Grassroots projects are becoming increasingly popular in the ‘bottom up’ approach to decision-making. I personally believe that when carried out properly, these projects are very effective in conservation efforts, especially when they focus upon the people who live and interact closely to the land, and more often than not  have low incomes.

Citizen Science is my chosen area of research, and I am always on the look out for new projects and new efforts. I came across the Ewaso Lions project via The Guardian Green Travel List  and found the success and the positive efforts of the project inspiring.

In the Samburu region of Northern Kenya, the Ewaso Lions Warrior Watch program trains local, young men on data collection, ecology, GPS, conservation, security, languages, mathematics and the overall important values of the local wildlife. The ‘students’ report wildlife sightings, poaching and any local issues in return for a wage and meals.

Amboseli-Mt Kilimanjaro viewThis exchange of knowledge and education for a regular wage and a better quality of life for the local people ensures that conservation efforts and vital wildlife education is instilled in the people who spend the most time in this area, and can make the most difference to the preservation of these vital ecosystems.

It is programmes such as these that ensure the long-term success of conservation efforts in East Africa, and can provide a great example for other global organisations to follow. Grassroots projects provide vital information concerning the ever-increasing interaction wild animals and human populations are now experiencing, specifically with the growth of the human population and expansion of settlements. By providing vital education to these local people, conflict and habitat loss can be reduced.


Citizen Science

Marine conservation is a growing industry, yet for conservation efforts to be a success, reliable information is needed. Through ongoing partnerships with scientists, national governments, charities and local communities this information is obtained, protecting threatened marine environments, and providing a sustainable future. However, scientific monitoring by trained ecologists and scientists is too time consuming and costly. The success of projects such as the global CoralWatch programme suggests that by involving volunteers from around the world, the scale of marine research can be increased on larger, longer scales.

This form of research is also known as Citizen science; the involvement of volunteers, collecting data across an array of habitats, locations and time.  Citizen science projects have been remarkably successfully in advancing scientific knowledge. Contributions to research from this method now provide valuable information on species distribution around the world, both on land and in our oceans.

Importance of Our Oceans

The oceans drive weather, regulate temperatures, and support all living organisms. More than 3.5 billion people depend on the ocean for their primary source of food. In 20 years, this number could double to 7 billion. Yet 95 percent of the ocean remains unexplored, with millions of species yet to be discovered. This leaves many questions surrounding our current use and exploitation of the oceans, which may be harming and changing vital habitats and migratory patterns which are yet to be fully understood. Until now population and species censuses have been incomplete, focussing on single species or regions, making proper assessment of the impact of humans on oceans difficult.

Species Monitoring

Manta rays for example; despite their distribution in tropical and subtropical regions, very little information is known about their biology or ecology. Knowledge of manta populations and their migration patterns is essential for conservation. For large, long-lived species, tagging over the course of a lifetime is problematic (loss of tags, relocation and cost). The use of natural markings to identify individuals is a growing area of research, as it is relatively simple to distinguish between certain individual characteristics.

I recently witnessed this non-invasive method of species ‘tagging’ for a population census of Manta Rays in the Indian Ocean by Marine Biologist Andrea Marshall. The BBC programme followed Andrea researching these majestic animals, discovering more about their habits and recording individual sightings with underwater photography. Photographs of individual markings were uploaded to a database which she compared earlier data to, leading to the discovery of a giant new species. This highlights the need to explore our oceans with the desire to protect this fragile environment, by educating and involving the general public within scientific efforts more regularly.

Simply involving citizens within scientific research appears to be having positive effects, not just on the scientific outcomes, but also for the participants. Participants in numerous science education projects have been found to increase their knowledge on the species they are studying, helping to educate the general public about conservation and environmental issues through first hand experience.

The recording, uploading and analysis of this citizen science data can help monitor individuals species, whole populations and their habitats over large areas, and over long periods of time. Along with technological advances (GPS and cameras in mobile phones) this research can produce valuable information for management plans and marine policy. This will ultimately create a greater understanding of our oceans, formed firstly with the general public, learning more about the important species which make up our oceans, preserving them for the future.

For the last few months I have clocked up a fair few hours trailing through websites and forums looking for inspiration, and recommendations on how to keep up to date in the conservation world, and learn some new skills without having to break the bank. During this research I came across some really great websites geared up for people like myself who are either just starting up in the world of wildlife conservation, or are having a career u-turn and entering the world with little or no previous experience.

However, I also unfortunately came across sites and organisations who were jumping on the bandwagon of this ever increasingly desirable career choice, and are charging extortionate amounts for what is effectively networking with like-minded people. Therefore I was dubious to part with so much money when I just simply couldn’t justify spending so much per day.

