Birds, Policy and Species Recovery: Three months with the RSPB

Posted By on Oct 12, 2017


By Rich Howells

At the coalface of nature conservation, public engagement and wildlife advocacy, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) have over 1300 employees, 18,000 volunteers and more than 1 million members, making it the largest wildlife conservation charity in Europe. A great place to undertake an ACCE DTP supported placement then!

After contacting the team at the RSPB Scottish Headquarters in Edinburgh, it was soon apparent that there was a great deal to be gained for both myself and the RSPB by completing a placement with them. Embedded within the Species Recovery and Marine Policy teams, they made no delay in making me feel very welcome and part of their workforce. In my first week, I was introduced to a range of key staff of relevance not only to my position during the placement, but my interests in general. My line manager, Laura Bambini, a species recovery officer at the Scottish Headquarters, had arranged a suite of one-to-one interviews with some of the leading managers in the UK including Dr Mark Bolton (Head of Conservation Science), Alex Kinninmonth (Head of Marine Policy) and Helen Moncrieff (Shetland Manager). I was also given the opportunity to familiarise myself with the work of the RSPB, including the diverse range of conservation and science projects they operate throughout the UK and abroad. Such insights were not only interesting, but provided me with an overview of how the organisation was structured, and how conservation, advocacy and policy is implemented and delivered at local, regional and national levels.

The start of my placement coincided with the publication of a key paper on seabird movement ecology, led by the RSPB, for which I was asked to help promote by writing a blog (click here). This provided me with a useful opportunity to hone in on my writing skills and gain valuable feedback and expertise from more senior staff on how to effectively engage a general audience when disseminating a relatively complex study.

However, the highlight of the placement was a field visit to Shetland. The purpose of this trip was, first to take part in and understand the practicalities of Arctic skua surveys, and secondly to gauge the thoughts and opinions of local stakeholders as to what actions may be implemented to promote recovery of this species. The trip involved three days assisting Arctic skua surveys in the northern isles (Yell and Fetlar), a day in the capital Lerwick, two days on Mousa assisting with storm petrel research, and two days on the mainland, with a visit to the RSPB office at Sumburgh head. Following the trip, I produced a short report that will hopefully assist in helping direct the RSPB’s future conservation priorities for this rapidly declining species.

The latter half of my placement was more challenging and having proved my ability to work independently; I was asked to draft a project proposal, based on the focal species of my PhD, the European shag. This required me to utilise my comprehensive knowledge of shag biology, research and conservation. The project aims to identify temporal and spatial variation in key shag demographic rates and test the underlying environmental determinants. Initially, this involved drafting a one-p

age project concept note, which was successful. Subsequently, I developed this idea further into a fully detailed project proposal, with costings and timeframes. To do this, I utilised the internal Project Management Framework, which required me to link the proposal with the RSPB’s self-determined conservation priorities and objectives. Irrespective of the outcome, this provided a valuable experience, which will be useful when writing grant proposals in the future. Undeniably, one of the primary motivations for pursuing a placement with the RSPB was to gain networking opportunities within the UK’s largest conservation charity. However, treated as an integral member of the RSPB team I also earned a host of experiences and expertise across a range of disciplines, which will undoubtedly prove beneficial for my future career prospects, wherever they may lead me.