Dr Rebecca Jefferson

Senior Conservation Scientist, Conservation Science


My research investigates the links between society and nature. I am exploring the relationships between biodiversity and human wellbeing, the role of people’s nature experiences in developing a connection to nature and how to build stronger connections between society and the sea. I use social science methods to research these topics and identify ways to better connect society with nature in order to achieve conservation benefits.

As an undergraduate, I studied marine ecology – a fascinating subject which I still love. I became increasingly aware of the extent to which human activities are causing the deterioration of the ecological health of ecosystems. The more I studied, the clearer it became to me how people are the key element of conserving our environment.

I added to my natural science background by learning social science methods and thinking, and integrating this into my research. My work at RSPB includes work on marine and terrestrial ecosystems, nature reserves, people and communities. At the heart of my work is my interest in people as agents of change to deliver healthier ecosystems. 

Current projects:

Nature reserves study  

The RSPB have more than 220 nature reserves in the UK, with 2.2 million visitors every year. Our reserves have two priorities: to conserve nature and to connect visitors with nature. I am working with our reserves teams to understand what types of nature experiences our visitors want – how important is it to see rare or vulnerable, to get really close to an animal, or to see something which is new to them? The outputs of this project will help us identify what is most important about the nature experiences we offer on our reserves.

Giving nature and people a home

There is currently a huge demand for new housing in the UK.  RSPB is interested in how to make new housing stock more nature friendly. I am investigating how increasing the biodiversity of our housing stock could deliver benefits to people – does growing up in a more biodiverse place make us healthier and happier?

Biodiversity and mental health  

Mental ill-health is a large and growing problem for societies globally. Previous work has illustrated the benefits of exposure to nature as part of mental health recovery. In partnership with a mental health service provider, this project is looking at the opportunities for making changes to mental health infrastructure such as hospitals and out-patient units, which can increase biodiversity and benefit the patients, carers and staff who use those spaces.  

Connecting society and the sea

The nature found in the seas is incredibly diverse, however it is also often out of sight and therefore out of mind. This work investigates public perceptions of the seas – what people think, feel and know about the seas. The outputs of this work help marine conservationists to engage people with important issues and marine management processes in order to identify ways to build stronger connections between people and these distant, but important, ecosystems.

I work with the Environmental Research Team, on the Ecosystem Services program and focus on the cultural benefits of nature for people. This team includes people working on other types of ecosystem services and the wider interactions between people and nature.

My social science skills include surveys, interviews and focus groups with various audiences, and experience working with both qualitative and quantitative data. My natural science skills include experimental marine ecology, with specialities in intertidal ecology and phytoplankton.

External Activities

  • Review Editor for Frontiers in Marine Science: Marine Conservation and Sustainability
  • Reviewer for Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, Coastal Management, Marine Policy, and Oregon Sea Grant.
  • Guest lecturer at Plymouth University 

Partners and Collaboration

  • Dr Stuart Capstick, Cardiff University
  • Dr Steve Fletcher, UNEP-World Conservation Monitoring Centre
  • Dr Gillian Glegg, Plymouth University
  • Dr Emma McKinley, University of Chichester Business School
  • Dr Martina Milanese, Studio Associato Gaia
  • Dr Ben Wheeler, University of Exeter Medical School
  • Dr Mat White, University of Exeter Medical School


Rebecca Jefferson

Dr Rebecca Jefferson

Senior Conservation Scientist, Conservation Science

The Lodge, Potton Road, Sandy, Bedfordshire, SG19 2DL



Ecosystem services Marine New methods and technologies Protected areas