After reading some good reviews and been persuaded by the content of the programme (and competitive price) I enrolled on the Phase One Habitat Survey course with Biocensus in Stroud, Gloucestershire. I was optimistic that for my £178 I would receive top quality instruction and learn some new transferable skills with regards to surveying habitats which I can take with me further down the line.

Upon my arrival I was pleasantly surprised, Biocensus had chosen a great location; situation at the top of a rolling green valley with the cultural gem; Woodchester Mansionat the base below. There were biscuits on the table, tea and coffee and five empty seats circled around the projector. I had fears that I would walk into a room of forty plus students in which individual questions and teaching quality would drown in, but the small size of the group and the welcoming atmosphere was pleasantly received. 

The day was split into two; morning lecture, lunch, and three hours in the field. This to me seemed like the perfect balance in order to get to grips with the course and put our new skills to practice. Participants included a zoology student, a local council employee, an environment agency employee and myself. The conversation was refreshing and interesting; learning why everyone chose this course over others (mainly location and value for money motivations), their employment background and take on the  conservation world. The two lecturers were incredibly passionate upon their subject area (consultant ecologists) and considering this was the third time this year the course had taken place, the enthusiasm was still high and motivating. Lecture slides were provided and the Phase One Habitat Survey handbooks were distributed, which were a great aid to the oral material.

Within the field, I had to admit I felt intimidated by my clear lack of species identification. Other participants were reeling off the names of each plant, tree and grass species we came across which made me realise I need to brush up on my identification skills. However, I was reassured that for the purpose of the day, as long as I learnt the primary survey skills, identification could be something I revised later on. It was incredibly useful to be in the field and guided by a professional and understand exactly what was required when undertaking a Phase One Habitat Survey. To complete the survey myself was also a great learning experience which I always feel works effectively, not simply learning the theory in a lecture theatre.

Having been dubious of which course to take and whether they would just be ‘tick in the box’ parts of my CV, I can safely recommend undertake courses similar to this. They enable people to actually put theory to practice and learn how to undertake practical conservation, with clear instruction as to why these skills are needed and how best to use them. The course highlighted my weaknesses and the areas which I need to improve on. Most importantly further ignited the spark and motivation that conservation is the area for me, and even though it is an incredibly competitive area to work within, its one that is worth pursuing.

(Scarlet pimpernel Anagallis arvensis L.)

As an aspiring Conservation Manager/Researcher I was more than intrigued to watch Channel 4’s Dispatches documentary ‘Conservations Dirty Secrets’. The programme was advertised as a depiction of reporter Oliver Steed traveling the globe to investigate the conservation movement and its major organisations, discovering that in fact the conservation world has got its priorities wrong.

I had high hopes for this programme, as I myself dedicated my undergraduate dissertation to research into current and previous conservation practices and how from the mistakes and case examples, lessons can be learnt and methods improved.

With over 200 million species expected to be extinct by the middle of this century, Oliver Steed classed the current climate as a ‘Conservation Crisis’, which has at its heart the dysfunctional approaches by large conservation charities who are ‘exploiting local people’. The programme followed the activities of  the African Wildlife Fund who, locals claim, use the corrupt local police to evict and destroy the homes of the people who refuse to give up their land which now lies on a recently purchased conservation area. African Wildlife Fund claim they weren’t aware of the illegal evictions and  brutality of the reaction by the police to local natives, and claim they were informed the land wasn’t currently occupied at the time of purchase, later withdrawing. Although, the truth as to whether AWF did or didn’t know about these appalling activities or not, it does raise the question of do we really know the truth behind what happens on a local level in the name of conservation?

Steed interviewed local people in Kenya who had worked with Joy Adamson, the conservationist, who expressed their less than heart-felt account of Joy who they said “excluded them from the national parks she created”. This alienation is detrimental to conservation, not only is valuable local knowledge lost making conservation in any area far more difficult than needs be, but the local people who will continue to live in these areas become disconnected to their own heritage. Conservation is failing to utilise a resource, which is vast and could help and promote the conservation efforts in these areas long-term.

