Seminar Five- In the lion’s den-Conserving Africa’s lions.

dr jackie abell
Dr Jackie Abell

Today’s seminar was given by Dr Jackie Abell she is the director of research for ALERT she has studied at many universities and has wide variety of qualifications in a few subject areas: animal behaviour and psychology.

She has completed many marathons in support of ALERT.

Dr Abell is a member of the IUCN, and SSC Conservation Breeding Specialist Group.


So what is ALERT?

ALERT is an acronym it means African lion and environmental research trust.

What do they do?

ALERT run a variety of programs to assist in the conservation of African lions. They focus their efforts on research, education and community out reach.

They believe that the best way to ensure that the lion population can be conserved is to work with local people. many of these people fear the lion or just seem them as pests due to the predation of their life stock, ALERT is helping to bridge the gap and to assist the locals with these problems.

“According to the IUCN lion populations have declined 43% in the last 21 years (1993 – 2004), with less than 20,000 remaining.”

Dr Abell told us about a research project that is being conducted by ALERT in Africa, the are working to find a way to deter the lions from hunting life stock. If effective this could help to persuade farmers to take measure to help protect the lions.

A bomas is a current method used by farmers in Africa however it alone is not enough. Credit: National geographic

It is common practice for the local people to kill a lion if it is near their farm as it is a threat to their life stock and therefore their livelihood. Some even go as far as to hunt a lion if their like stock has been attacked, however there are many other predators in the area including hyenas.

Example of a boma. Credit: Lion Conservation


The method being researched was the introduction of solar powered long life (4-5 year) lights, these would be fitted to the bomas in an attempt to deter the lions.



The lights were fitted for a trial period of 18 months, the results showed a massive decrease in the number of lion related lifestock attacks in theses areas.

The local people now have a safer environment to rear their life stock and as a a result may be more receptive to conservation efforts.

My opinion

I feel it’s extremely important work that is being undertaken by this organisation and without it the chances of stabilizing the lion population and ensuring their recovery would be non existent. Without the help of the local people any outside efforts will get nowhere so we need projects like this to get them on board with conservation.

Has this affected my future plans?

Although lions aren’t really the focus of my career path currently, I still feel that learning about projects like this will benefit me when going out into a conservation based job. I hope to take part in similar research in the future.

Follow ALERT on Twitter here.

More info about their work here.


Seminar Four- Taking an ecosystem approach to farm management.

woodland valley
Woodland Valley Farm

Today’s seminar was given by Chris Jones he is a forestry graduate from Bangor University and is now an organic lifestock farmer in Cornwall.

After graduating he worked in many places including the UK, Middle East and Africa.

Mr Jones and his wife has since taken over the 178 ha family farm- Woodland Valley, this has been jointly owned by his family and Lloyds bank since 1960.

In 2007/08 the farm received a visit from DEFRA, they asked if a soil sample could be taken for a Carbon audit.

The results of the audit were;

  • CO2- 38%
  • CH4- 9%
  • N2O- 26%
  • Sequestration- 27%

These results were far worse than Mr Jones expected on his organic farm, so he decided to make it his mission to improve!



Video: This is a trailer for the documentary Polyfaces, it explores a farm that uses regenerative agriculture and works in a sustainable way with nature. Credit: Joel Salatin, Polyfaces

Mr Jones was part of a project Low Carbon Ladlock 2010 that got government funding of £500,000 to create a low carbon community. They wanted technological changes to be implemented including; solar thermal and PV, wind power, heat pumps and biomass boilers.

hazelnut trees
Hazelnut tree orchard. Credit: Rutgers University

They managed to convince the project organisers to give them part of the grant to fund a nut orchard, they were given 3% of the funds and the nut orchard overall represented 19% of the total annual carbon savings from the project!

This shows that if more money was invested into this type of management it could potentially have a huge impact.

