8 April 2022
STARTING A RESEARCH PROJECT
When I first started this work placement, Kate (Head Ranger) introduced me to the team and told them that I wasn’t collecting data or doing research as part of my placement. Once I heard that, it planted a seed in my mind. I started speaking about this to my colleagues during workdays and they revealed how research is an important part of the site’s work, especially since they are conducting many pioneering projects. I went onto the RSPB website and found numerous jobs involving conservation research, such as monitoring and analysing why lesser spotted woodpeckers are doing better in some places rather than others. These sounded like really interesting jobs which I could see myself doing.
Soon after this, I arranged a meeting with Kate and offered to write my thesis on a subject they were interested in researching. Not only would this mutually help me with my thesis and provide them with conservation evidence, it also gave me an opportunity to take ownership of a project on site and feel like I’m doing research within an organisation.
This turned out to be a fantastic idea. After several talks and much pondering, I came up with the idea of researching the ecological mechanisms of why breeding wader bird numbers have increased on site, since peatland restoration works began. Both the RSPB and United Utilities were interested in the potential findings as this could influence future management practices and support funding applications, so I was given the green light. I still had to get SSSI permission from Natural England though, and I’ve heard that this can be a challenge to get right the first time. Thankfully, the warden Gareth has written lots of these applications for site projects and sent me some information on things to consider including in my application, such as how I plan to mitigate the disturbance of birds whilst surveying during breeding season. Fingers crossed my application gets accepted first time.
GIS (GEOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION SYSTEMS) – THE BIGGER PICTURE
The RSPB has its own GIS system called Merlin. I was privileged enough to be granted access to use it and acquire the data I would need for the research. I also cheekily (but legitimately of course) used the opportunity to explore what projects were going on at RSPB Dove Stone that I wasn’t yet aware of. Such as mapping of the restoration works they have completed, planned, and also projects I haven’t yet heard of, such as their water vole and wildfire monitoring programmes. It brought everything together in my mind and I could now see how projects are connected, which has given me a boost in confidence and a sense of the bigger picture within the organisation.
Speaking with staff and looking at job vacancies online, I discovered how, unlike in the commercial sector, conservation job contracts tend to be limited in duration. A contract may only last a season, or a year or two. This is mainly due to the nature of project funding as I’ve mentioned in a previous post. There simply isn’t the financial security to employ everyone on a permeant contract. It must be done in line with project funding. Only more senior positions benefit from having long-term contracts. Poor job security is undoubtably a negative factor, however, this could also present opportunities to gain experience in different jobs without one’s CV having a questionable amount of job changes.