Joy Adamson, the pioneering conservation activist, most famously known for the ‘Born Free’ book and later, the feature film adaptation, created a new outlook to conservation based upon ‘sentiment’. Our emotional attachment to species and our iconic heritage, whether it be Oak woodlands, the Panda or Elephant and their symbolism, first connected to conservation by Joy Adamson, is now some argue, exploited by large conservation organisations in order to part with our cash for their cause. The ‘Characteristic Megahorn’ is 500 times more likely to have scientific research focused upon them, with smaller, less ‘cuddly’ animals such as amphibians missing the boat. Effective marketing techniques are needed in order to attract the general public to any cause, and I believe that by advertising a cute Panda to the public in order to obtain funds for vital conservation work is a necessary and acceptable method. However, if this money is not used correctly and means that certain areas, such as marine conservation and amphibian research are overlooked, this becomes unacceptable. It’s about balance, the right level of focused advertising and varied, wide-spread education that highlights the key conservation issues of all species to the public, not just the cute ones.

The Conservation Minister raised a point which I often find myself (someone with an ecology focused outlook) leaning towards; the triage of conservation. In conservation and management their sometimes comes the time to prioritise species in order to keep ecosystems viable and working, and more often than not, the ‘keystone’ species, those at the bottom of the food chain, are the most important, providing life for the whole ecosystem. It is often the larger predators which become less of a priority due to their lower level of input into the chain as it were. For example, a tricky argument that in my opinion is still raging is whether to spend £3 million conserving say 300 pandas, or to spend £3 million on conserving a keystone species which would support a far greater number and keep a habitat healthy. This is a key element to consider and with large conservation organisations focusing on only the ‘flagship’ species which are critically endangered, the less sentimental, vital species are being overlooked, and will also be critically endangered sooner rather than later, resulting in a far greater ecological disaster. In all fairness, Steed didn’t state how much exactly of the money raised through advertising and funding gets spread to which areas of work. Whether money is equally distributed or not, Steed should have stated these amounts. All documentaries only display the evidence to support a claim, therefore information shouldn’t be read as -a  full gone conclusion, and should be researched more carefully before disregarding the work of these global conservation charities.

Corporate partnerships were another element investigated, delving into the issues of Conservation International and the Fiji water partnership. Conservation International claims to have strict legislation to be a corporate partner, which for the partner significantly increases their revenue with a conservation-aware public keen to jump on the ‘sustainability aware’ bandwagon. Fiji Water claims to re-forest areas of destroyed forests with money from the water sales, with this planting off-seting the emissions created by the bottled water production. However, Steed states this would only be offset for a maximum of three years, and only half of the planned planting has actually been undertaken. This obviously isn’t what conservation is about and shouldn’t be advertised as correct behaviour and profit made from incorrect advertising of a product that claims to be ‘good’ for the environment. However, the programme did fail to highlight the good work that Conservation International does undertake. Large companies will continue to exploit nature for their own profit and our agricultural and consumer needs. If they can be worked with and improved in any way shape or form by a conservation movement that wishes to change the attitudes and actions of these large companies, they should be encouraged and praised in order to promote similar behaviour. Large companies will continue to grow, it is up to not just conservation organisations, but also the consumer to ensure they undertake these practices as sustainably and environmentally friendly as possible.  

The answer to all these issues? Ally with local people. Engage, involve, educate and motivate local people to want to help and conserve their natural environments. If people are actively encouraged by volunteering and getting involved in projects and feel valued that sometimes is enough to generate a positive response to help protect and care for their local environments. However, understandably this isn’t always the case, and especially in the poorest of countries this isn’t financially feasible. It’s an almost lucky thing that some of the worlds most impoverrished countries, such as Africa have some of the worlds richest and most biodiversity environments on Earth, most of which people appreciate and find beautiful, so much so that they will pay to see them. Eco-Tourism is fast growing and something which should be encouraged from all angles, as when it undertaken correctly, it can be an incredibly succesful tool in helping stem the loss of some of the worlds most beautiful wildlife.

 The programme was succesful in highlighting some of the key issues surronding conservation, however I had this feeling throughout that if focused too heavily on the negative (which it seemed to do) the public will become less trusting and feel less inclined to part with their money for a genuine cause, due to journalists advertising the wrong doings of larger companies who dont speak for all the conservation organsiations there are. More solutions could have been offered by the programme, and more examples of how conservation can be, and how it works when its at its best. The most useful message I found from the programme was; “Conservation is the act of People, not Wildlife…people are at the heart of biodiversity and they have the power to resolve”. Conservation works at its best locally, on a small scale, engulfed in local sentiment, with locals positive and happy to conserve their precious natural heritage.

