Wildlife Science




Hazel dormouse conservation is a top priority for UK woodlands (Photo by Danielle Schwarz CC BY-SA 3.0)

Despite their strict protection and major conservation efforts, populations of hazel dormice Muscardinus avellanarius in England and Wales continue to decline. Recent analyses by the University of Exeter (Goodwin et al 2017) identified a 72% decline in dormouse populations from 1993 to 2014 and suggested that the species could be categorized as Endangered in the UK. Our recent work (Goodwin et al 2018a, b) has also highlighted the importance of improving woodland management to enhance the conservation status of the species in the UK.

This collaborative CASE studentship will involve fieldwork on dormice and forestry practice. The student will work alongside key conservation organisations to build on recent work on dormouse ecology and to evaluate and improve woodland management practices in order to reverse the fortunes of this most endearing British mammal.

The overall aim of this project is to understand variation in dormouse conservation status, evaluate woodland management and provide evidence for improved practices to support dormouse recovery in the UK. This will be achieved by extensive analysis of dormouse populations and of woodland characteristics, using remotely sensed data, accompanied by intensive surveys of dormice and habitats in a sample of commercial and non-commercial, broadleaf and coniferous woodlands. The student will survey woodland managers to understand practice in relation to conservation regulation and commercial and other management objectives. The student will also have the opportunity to employ molecular genetic techniques to understand dormouse population processes and to develop population models to understand how variation in practice might affect populations in the long term. The student will work at public and private forests across England and Wales, sampling sites at which dormice are thriving and sites where they are in decline. The project will require extended periods of fieldwork away from Cornwall, and periods in the laboratory in Cardiff and at Forest Research.

For more details about the project and application process please see our ‘Join Us‘ page or click here.



Polecats (Mustela putorius) are regularly exposed to pesticides in Britain.

Rodents are a major problem on farms and present a threat to food security as well as human and animal health and welfare. Rats alone cost the UK about £200M a year by consuming and contaminating growing and stored crops. The problem is primarily managed, with varying degrees of success, by using anticoagulant rodenticides.

However, these chemicals are economically, ethically and environmentally problematic because they are markedly inhumane, resistance is a growing problem and their usage leads to widespread exposure of non-target wildlife, including threatened species of birds and mammals. In Britain, studies show that most polecats, barn owls and red kites are now exposed to rodenticides, with implications for their conservation. Guidance is available for the improved usage of rodenticides on farms, but we know relatively little about how this guidance works in practice and what improvements remain still to be made. The use of innovative and, in some cases, non-lethal Integrated Pest Management techniques, holds potential for increasing efficacy while reducing the multiple problems of established practices for rodent control, including the risks rodenticides pose to wildlife.

This CASE studentship will provide training in the science underpinning sustainable agriculture and food security by working towards more effective, economic and humane management of wildlife in the farm environment. The student will undertake evaluations of variation in rodent control practices and outcomes, conduct experiments on current and innovative approaches to rodent management and model approaches and outcomes to enhance best practice. They will adopt an interdisciplinary approach to research on wild animal populations and behaviour and on farmers and contractors and their practices and will work in the field and laboratory. The student will join a large group of interdisciplinary, applied researchers (wildlifescience.org) in Professor Robbie McDonald’s research group at the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus and will work alongside Professor Richard Shore at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (ceh.ac.uk) and Alexandra Tomlinson and Ruth Layton at our CASE partners sankalpa (oursankalpa.org).

For more details about the project and funding process please see our ‘Join Us‘ page or click here.



Featured Image: Jean-Jacques Boujot

Dairy farming is a major part of the Cornish economy. Although cattle usually graze outdoors, they tend to be housed in large barns/sheds over winter. At this time their environment can be severely affected by flocks of tens of thousands of starlings that fly into the barns/sheds to take cattle feed. The starlings can severely deplete cattle feed supplies, defecate in the barn and cause a nuisance for farm workers.

We are seeking a research ecologist to lead development of innovative solutions to mitigating the impacts of starlings on the farmed environment, specifically dairy farms. The successful applicant will lead a project gauging the impact of starlings on farms, and will work with partners in the USA to evaluate sonic deterrents to reduce their impact.

For more information visit the ‘Join Us’ page of our website, or apply here.

Featured Image Credit: Walter Baxter.

Wildlife reintroductions raise a number of challenging issues for conservationists. We are quite good at understanding the biology and ecology of our focal species when we study them in established populations. We have much less power and confidence however when it comes to predicting the impact of that same species in a novel context, which is often the case in reintroductions. Yes, it may be a native species to the area in question, but it might also have been absent for a long time. In that time the playing field will have likely changed, as have the players; the prey, the predators, and the people.

This week, I have been responding to disgruntled murmurings in Pont Rhyd y Groes that the newly established pine martens Martes martes are impacting on red kites Milvus milvus, once themselves rare, now fully restored and thriving in Wales. Some of the farmers within the release area have been noticing empty nests where they are used to seeing breeding birds, and they know pine martens were released in the vicinity. Firstly, I chased up an old ringing veteran who estimated the kite population in Ceredigion to be eight thousand birds – very robust, and certainly no longer vulnerable in terms of numbers. I then had a chat with an RSPB warden on the Black Isle in Scotland, where red kites and pine martens coexist. Marten density on the Isle is relatively high, as is the productivity of the red kites. In twenty years of monitoring the kites he had not seen a nest raided by a pine marten.

So it seems from an ecological perspective we probably don’t have an issue; kites are abundant in Ceredigion, and if nest predation by martens does occur, it is a rare event. This is not an ecological issue though, it is a social one. When the kites were very rare there was an enormous effort by multiple partners to galvanise land owners and farmers into protecting their local birds. This effort worked very well; farmers guarded their kites, and a culture of protection developed around the birds – something local farmers are rightly proud of, thirty years on. It has however created a potential conservation issues for us with an interest in reestablishing the marten, an arboreal predator. We have no evidence of the martens predating kite nests locally – the missing birds might simply have not returned this spring, or bred elsewhere. But for the land owners, it’s easy to put two and two together, and cast the marten as the villain. From our perspective as ecologists, a couple of predated nests may not be a problem, but for the land owner who retains a sense of responsibility as a kite guardian, one nest is too many. Data, numbers, and ecological theory are, from my experience, unlikely to work here; we will have to appeal directly to the  land owners values to try and contemporize the narrative of the two species, before the issue festers into resentment.

–  David Bavin