How my placement at the GWCT has built on my experiences as an aspiring conservationist
Back in 2018, I spent a month in the Honduras as a volunteer research assistant for a biodiversity conservation expedition. It was there I first came into contact with the phenomenon of human-wildlife conflict, after seeing how resources were utilized in ways that were detrimental to the local wildlife. I learned about the poaching in the Merendón mountains and the ongoing expansion of avocado and plantain crops into terrain formerly occupied by jungle. The locals were just trying to make a living, but it was clear there was a need for solutions that tackled both the sustainability of human development and the preservation of the natural landscape.
When I first started my placement with the Trust, I was curious about how my experiences in Central America compared to conservation work in Scotland, a completely different geographic and socioeconomic landscape. Despite the differences, it wasn’t hard to see the universal nature of the issues facing biodiversity in the modern day. While we don’t have to deal with expanding the diminishing habitat for jaguars or crop-raiding from howler monkeys in the UK, the intensification of agriculture presents similar challenges for wildlife here. I was looking forward to seeing how we would deal with the famously unpredictable weather, learning about the Scottish approach to conservation and observing how local land management affects farmland birds.
I was glad to find out that using scientific research to find the necessary solutions for maintaining UK’s wildlife, and reaching an equilibrium for man and nature, is at the very core of the Trust’s vision. A multipronged approach is taken, examining ways to sustainably continue routine activities such as agriculture, shooting and fishing while at the same time conducting research that can help us maintain the viability of ecosystems and animal populations. The information collected from research is then used to develop wildlife management techniques and raise awareness for the biggest issues facing biodiversity in Britain today.
I have witnessed this process first-hand through my involvement in the PARTRIDGE project, a transnational project that aims to improve biodiversity and ecosystem services on farmlands across northern Europe. The people working on the project are dedicated to achieving sustainable long-term land management by using the data collected at the project’s demonstration sites and promoting ways to improve habitat complexity on agricultural landscapes. By showcasing the success of high-quality habitats at reversing biodiversity loss, we then hope to improve future agri-environment schemes, inspire more farmers to take them up, and raise awareness about the causes responsible for the decline of local wildlife.
A pair of partridges caught on one of the camera traps I set up at Balgonie, one of the PARTRIDGE demonstration sites. Trail cameras are one of the many ways we monitor local biodiversity.
After conducting fieldwork, attending meetings and reading on the subject, I realised how important it is that everyone involved, from landowners to hunters, are able to continue their practices, but in ways that are not at the expense of the grey partridge, our flagship species, or any other farmland bird. Some conservationists would say prioritising human activities is counter-productive, however I believe a project will be more successful in the long-term when you work with the local population rather than against it.
I’m just halfway through my placement and I have already gained a new perspective on the value of sustainable game management for local biodiversity and the importance of protecting the often-overlooked wildlife that exists on agricultural land. The things I’ve learned about creative conservation solutions, data collection in the field, cooperation between different sectors of an organization and the valuable ID skills I developed, will stay with me for years to come. Hopefully in the future, I can use the experience I’ve gained during my placement to contribute to many more inspiring projects that will help bridge the differences between man and wildlife.
Written by Markos Nikolaou, Scottish Lowlands placement student