Natalie Sinclair is a PhD student at the University of St. Andrews. She takes us on a journey from her university studies, through her Work Placement with SNH in 2014-15, and talks about where the experience has taken her, a few years on.
I packed a lot into my one-year work placement at SNH in Battleby. I helped to update the Scottish Marine Wildlife Watching Code (SMWWC); carried out a series of literature reviews; planted six trees; made new friends; ran numerous 5K’s at lunchtime and counted razorbills and guillemots (auks) as part of my research project. I counted a lot of auks: 81,571 to be precise. This took up so much of my time that at night I dreamt of counting auks, although I didn’t include those ones in the final figure.
I completed a Master in Science (MSci) degree in Marine and Freshwater Biology at the University of Glasgow in 2016. This degree takes the top students of the eligible BSc degrees and sees them compete for spaces within Glasgow’s most prestigious undergraduate degree through application and interview stages. Successful students must find an eligible work placement: I was very lucky to secure a placement based at SNH Battleby within the CMEU (Coastal and Marine Ecosystem & Use Unit) for one year from September 2014 and September 2015.
I worked on a variety of projects at CMEU. I worked to update the SMWWC, this gave me experience of conservation legislation and speaking with both internal advisers and external parties. To aid this work I also attended the Scottish Wildlife Conference and developed communication ideas for the Code.
I also carried out a series of literature reviews, including the effects of anthropogenic (induced by human activity) noise on marine mammal behaviour, entanglement risks to marine mega-fauna from creel-lines and adverse effects of tour-boat operations on cetaceans (whales and dolphins). This gave me great experience in assimilating new information efficiently and communicating the content effectively for members of staff.
And now to the pesky auks! I carried out my research project, which used the novel method of remote automated photography to monitor auk’s (guillemots and razorbills) wintering attendance on Shetland and Orkney, supervised by SNH member of staff Alex Robbins. As Project Lead my activities included: material sourcing, equipment set up, liaising with internal and external partners, designing the research protocol, field visits and set up, data processing, data analysis and report writing. From this research project, I produced both a commissioned report for SNH and a peer-reviewed paper, which is due for publication early this year. Thankfully the auk dreams have now subsided!
My experience at SNH was really positive and I’m proud to say that, with support from SNH, I completed my Work Placement year at the top of my degree group. I then went into the final year of my degree brimming with confidence and in the end all the hard work paid off: I was awarded a First Class Master’s in Science degree and I received the Graham Kerr Memorial Award for Excellence in Marine Science as the top performing student of my class. I have recently started my PhD, funded by a Carnegie PhD Scholarship. I am based within the Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) and the Scottish Oceans Institute (SOI) which are both part of the School of Biology at the University of St Andrews. I am now researching how cetaceans can adapt their acoustic communication signals to combat noise from a variety of sources, such as from human activities.