Scientist honoured for research into threatened birds

Jennifer Smart was awarded the Outstanding RSPB Conservation Scientist award for her research into why lapwing and redshank numbers have declined in recent years.

The 42-year-old, from Cantley, monitored how changes to their Broads’ habitats had affected the breeding success of the two wading birds.

Although lapwings enjoyed a record breeding season across East Anglia last year, their numbers have plummeted in recent decades. While their decline has not been so dramatic, redshanks have also struggled.

Dr Smart, who has been an RSPB scientist since 2006, said: “My research involved trying to understand what to do to reverse the decline of the birds and what causes them to under-breed.

“A lot of historical decline is down to big changes in land use but now it is lower breeding levels – for the two waders it is other animals eating their the eggs and young.”

She added: “Lapwings in particular are the iconic wetland bird. A landscape without them would be an awful place. It’s a recognisable bird even if you don’t know it.”

The scientist’s work – which involved co-operation with the University of East Anglia, where she studied her degree and PhD – involved investigating how the introduction of small mammals, such as mice and voles, could benefit the birds.

Their presence meant predators such as foxes ate fewer of the birds’ eggs and chicks, as they had other sources of prey.

Dr Smart said her long term aim was to put her research into practice with her “dream” being to enable birds like the lapwing and redshank, which relied on nature reserves, to thrive outside of them.

Her award also recognised her work launching the RSPB’s Centre for Conservation Science – to show and promote the charity’s scientific programme – with involvement in developing a new website and a social media campaign.

“I’m proud to have won this award,” she said.

“And the nicest thing is my colleagues were the ones who voted for me.

“We have about 70 scientists working for the RSPB. We’re quite a big science team, so I am very proud.”

first published on 30 March 2015 in the Eastern Daily Press