Students speak out on their research and ambition for nature and the environment

Paul Robertson and Des Thompson enthuse about the third Scottish Ecology, Environment and Conservation Conference, held at the University of St Andrews in March.

Now in its third year, the Scottish Ecology, Environment and Conservation Conference (#SEECC2018) was held in March this year at St Andrews University. It’s become the ‘go-to’ conference in Scotland for undergraduate and postgraduate students.  We had more than 150 students registered each day, with a programme packed with more than 30 five and three minute talks, lots of poster presentations, two PhD student plenary talks, and two lectures from established environmental scientists.

We introduced some novelties this year – career desks manned by the RSPB Scotland, Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT), Field Studies Council (FSC), Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) and SNH were a huge hit – bustling with students keen to discuss opportunities, and in some cases joining the NGOs.   Another big hit was the series of presentations given by SNH’s Graduate placements – giving vivid and exciting glimpses of the work they do here covering: engaging young people with National Nature Reserves, repowering wind farms, and working with farmers (Steven Sinclair, Becky Rae and Kirsten Brewster).

Career desks were a popular new addition to the conference.

Career desks were a popular new addition to this year’s conference.

The public debate on ‘The environment of Scotland in the next 50 years’ was a big hit, and  Elsa Kivinen, a second year undergraduate, has written a great blog on it.

Our two ‘established’ speakers inspired us with quite different presentations.  Nicola Melville, a senior scientist at SEPA, had us voting via social media during her lively talk on environmental pinch points.  John Armstrong, a senior scientist with Marine Scotland at the Freshwater Fisheries Laboratory in Pitlochry, gave us a vivid account of the plight of the salmon, having just spent the previous day alongside Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham advising the Scottish Parliament’s Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee on threats to salmon. His lecture opened with a film of a salmon heading in from sea, up river to spawn!  Our two PhD student plenary speakers, Nina L. Friggens and Jamie Macaulay  set great examples for their peers and aspiring  postgraduates, dealing with carbon budgets under new forestry plantations,  and the challenges porpoises and dolphins face around turbines and fish nets.

But the real highlight was the rapid succession of student talks – many given for the first time, and all delivered with great aplomb.  A panel of ten judges drawn from across the audience reached their verdicts, and below we name the winners.

Frankly, the place was buzzing over three days, and we daresay some new friendships and collaborations may endure for years – that’s why such events are so important and defining.  Our social evening was great fun, with beer, wine and all manner of fizz lubricating excited bantering – and by some, dress rehearsals!

A huge thanks to Will Cresswell and the St Andrews team for planning, organising, jollying, feeding, and educating us all over the two days – it was fantastic fun and thoroughly enriching.  It is fantastic that academics from seven universities have rallied to make this conference work.  We had a great time at Aberdeen last year, and next year we move the show to Glasgow University.  Come and join us – our ambition next year is to have every University in Scotland represented – and colleges, schools and students outwith Scotland are all welcome to join in.  2018 is the ‘Year of Young People’ – let’s build on it next year, and beyond.

Award winners

Five minute talks:
Winner: Greg Albery – Red deer parasites
Runner up: Sophie Edwards – Blue tit nesting schedules

Sophie Edwards.

Sophie Edwards.

Three minute talks:
Winner: Irma Arts – Digital nature
Runner-up: Eilidh McNab – Woodlands and biodiversity

Winner: Eilidh Siegel – Prey capture and ‘big jerks’
Runner up – Janneke Ransija – Harbour porpoises

Eilidh Siegel's poster.

Eilidh Siegel’s poster.

Student Plenaries:
Jamie Macaulay – Tracking porpoises and dolphins around tidal turbines and gill nets
Nina L. Friggens – Planting trees in Scotland: soil carbon perspective


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