Conservation in the Cairngorms

Five rainbows, ptarmigan, beautiful autumn colours and exciting chats with students and conservation practitioners – the Conservation Science course fieldtrip was a wonderful conservation-themed weekend! I’ve been dreaming of going to the fieldtrip for two years, and this year it finally happened!

I took the Conservation Science course as a student two years ago, and I loved it! The opinion piece was definitely one of my favourite assignments ever, and earlier this year, it got published in the Biosphere magazine – you can check it out here if you are keen to learn about conservation in the Australian Outback. I was also very excited about the course having a blog, so I couldn’t stop myself at writing just the blog post that was part of the course assignments, and wrote one more about how our obsession with rare species might be hampering conservation. Overall, I was very inspired and motivated by the course. I was also very bummed out, because I couldn’t go along to the fieldtrip back then, so I only got to hear the amazing stories and look at the beautiful photos. When I came back to the University of Edinburgh this fall as a PhD student, I was thrilled that not only will I get to do my dream research, but I will also be able to do my dream tutoring on the Conservation Science and GeoScience Outreach courses. As we headed out to the Cairngorms, well, you probably couldn’t see my enthusiasm and excitement, because I get motion sickness very easily, but once we arrived, I was all ready for adventure!


Hiking at Glen Feshie

For me, the highlight of fieldtrips is that students and staff get to know each other, and explore and learn together. I loved that as a student, and I love it now as a member of the teaching staff. It was great to talk about conservation, academia, careers and life with the students – be it by the fire, on hikes, or just at breakfast, it’s wonderful to hear students’ thoughts. Aside from all the talking, we also got to play a game together!

The activity I led was a game called “Species on the move”.


The cards for the game – you can download a pdf here.

Here is the premise: faced with climate change, habitat change, conflicts with human activities and naturally occurring environmental change, species have three options: adapt, move, or go extinct. We focused on moving, or changes in distribution ranges, as this strategy might be particularly relevant in Scotland, where climate change and land use change might force species to move. Each student drew a species card and joined one of two ecological communities. The students, each representing a species, lined up – their current habitats were no longer suitable, so they had to move. Species traits, human attitude and conservation support all influence the success of species on the move. I then called out various criteria for movement, like: “If you can fly, take one step forward”, “If fences can’t stop you, take one step forward”. Half way through we introduced lynx and beaver in our ecological communities, which then had effects on the success of some of the already present species.

The aim of the game was to find out which species first reach their new, more suitable habitat. As students were taking steps forwards and sometimes back (poor rare alpine plants!), we could already put together a picture of how intrinsic factors, like species’ traits, interact with extrinsic factors like land management and conservation interventions, to create dynamic ecosystems, where some species will be winners, and others losers, Afterwards, we heard from our winning and losing species, who all shared their strategies for success or what held them back. Haydn, our Scottish crossbill, shared why he was way behind Thomas, the Common crossbill. Or were those meant to be the same species? Afterwards all of us, winners and losers, had a warm cup of tea and ate delicious cake, a lovely finish to our adventures in the Highlands!

You can download the cards for “Species on the move” here.

The RSE Spotlight on Scotland’s Biodiversity Conference

Last week I took part in the Scotland’s Biodiversity conference at the Royal Society of Edinburgh. As conference go, there was knowledge and inspiration filling the rooms, there were questions I hadn’t pondered before, some answers that surprised me, some that re-affirmed what I already suspected. What was special about this conference though, was that I got to share the whole experience with an enthusiastic group of students from the Conservation Science honours course!


For the students, it was their first ever conference, and it certainly was inspiring to see them chat to speakers and engage with wide-ranging conservation topics – from policy, natural capital, agri-environment management, peatland restoration all the way to the conservation action plan of the Scottish wildcat. Many jolly discussions followed, inspired by the talks we saw and the conversations we had with the speakers. 

Topics I found particularly interesting include whether conservation should be focused on species-specific measures or broader ecosystem functionality, as well as the effect of climate change on species richness-oriented conservation. For example, should one of conservation’s goals be to maintain and/or increase biodiversity (most often quantified through species richness)? Climate change might make Scotland more biodiverse, but we probably wouldn’t be calling that a conservation success story!

Eladio Fernandez-Galiano from the Council of Europe brought up the issue of Scotland potentially losing the species that make Scottish nature Scottish. Invasive species also made an appearance among talks, and it was intriguing to ponder whether species, colonising a certain area due to climate change and range shifts, should be classified as native or invasive. A particularly strong point of the conference for me were the three presentations delivered by pupils, part of the Scottish Natural Heritage’s ReRoute programme, and researchers and academics. It was fantastic to hear about young people’s views on conservation directly from them, and what excellent speakers they were – their presentations were clear, well-organised, and they answered questions from the audience like pros!

I was happy to present the results of my research with John Godlee and Isla Myers-Smith at the conference. It was my first time being part of a panel discussion, along with some of the other presenters, which was also fun!


Overall, it was great to have a biodiversity event right here in Edinburgh, only a quick cycle away!

Pondering the effects of habitat fragmentation

Are the negative effects of habitat fragmentation a zombie idea? Do we see positive or negative effects of habitat fragmentation more often? And even before we do that, can we make broad generalisations about the effects of habitat fragmentations; if we can, should we be? What would be the potential effects on conservation policy and actions?

unnamed (1)

Journal club joy

This week we had our first EdGE meeting, under the theme of a Biodiversity Journal Club, and we pondered all of those questions and more in a lovely thought-provoking and stimulating atmosphere! We focused on the following paper:

Fahrig, L. (2017). Ecological responses to habitat fragmentation per se. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics48(1).

Check out the full blog post summarising our thoughts on the EdEN website!