SNH seabird scientist Homeward Bound to Antarctica

One of SNH’s ornithologists, Dr Helen Wade, writes about her upcoming epic trip to the Antarctica on our blog this week.

In less than 2 weeks, I will be boarding a ship to Antarctica. I’ll be with 79 women from all over the world, in one of the largest all-female expeditions to travel to our southernmost continent. The expedition to Antarctica is the culmination of a year-long women in science leadership development programme called Homeward Bound.

Second homeward bound group - credit Oli Sansom

The second Homeward Bound expedition to Antarctica in early 2018. Picture credit: Oli Sansom.

I’m a seabird scientist at SNH and have always been inspired by nature – by its beauty, its resilience, and by how interconnected and delicately in balance it is. But human-induced climate change and ever increasing human activities are disrupting this balance, which can prevent nature from being able to absorb and buffer against changes. That’s why I became a seabird scientist – to understand what impacts human activities are having on the thousands of seabirds that choose to breed along Scotland’s wild coastline every year. Having spent nine years working on seabirds, I feel a responsibility to ensure our bustling seabird colonies remain for future generations to enjoy.

Guillemots-D3718 - for SM

Guillemots and their young chicks on a seacliff at the Fowlsheugh RSPB reserve near Stonehaven. Grampian Area. Picture credit: SNH/Lorne Gill. 

To make sure I’m able to work most effectively on behalf of Scotland’s protected seabird populations, early this year I applied, and was selected from applications from all over the world, to be one of 80 women to take part in the third Homeward Bound women in science leadership development programme. Homeward Bound is a ten-year initiative aiming to equip 1000 women worldwide with the skills they need to be effective leaders and able to positively influence decisions made about our daily lives and the future of our world. Homeward Bound is motivated by the need to see urgent and ambitious progress on tackling climate change and creating a more sustainable future, whilst promoting the need for a greater representation of women in senior leadership and decision making roles – particularly in the traditionally male-dominated science sectors.

HWade - ship passing thru sea ice - credit Oli Sansom

The ship passing through sea ice. Picture credit: Oli Sansom.

As part of the year-long Homeward Bound programme we have frequent video conferences, working on the different components of the programme. Coordinating these calls across many time zones is always a challenge – with women calling in whilst having their breakfast, on their commute to work or before heading to bed. The programme develops our skills in leadership, scientific collaboration, strategic capability, visibility and communication. We also receive one-to-one coaching and undertake group research projects, which we present the results of on-board the ship in Antarctica.

HWade - Homeward Bound videoconference

One of our training video conferences with women calling in from the UK, Denmark, Ireland, Alaska, Iceland, Australia, US and Belgium. Photo credit: Helen Wade.

While in Antarctica we work daily on our leadership and personal development, deliver short presentations on our work to prompt collaboration and networking in the Symposium@Sea, and stop off along the Antarctic Peninsula to visit research stations and experience the amazing wildlife. I can’t wait to see my first Antarctic penguin and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a wandering albatross as we sail across the Drake Passage.

HWade - heading back to the ship - credit Oli Sansom

Heading back to the ship after visiting an Antarctic research station. Credit: Oli Sansom.

HWade - Gentoo penguins - credit Oli Sansom

Gentoo penguins in Antarctica. Photo credit: Oli Sansom.

HWade - Minke Whale visiting ship - Credit Oli Sansom

Minke whale visiting the ship. Photo credit: Oli Sansom

This third cohort of Homeward Bound women are a diverse bunch. We originate from countries all over the world, from a huge range of backgrounds – including engineers, policy makers, research scientists, doctors, government advisors and conservationists. This diverse mix means we will learn from each others diverse perspectives and expertise. This year we’re also extremely privileged to have Christiana Figueres accompanying us on our expedition to Antarctica. Christiana is the former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). During her tenure she led a process that many thought was impossible: achieving global signup to the historic Paris Agreement on climate change, in which 195 governments unanimously agreed on a collaborative path to limit future global warming. Learning how she successfully led such a gargantuan task will be invaluable insight into pioneering female leadership.


HWade - group on ship - credit Oli Sansom

Group development task on the ship. Credit: Oli Sansom.

By going to Antarctica, Homeward Bound participants have an unrivaled opportunity to see first-hand the impacts of human activities in one of the last truly wild places on our planet. The Antarctic Peninsula is warming three times faster than anywhere else on earth and this is clearly seen in retreating glaciers and melting ice. The experience is powerful and perspective-shifting. It will instill in us an urgent need to work harder to preserve nature, act on climate change, and contribute to developing a more sustainable future. We will take this urgency and commitment back into our lives and work when we return home.

HWade - Fragile Antarctica - credit Homeward Bound

The awe-inspiring but fragile environment of Antarctica. Photo credit: Homeward Bound.

One of the many amazing things about Homeward Bound is that it was set up, and is run, primarily by volunteers who donate their time and expertise because they deeply believe in the value of female leadership in creating a more sustainable future for us all. Because of this, each participant contributes £12,000 towards administration costs and the logistics of the expedition to Antarctica. This contribution means Homeward Bound is self-sustaining over its ten year period. SNH are generously supporting my participation in Homeward Bound and I have had an overwhelming and truly humbling response to my fundraising campaign, with more than £11,000 raised towards my contribution. If you are able to support me in closing that final gap to my goal, or are interested in hearing more about my Homeward Bound journey, please take a look here.

To follow our expedition in Antarctica, you can subscribe to email updates on the Homeward Bound website or follow on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Please join us on our journey!



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