real world by considering practical approaches to the key issues of replication, controls and randomization.
We suggest that routinely sharing the results of experiments could increase both the value for money and effectiveness of conservation practice.
We argue that with early planning and a small additional input of effort, important new learning can be gained during the implementation of many conservation actions.

Date
24 May 2021
RSPB Authors
Dr Mark Hancock
Authors
Ockendon, Nancy Amano, Tatsuya Cadotte, Marc Downey, Harriet Hancock, Mark H Thornton, Ann Tinsley‐Marshall, Paul Sutherland, William J
Published in
Ecological Solutions and Evidence
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Guild-level responses by mammalian predators to afforestation and subsequent restoration in a formerly treeless peatland landscape

Afforestation of formerly open landscapes can transform mammalian predator communities, potentially impacting prey species like ground-nesting birds. In Scotland's Flow Country, a globally important peatland containing many forestry plantations, earlier studies found reduced densities of breeding waders on open bogs, when forestry plantations were present within 700 m. One plausible explanation for this pattern is mammalian predation. We tested whether mammalian predator indices, based on scats (feces), differed between (1) open bog, forestry plantations, and former plantations being restored as bog (“restoration” habitats); (2) restoration habitats of different ages; and (3) open bogs with differing amounts of nearby forestry. We measured summer scat density and size over 14 years in 26 transects 0.6–4.5 km in length, collecting data during 93, 96, and 79 transect-years in bog, forestry, and restoration habitats respectively. In forestry, scat density increased eightfold, reaching values ~6 times higher than those of bogs. On open bogs with over 10% forestry within 700 m, scat densities were 2.9 times higher than on open bogs with less forestry nearby. Results support the hypothesis that mammalian predators might be responsible for the low densities of breeding waders close to forests, on adjacent open bogs. In restoration habitats, scat densities rose 6–10 years after felling but fell to levels similar to open bogs in older restoration habitats, supporting restoration management as a means of reducing mammalian predator activity/abundance. We urge caution around decisions to establish forestry plantations in open landscapes of high biodiversity importance.

Date
20 March 2020
RSPB Authors
Dr Mark Hancock
Authors
Klein, Daniela; Cowie, Neil R
Published in
Restoration Ecology 28 (5) 1113-1123
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Vegetation response to restoration management of a blanket bog damaged by drainage and afforestation

Questions
Does restoration management of a formerly afforested blanket bog lead to the vegetation, and the environmental conditions it indicates, becoming similar to intact bog?
Location
A 147-ha blanket bog in Scotland's Flow Country, afforested in the 1980s but undergoing restoration since 1998.
Methods
Vegetation in the restoration area was surveyed in nine, 1.6–6.4-ha plots, in 1998, 2003 and 2011. Each plot was matched to nearby plots that were either intact bog or remained afforested. Principal Response Curves were used to highlight the main axes of vegetation variation and test whether plant community trajectories in the restoration area differed from intact bog. The following restoration outcomes were assessed: floristic similarity to bog vegetation; and moisture, fertility and acidity, as inferred from vegetation using Ellenberg indicator values.
Results
In the 6 years after restoration began, vegetation developed towards bog-like conditions. In the subsequent 8 years, overall vegetation change stalled, and spatial variability increased, reflecting diverging trajectories in wetter and drier parts of the site. Ellenberg's F-values implied significant re-wetting in the restoration area, reaching moisture levels similar to intact bog. Other restoration outcomes progressed in wetter microsites and areas (furrows and flat ground), but stalled in drier locations (plough-ridges and steeper slopes).
Conclusions
Overall moisture conditions, as indicated by plants, have recovered. However, restoration progress has stalled in drier areas, where additional management may be needed. Long-term vegetation monitoring has helped clarify barriers to recovery and the management needed to overcome them. The value of such monitoring schemes in guiding restoration should be reflected in their wider implementation, within an adaptive management framework.

Date
22 January 2019
RSPB Authors
Dr Mark Hancock
Authors
Klein, Daniela; Andersen, Roxane; Cowie, Neil R
Published in
Applied Vegetation Science
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From a research study to a conservation partnership: Developing approaches to restoring common scoter populations

1.     Like many sea-duck populations, the British breeding population of common scoters Melanitta nigra has declined markedly. In 2009, a study was established to measure factors affecting lake use by breeding scoters, to inform conservation measures. That study, published in Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems (AQC) in 2016, showed that lakes used by scoters had relatively more shallow water and large invertebrates. Furthermore, lakes with abundant large invertebrates had relatively few brown trout Salmo trutta. These results probably reflect the importance of foraging habitat (shallow water), prey abundance (large invertebrates), and competition for prey (trout abundance) in influencing scoter lake use.

2.     To develop this study, additional research, and scoter conservation measures, we formed a long-term partnership, comprising nature conservation non-governmental organizations, statutory agencies, fisheries managers and the regional hydropower company. The partnership meets regularly to coordinate and review research and develop conservation measures, building on the earlier lake-use study.

3.     At key scoter lakes managed for hydropower, the partnership negotiated a revised water level management regime, favouring shallow water availability in the breeding season. This regime was informed by additional research, showing the value of certain islands for nesting scoters, and water level requirements to maintain these as islands.

4.     In a different key scoter area — an extensive near-natural peatland where recreational angling takes place — the partnership established a trial of increased brown trout angling, with increased fish removal, to determine whether this would increase invertebrate prey abundance and benefit breeding scoters. Both conservation interventions are currently being evaluated by detailed monitoring.

5.     Overall, the earlier study published in AQC, was important in strengthening and informing our researcher–practitioner partnership, as we collaborated within an adaptive management framework to reverse scoter declines. Long-term interdisciplinary partnerships are likely to have an important role to play in general, for the successful conservation of aquatic biodiversity.

Date
18 September 2020
RSPB Authors
Dr Mark Hancock, Trevor Smith
Authors
Robson, Hannah J; Stephen, Alastair; Byrne, Paul; MacLennan, Alison; Klein, Daniela; Mitchell, Carl; Griffin, Larry R; Hilton, Geoff
Published in
Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 30 (9): 1770-1774
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Using cattle for conservation objectives in a Scots pine Pinus sylvestris forest: results of two trials

It has been argued that large ungulates play a key role in natural forest dynamics, but in Britain, the largest native ungulates (aurochs and elk) are extinct. Cattle could have some similar effects...

Date
02 December 2009
RSPB Authors
Dr Mark Hancock, Dr Ron Summers
Authors
Hancock, M.H., Summers, R.W., Amphlett, A., Willi, J., Servant, G. & Hamilton, A.
Published in
European Journal of Forest Research
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Testing prescribed fire as a tool to promote Scots pine Pinus sylvestris regeneration

Techniques for encouraging natural tree regeneration are of increasing interest to managers of Scots pine Pinus sylvestris forests. We tested prescribed fire at a management scale, with deer present...

Date
14 March 2009
RSPB Authors
Dr Mark Hancock, Dr Ron Summers
Authors
Hancock, M.H., Summers, R.W., Amphlett, A. & Willi, J.
Published in
European Journal of Forest Research
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