What ecosystem services do we get from this approach to farm management?
  • Clean food- organic, sustainable
  • Clean water- no artificial chemical pollutants
  • Clean recreational spaces- forest areas, dog waking fields, allotments
  • Clean energy- renewable energy, sustainability, reduced carbon footprint
  • Physical and mental well being- being able to walk outdoors and be in touch with nature is beneficial for both physical and mental health

On an organic farm no chemical fertilizers or pesticides are used therefore there is a low out when compared to the area being used. This is due to reduced resistance to disease and pests when compared to industrial farms that spray their crops with chemicals.

At the time of the first audit the farm was using 30 acres (20% of their land) for cereal production as a supplementary feed for their life stock and the other 80% was cultivated as pasture.

The production of the cereal was a large contributor to the excess emissions of the farm so they looked at alternatives and decided t change their land into mixed herb pasture- this is nutrient rich and high quality so the cereal supplementation was no longer needed.

chicory pasture
Chicory is one of the many plants now growing in the mixed pastures at Woodland Valley Farm. Credit: Cabinet of curiosities 

The benefits of this change are:

  1. The biodiversity of the land has increased
  2. The nutrient content of the soil has increased
  3. Better herd health- reduction in parasites e.g. worms
  4. Self fertalizing! The excrement of the cattle improves the soil quality
  5. The ground soil has better water retention thanks to the deeper rooting plants and the increased organic matter in the soil
Mob- grazing

This is another method introduced onto the farm, it works by intensely grazing the herd on a small area for a short amount of time and then they are moved on to the next area. The land is allowed a long rest period to regrow between grazing.

It appears to be benefiting the herd and the farm as the second audit showed dramatic improvement.

comparison audits
This is a comparison of the first and second audits and the evidence of the benefits are clear to see! Credit: Chris Jones
Future plans

Mr Jones mention several ideas for the future

Grass fed dairy- this uses a low input low output system. He explained that it makes more sense in today’s society to sell milk as people are less interested in buying half a bullock to fill their freezer with meat.

Whereas they will readily buy a litre of milk, so the change makes sense for his business.

Another plan is to put trees in the pastures, this would provide the cattle with shade and shelter. However he is still deciding what he wants the purpose of the trees to be: timber, food production e.g fruit trees or just for the animals.

“I’m interested in the future, I have children- I’d like it to be a habitable planet to live on” Chris Jones 2017.

cows and trees
Cows taking advantage of the shade given by the trees. Credit: South East Farm Press
My opinion

I believe these farming methods are the way forward for a sustainable future. I find it truly inspiring that even though the farm could produce more and gain larger profits by using traditional industrialised methods they have stuck by their belief of a sustainable future and not sold out.

However even though in an ideal world everyone would adopt these methods and try to be sustainable, a lot of people are after a profit. And sadly with the increasing pressures of our growing population I’m not sure if this method of farming could realistically support us.

I found the seminar very eye opening, I wasn’t aware of so many benefits of organic farming or the difference a few nut tree could make!

Has this affected my future plans?

This has affected the way I will view buying produce, I think I’ll make the extra effort to visit the farmers market to support local small farmers instead of just the supermarket.

I’ll also consider the possibility of working with farmers i the future to assist with these ecosystem friendly approaches to farming.

Follow the farm on Facebook here.

Keep up to date with the farm on Twitter here.


Seminar Three- Predators, primates and humans in a landscape of fear.

Professor Russell Hill
Professor Russell Hill.

Today’s seminar was given by Russell Hill he is a behavioural ecologist at Durham University. His main focuses are primarily studies based on primatology, predator-prey interactions and large mammal behaviour.

He runs the Primate and Predator project (PPP) based at Lajuma Research Centre in the Soutpansberg Mountains, Limpopo Province, South Africa. This project was the main focus of his talk today.

The main aims/focus of the project are:

  • Predator prey interactions, focusing on diurnal primates as a prey species and monitoring their behaviours/ interaction with predators.
  • The role mountainous areas play in conservation and the significance of this for biodiversity conservation.
  • Observing how human presence influence the behaviour of the animals and the anthropologenic factors that may affect Soutpanberg’s local ecosystem.

