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Harnessing people power for hedgehogs: Using predictors of hedgehog abundance across an urban-rural gradient to inform conservation strategies

  • School: School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences
  • Starting: 2022
  • Funding: UK student / Fully-funded

Overview

Despite uncertainty over the absolute population size of hedgehogs in the UK, it is widely accepted that their numbers have declined significantly over recent decades, and it is estimated that numbers have halved in rural landscapes and decreased by a third in urban areas over the last 20 years.

In 2021, Chester Zoo initiated a large-scale camera-trap survey along a rural-urban gradient in Cheshire and North Wales to characterise the drivers of hedgehog population trends that could ultimately help to inform recovery strategies. By mobilizing the zoo’s vast network of members and volunteers the single largest camera-trap survey of garden wildlife in the UK has already produced over 5000 trap-nights of remote camera images from more than 300 private gardens and green spaces. This data collection will continue until at least 2024 to provide evidence on temporal trends. The results will be used to identify specific predictors of hedgehog abundance and positive actions that can be implemented by the public to generate wider positive change for biodiversity. Green spaces in urban areas are vital to hedgehog populations and evidence suggests that increased biodiversity in these areas is also important to the health and well-being of people.

Aim

Our goal is to inspire the local community to make positive changes that improve garden and green space habitats for biodiversity by participating in scientific research that will identify the predictors of hedgehog distribution at multiple scales.

This will be facilitated by four, broad objectives/questions:

  1. Use Artificial Intelligence software to distinguish hedgehogs from other wildlife using camera trap images.
  2. Characterize the distribution of hedgehogs (and other mammals) along an urban-rural gradient in Cheshire and North Wales.
  3. How do ecological, geographical and anthropological features interact to predict hedgehog distributions in Cheshire and North Wales?
  4. Can participatory, citizen-science be implemented to generate both robust evidence and positive action for UK biodiversity?

This initiative is not just about counting garden wildlife; it brings together Chester Zoo’s members, local schools and community groups and the local biological monitoring centre to learn about backyard biodiversity and collectively identify the actions that can be taken to improve it. Our final aims, therefore, are (i) to use the information collected in 1, 2 and 3 to identify practical actions that people can take to benefit local biodiversity, and (ii) disseminate that information to a variety of audiences including the delivery of high-quality, peer-reviewed science that contributes to the international knowledge on hedgehog conservation and ecology. We anticipate that this initiative will extend beyond the life of this proposal and therefore an evaluation of actions identified from this project will inform the strategy of subsequent years.

Student Training

The student will develop advanced skills in biodiversity monitoring and analysing large data sets in order to inform conservation policy and practice. The successful candidate will be co-supervised by experts at Nottingham Trent University and Chester Zoo and will be expected to spend time at both institutions. They will join the Ecology and Conservation Research Cluster at the School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences at Nottingham Trent University and Chester Zoo’s Conservation Scholars and Fellows Programme, where they will have the opportunity to network with conservation practitioners and other PGR students conducting research with the zoo.

Entry requirements

Entrants must have or be expected to attain a first or upper second-class BSc (or equivalent), or a Master’s degree in Ecology, Conservation or a related field. Candidates must be passionate about UK wildlife and the value that urban garden spaces can offer native flora and fauna. Experience in conducting camera trap surveys and associated data analysis is desirable as is a familiarity with GIS software, programming in R and public engagement. It is expected that the candidate will hold a driving licence.

How to apply

The application deadline is Friday 20 May 2022. For a step-by-step guide and to make an application, please visit NTU's how to apply page.

Fees and funding

This project is 100% funded for UK students with 50% provided by the NTU Match Fund Collaborative PhD Studentship Scheme and 50% by Chester Zoo as an External Partner. As such, the student will receive a full stipend and tuition fees for four years.

Entry qualifications

Entrants must have or be expected to attain a first or upper second-class BSc (or equivalent), or a Master’s degree in Ecology, Conservation or a related field. Candidates must be passionate about UK wildlife and the value that urban garden spaces can offer native flora and fauna. Experience in conducting camera trap surveys and associated data analysis is desirable as is a familiarity with GIS software, programming in R and public engagement. It is expected that the candidate will hold a driving licence.

How to apply

The application deadline is Friday 20 May 2022. Please visit our how to apply page for a step-by-step guide and make an application.

Fees and funding

This project is 100% funded for UK students with 50% provided by the NTU Match Fund Collaborative PhD Studentship Scheme and 50% by Chester Zoo as an External Partner. As such, the student will receive a full stipend and tuition fees for four years.

Guidance and support

Find out about guidance and support for PhD students.

Still need help?

Dr Simon Tollington