Attending the Student Conference on Conservation Science (SCCS)

A blog by Millie Hood, a BEFTA Researcher and PhD Candidate in the University of Cambridge’s Insect Ecology Group (Department of Zoology).

I had a great time last week at the 20th Student Conference on Conservation Science (SCCS) here in Cambridge. There were so many amazing student talks that the judges broke with 20 years of tradition and invented new awards to supplement the original three! The atmosphere was great, tea breaks buzzed with conversation and at the end of every talk there were more questions than could be answered in the allotted time.

There were so many interesting talks I’d be here all day if I tried to describe them all. Jenis Patel inspired us with his tale of rediscovering the Forest Owlet in India. It was thought to be extinct for 113 years before he happened upon it! He’s now found 82 of them, mostly inhabiting farmland. Hugo Costa taught us about how important seasonal flooding is for vertebrate populations in Brazil, and Marsya Sibarani showed us that Sumatran tigers are a better umbrella species than elephants, orangutans or rhinos. Lizzie Jones quantified shifting baseline syndrome using long-term data on garden bird abundances, and Victor Cazalis showed us how some proenvironmental behaviours increase with proximity to protected areas in France. Emily Madsen’s fascinating project in Kenya demonstrated the value of interview surveys for quantifying carnivore distributions by comparing GPS collar data with survey data. Sasha Pakarsky taught us about the many ingenious ways that crops are being protected from migrating Eurasian cranes. Tactics include using flashing mirrors, active chasing, or diversionary feeding (although this last tactic is adversely affecting their gut microbiomes). H S Sathya Chandra Sagardemonstrated the enormity of the threat of bird trapping for the pet trade to biodiversity in Sumatran rainforest. Tom Timberlake quantified nectar production on farms in South-West England and found a sparsity in September. He showed that this was one of the main drivers of bee colony density, and recommended planting more flowers that flower late season, such as red clover, knapweed, scabious, birds foot trefoil and ivy.

The plenary speakers were fantastic too. Christiana Figueres revitalised our optimism, Amy Hinsley taught us about the market for bear bile in China, we learned about Carlos Perez’s extraordinary research in the Amazonian rainforest, and Sir David Attenborough was, as always, mesmerizingly charming. When asked where he would go if he could go back in time, he said to an Australia when it was first discovered by UK explorers. How could one make sense of a large mammal bouncing around on two large legs with a baby in a pouch in its belly? Or the platypus, for that matter? Shortly after that he was asked which animal, other than a bird of a mammal, he thought would make a good charismatic species for conservation. This stumped him for a brief moment, but then he exclaimed “I actually love spiders” and told us about a pet spider he had kept until it was unfortunately cleared away by his cleaner. I was delighted with this answer, as invertebrates are obviously adorable (just sometimes misunderstood). Unfortunately, Sir David didn’t stop at my poster, which was on my ant exclusions in the Biodiversity and Ecosystem Function in Tropical Agriculture (BEFTA) Project. However, I am absolutely confident that his eyes glanced over it as he walked by and that he digested it entirely in that brief second, and that’s the story I’m sticking to.

I found the three days very refreshing. Sometimes the task ahead of us can feel overwhelming, so it was really special to spend time with so many passionate people from all over the World. SCCS works hard to get a diversity of delegates, and this year there were delegates from 50 countries! It’s this diversity which makes it so special. Finding commonalities between projects which are on the opposite side of the World is comforting, and finding differences helps me to understand how my situation is unique. More specifically, many of the solutions people had found for tackling the issues that they had were things I’d never considered. It’s this creativity that I find most inspiring.

So a huge thanks to everyone involved for such a brilliant conference, including all 150 talk and poster presenters, the volunteers, sponsors, and organisers. A special thanks to Andrew Balmford (and family for the delicious cake), Rhys Green, Shireen Green, Ana Rodriguez, Rosie Trevelyan and Ed Turner. And to whoever made all those cheese sandwiches, they were great.

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