This project is important as while there have been many studies in the past researching predator and prey behaviour, there are a lack of studies that focus on the distinction between lethal and non-lethal effects of predation and how these influence prey behaviour.

So what does that mean?

Lethal impacts: Direct predation, this impacts species survival and population numbers.

Non-lethal impacts: Cost vs benefit of anti predator responses (predator avoidance, alarm calls, higher vigilance) all of these could cause a reduction in energy levels through a limit of time spent foraging, increased energy output. In turn this impacts the individuals and the overall population:

Positives- Decreased risk of predation, less likely to be ambushed, work better as a unit.

Negatives- Lowered reproduction, stress, reduction in productivity.


Video: An example of monkey alarm calls to alert troop to a predator. Credit: Attenborough- The life of mammals. A BBC Earth documentary.

What is a landscape of fear?

The landscape of fear is a theory that explains the reason an animal moves around in their environment in a certain way is linked to predator avoidance strategies and can be altered by predator prey interactions.

Overview of the project

The monkeys observed in the PPP were Vervet monkeys and Samango monkeys.

Alarm calls of both species were analysed and it was found that their calls varied dependent on the area they were in and the type of threat observed e.g. the predators recorded in the study were snakes, eagles and leopards and for each one a different call was recorded.

leopard hunting
Male leopard hunting birds in flight. Credit: Matt Prophet

This different calls alert the group to the level of threat so they could react accordingly- this means that the group won’t have to waste energy reacting to a non-lethal low level threats in the same way as a lethal threat as they are able to differentiate between the two calls.

The results of the study showed that the Vervet and Samango monkeys experienced different landscapes of fear.

Vervet monkey facts

For the Vervet monkeys fear responses were primarily found to be exhibited in response to the presence of leopards, this was expected as leopards commonly prey on the Vervet monkeys- they exhibited this behaviour through predator avoidance in areas were leopards were spotted.

Vervet monkeys. Credit: The Human Evolution Blog

However the pattern of predator avoidance through spacial changes were not shown for eagles or snake whom are also predatory of the monkeys.

Similar to the Vervet monkeys, the Samango monkeys were more responsive to a certain species in this case the presence of eagle evoked the biggest behavioural changes.

samango monkey
Samango monkey. Credit: Wilkinson’s World

Samango monkey facts

This research aligns with the natural behaviours of the species and their habitat preferences, Vervet monkeys are semi-terrestrial so there for the leopards are seen as a bigger threat than the eagles which are a greater threat to the arboreal Samango monkeys.

When humans were present the monkeys range increased, some forging in lower tree branches and others further out of cover than when humans are not present.

This could be linked to humans being a deterrent to predators as well as the humans also acting as an early warning signal.

My opinion

These studies are extremely important for the future of conservation. Understanding the behavioural interactions within an ecosystem allows us to better conserve the area as a whole. I think that it’s clear to see the monkeys are extremely intelligent and are able to adapt their behaviours to allow the the greatest chance of survival in any given situation.

Has this affected my future plans?

I found the seminar very interesting even though primatology is not an area I have much experience with. I feel that gaining a better understanding of this subject area and the behaviour of primates could help me develop my skills in the field of conservation.

Further reading:

Newly published article in the Royal open science journal: Population dynamics and threats to an apex predator outside protected areas: implications for carnivore management

There is a blog running about the Predator and prey project, they post regular updates so if you want to know more please click here.


Seminar Two- Growing one’s way out of poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa, feasible or not?

Dr Dave Harris
Dr Dave Harris.

Today’s seminar was given by Dave Harris he is a senior researcher in the SENRGY department at Bangor University.

He also works at the World Agroforestry Centre, Nairobi the main area he works in is the Sentinel Landscapes project, this a global project based at multiple site. They measure the interactions between people and rural landscapes.

The seminar’s main themes as the title suggests were land management, and technological advances in agriculture as a means to reduce poverty and the importance of these advances in agriculture for the people of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Farming one acre fund credit
This is Anne, a farmer in rural Kenya. She is supported by the One Acre Fund organization.