As a Heritage Management BSc (Hons) graduate, its fair to say I enjoy visiting both public and privately owned heritage sites for pleasure. I enjoy the cultural exploration that these sites around the world can offer. Most properties are styled upon a certain era to give the visitor a snap shot of what life was like in a particular period in the site’s history. The guardian of such sites often picks the era with which there is the most remnants of in order to give as much authenticity as possible. I have visited numerous sites in the past which vary on a scale of authentic to poor representation. I personally prefer those sites which don’t over do the representation of a given site, filling rooms with items which have had no connection to the site or its history, or simply state ‘this is what we think should be in this room’style plaques under irrelevant furnishings. However, I have spoken to people who prefer to go to a room which is full of items which the owner feels is appropriate, even though they are fully aware the items have no connection or may not even be historically correct.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion and preferences, which I fully respect. However,I do feel that my growing suspicions of organisations’ quest to gain as much money from their visitors through the likes of membership, produce, food and retail (all be it to fund their conservation efforts) is overshadowing the real reason for the guardianship in the first place. Numerous signage and leaflets are being littered throughout these sights, which distract the visitor from the original reason for their visit; usually to gain some cultural experience, learn some facts or historical information, or simply to have a relaxing day out. More and more space at these sites is being converted into retail outlets selling garden furniture, books, perfume, sweets etc. It is very rare that I have visited a historical site and there not been a plush new tea room and restaurant with outdoor seating and very expensive goods to greet me on my way in and out, tempting my taste buds before I’ve even entered the site. Don’t get me wrong, I love the whole experience of a day out at a historical site; having ice cream, an afternoon cream tea etc. However, I do feel the constant pressure to spend as much as possible at these sites and to draw visitors to the membership tents and the restaurant are overwhelming these historical sites which just aren’t sympathetic to their original character. These wonderful English homes weren’t designed to be plastered with posters and sings and have their grounds turned over to make way for a modern conveniences.

  Chedworth Roman Villa here for example greets visitors with a bombardment of signage and interpretation boards. The two huts also block the main entrance to this ancient site, almost deflating a visitors first impressions of the once glorious site which would have welcomed some of England’s most important people in its prime. The sites architects and building constructor’s certainly wouldn’t have planned for this distraction when designing the site nearly 2000 years ago.

At Chedworth Roman Villa (above), construction work for the new Visitors Centre which is at the base of Gloucestershire Wildlife Trusts walk through the valley from Yanworth to Chedworth, greets visitors to this construction site, rather than the peaceful and aesthetically pleasing cultural landscape which previously would have greeted visitors for thousands of years.

I often find myself eating my own words as a member of The National Trust I do enjoy days out at historical sites and will often visit their restaurants once there. I do think that these amenities provide an income to increase the conservation work organisations such as The National Trust undertake. However, I feel these efforts shouldn’t overshadow (and in some case physically block) the main reason they are there; to preserve the site, and why visitors are coming to these sites; because they are cultural and historical gems which should be enjoyed by the public and be preserved for future generations to enjoy.

Picture of the ancient woodland walk surronding Chedworth Roman Villa.

Travel Scrapbook

View of Mt Kilimanjaro from the Safari van

Tsavo East National Park, Kenya

Masaii Welcome, Kenya.

Afternoon in Venice

Glen Coe Montain Range.

Taken on Loch Melfort on an evening walk. Great to see how clear the sky can be without any light polution

Autumn in the Scottish Highlands. Small village named Ardfern, not far from Oban. One of my favourite places to visit in the Autumn as the colours are so vibrant, and its incredibly peaceful.

As a volunteer for the University of Gloucestershire’s Co-Fast Flood Archive Project, (May to October 2010), I was able to participate in an innovative project which allowed Gloucestershire residents to contrast their experiences of the 1947 and 2007 floods, resulting in a publicly available online audio archive.

The Co-Fast project is enhancing and building on an existing digital archive resource focused on community flood histories – the Lower Severn Community Flood Information Network , using digital stories and other Web2.0 technologies to engage communities. The original web resource was one outcome of a Royal Society ‘Connecting People to Science’ (COPUS) project (2004-2006) that involved engaging communities in the middle/lower Severn with their local flood histories and learning about flood risk/climate change (University of Gloucestershire, 2010).

The first archives produced were created by the volunteers to show as examples, coinciding with user friendly instructions on how to create additional audio archives. This created a valuable source of audio history, and encouraged local communities to interact and compare their experiences online.  The findings were shared with the UK academic community and those involved in community engagement for informal and social learning.

To check out the Co-FAST Project’s Blog updates click here: http://cofast.wordpress.com/ 
To view the Digital Stories captured and transcribed so far visit; http://tinyurl.com/6h4fxqq
Or, to view the overall Project Plan visit; http://tinyurl.com/64wdtmk