The accepted poverty line in Sub-Saharan Africa is currently set at $1.90 PDI.

5 poverty stats on Sub-Saharan Africa

Linking farming productivity and reduced poverty makes sense to most people at face value as if people have a way to support themselves financially, whilst also allowing them to feed their families then poverty in the area is going to decrease as a result.

However in rural Africa rainfall is an issue, if they don’t get enough rainfall their crops die out and so does any money invested into those crops therefore farming is seen as a risky business and many people are put off by this.

Dave Harris encourages local people to make use of the land they have.

Over 200 million hectares of unfarmed land is located in Sub-Saharan Africa, that’s almost half of all the unfarmed land in the world! Credit: Fotolia/cronopio

If rural farming households were to invest in agricultural technologies would the benefits out weight the costs? Dr Harris suggested that while there would be benefits they would only be minimal and not enough to breakthrough the poverty line.

This brings us to the conclusion that families are unlikely to be able to “grow themselves out of poverty” but they could still benefit from using any land that they have for farming purposes in order to help educate their children on farming and to help support themselves on a small scale.

My Opinion

My opinion on this is with the work of projects like the One Acre Fund and the commitment of local people it could be possible to make a difference, maybe not on a national scale but at least on a local scale.

It’s however extremely unfortunate that this depends on families having the land, time to commit to farming and the initial start up funds as well as the right weather conditions.

Hopefully in the future the climate will improve and have more favourable conditions for this to be a sustainable solution to poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Has this affected my future plans?

This seminar has opened up my mind to the possibilities of research projects in developing countries and the affects they can have on major issues.

I am now more aware of the issues that countries re facing around the globe and I will be following the work of groups like One Acre Fund as well as keeping up to date with new research in this area.

farming standing one
To follow Anne’s story click here.

Seminar One- Simplicity on the other side of complexity.

This is my first post about the Life and Environment seminars I have attended at Bangor University, I will also be writing posts on several others so keep checking my blog for updates!

Professor Guy Woodward

Today’s talk was given by Dr Guy Woodward he is a Professor at Imperial college, London. He gained his PhD from Queen Mary’s in Freshwater Ecology and he is currently the editor for Advances in ecological research journal. He works with DURESS (Diversity in Upland Rivers for Ecosystem Service Sustainability).

Photo source: Dr Guy Woodward.

The seminar began with an introduction into the importance of understanding freshwater ecosystems. He then explained that freshwater ecosystems are a very valuable resource and provider of biodiversity.

But due to them being very complex and sensitive ecosystems, they are under threat. There are many stresses and pressures attributing to this such as; Pollution, flooding, land management methods and near by land uses.

We were told of the effects of introduction and removal of key species- such as trout and salmon, he explained that these changes were a key contributor to the overall health of a freshwater ecosystem. Dr Woodward then proceeded to go into more detail about freshwater food webs, similar to those featured in the image below.Food web

Figure: Example of a freshwater food web. Credit: Federal interagency stream restoration working group (1998).

Dr Woodward presented research by the DURESS project to support his seminar and to help us form our own conclusions, this allowed us to gain more insight into both his work and the project itself.

One of the talks main points was that we need to be able to understand how an ecosystem functions to allow us to fully understand the possible future and current affects climate change may have on them.

This could then allow us to take adequate precautions to minimize these impacts or to help an ecosystem restore itself after these events.

My opinion

Dr Woodward gave a very engaging and informative seminar and after listening to him talk about freshwater ecosystems with such energy I feel like my mind has become far more open to thinking about not just direct affecting factors of ecosystems but I feel I have more of an awareness of indirect factors too.

After this seminar I will no longer look at a stream as just a stream- they are havens buzzing with life! And I will definitely think more about the indirect effects that I have on the environment.

Has this affected my future plans?

Yes, but not in a massive career changing way. I will be more conscious of a companies view on things like sustainability and land use management especially when the surrounding areas have ecosystems that could be affected.

Also I would be open to working on a project to conserve freshwater species/ecosystems, whereas previously i hadn’t thought of this as a career option.