Why I think broad-sense conservation is the future

This got retweeted onto my twitter timeline, and as I am supposed to be writing the presentation I have to deliver on Thursday, it of course sparked off a series of thoughts and ideas in my head which I just had to write down.

I have to say I agree with Stephen. I have a degree in Conservation Biology and Ecology. That makes me sound like I am pure conservationist, one of those ‘save the animals and screw humanity’ types. I am not. As I see it, broad-sense conservation is the way forward. That is, conservation which factors in biodiversity, the environment, and quality of life, and which understands that all these are affected by governance and policy, change, and conflict.

It is pretty clear, or it should be by now, that to undertake the amount of conservation work that needs to be done cannot be done alone. Conservationists and scientists cannot do it alone – they lack the power of the governments and policy-makers and the manpower of people. Governments and policy-makers cannot do it alone – they lack the evidence of the conservationists and scientists and the resources of people. People cannot do it alone – they too lack the evidence of the conservationists and scientists, and except in rare cases where sufficient numbers can be grouped together to achieve all that needs to be done, they lack the power of the governments. It is only by collaborating, by having these three groups come together, that the incentives, the motivation, the desire to conserve can be cultivated.

If you go to a poor family living in rural Africa, with little access to water, in a village with next to no infrastructure, and tell them to stop persecuting the wild animals that threaten them, or to give up some of their scant water resource for conservation, they will probably tell you, by some means, to go away. It is very easy for relatively rich Westerners to stand around with their degrees and their scientific papers telling people they need to conserve their wildlife. It is not easy for the people on the ground who struggle to survive as it is. If it is a battle to get enough food on the table to feed your family every day, your interest in conservation is likely to be a big, fat zero.

Conservationists often seem to forget that conservation is a human issue. They seem to ignore the impacts on the people living alongside whatever it is they are trying to conserve. And that is a fundamental flaw in the way we go about conservation. Social science must be considered alongside the animals. We have to get people on board, willing, motivated, incentivised, if we are to make any difference.

And yes, it could easily be argued that if you pay people not to kill lions, for example, then where does it end? Paying people not to build towns, paying people not to burn fossil fuels – it could go out of control. But place yourself in the shoes of the people living in these places. Place yourself in the shoes of someone who has to walk several kilometres to get water, or who has to worry every night about how many of his cattle might be killed by lions.

Similarly, policy has a big important part to play. It is one thing to tell people to conserve wildlife or habitats. You can stand there advising them on how they should behave and shouting at them until you’re blue in the face. You can motivate individuals with small-scale incentives – a flashing light to keep lions out of their boma, for example. Big companies, corporations, are not so easily won over, and this is where governments come in.

It may not be easy to achieve but eradicating corruption as far as possible should be a target of the global community. We need governments who take advice from the people with the evidence, the people who know what they’re talking about, and who use that advice to form policies and laws which will actually do something to benefit their wildlife and habitats. We need the interplay of policy and science to regulate business and industry and protect habitats and species from exploitation.

It is only by stepping back to broad-sense conservation that we stand a chance of winning any of the battles we are currently fighting, never mind the war. I passionately believe that, and look forward to a day when such practices are adopted by the global community.

Kenya Species List

I have compiled a species list from my recent trip to Kenya with the University of Exeter’s MSc programme. It was truly an incredible two weeks! The biodiversity we saw was amazing, and this species list is comprised only of those species I managed to identify – the actual numbers will be far higher. 45 mammal species, 148 birds, and a bunch of herps, plants and inverts as well! Species list below the cut to keep everything neat and tidy.

[148 birds is nothing. Dave Hodgson – our lecturer – managed over 270!]

[Plus Dave saw the negrofinches that I was dying to see and didn’t. Stupid dehydration stopped me going up to the alpine zone on Mt Kenya, which is where he saw them. Ah well – excuse to go back, eh? And every cloud has a silver lining. I had a gorgeous walk with Enoch on Mt Kenya and saw some stunning sunbirds and a Cabanis’s greenbul, which he accidentally mispronounced as cannabis’s greenbul – hilarity ensued!]


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Paywalls in Science – A Problem we Need to Fix

Yesterday scientists came together on twitter to be irritated by paywalls in science, and expressed our frustration in the form of small, humorous poems, with the hashtag #ElsevierValentines. A collection of them can be found here.

Later on, a friend told me that, along with mental health discrimination, paywalls are one of the biggest problems in modern science. I am inclined to agree, although I think one of the biggest problems facing science today is publication bias. But that’s a different topic.

So what are paywalls, why are they so prevalent and why is it so irritating when you come up against them?

Wikipedia defines a paywall as “a system that prevents Internet users from accessing webpage content without a paid subscription.” In science, we most commonly hit them when looking for scientific papers to research a potential study topic or find evidence to back up something interesting that we have found. It happens less often if you are a member of an institution which subscribes to journals, but it stills happens irritatingly often, and can induce extreme emotion such as these below.

flips table headdesk it makes me want to kill everyone in this room

So why are paywalls so prevalent in science?

Scientists want to publish their research papers in journals that have a high impact factor. They want their papers to be read, to be discussed, to be cited and used in further research. That’s fine. That’s not where the problem lies.

Many journals which have high impact factors are produced by companies such as Elsevier, Nature Publishing Group and Wiley, and in order to make a profit out of science, these companies provide their journals on a subscription-only basis. These companies are hugely powerful within science – Elsevier alone publishes 250,000 articles in 2,000 journals every year. This is not a problem if you’re associated with an institution which has a subscription to these companies. I am lucky enough to be part of the University of Exeter, and I am fortunate that this university buys subscriptions to all of the above companies and more. However, those are not the only ones out there, and universities cannot buy subscriptions to everything – it would be prohibitively expensive. Furthermore, if you are not associated with an institution, you are mostly left to fend for yourself, and research may be limited to open-access papers. Hours can be spent searching for papers which are available as pdfs online, or finding someone who can make it available to you. This is not just hugely irritating – and it is, enormously so – it’s also demoralising and wastes time.

As if these challenges weren’t enough, the price of subscriptions to journals has been progressively increasing over the last few decades – and steeply. Some say that the price of journal subscriptions has risen at nearly 4x the rate of inflation since 1986, whilst other say that the cost of journal subscriptions in 2002 was on average 600% higher than in 1984. Whatever the true figure is for the present day cost of subscriptions, it is clear that such price hikes are unsustainable. Universities and institutions are being forced to cancel subscriptions because they simply cannot afford the cost, and those unaffiliated to an institution are often forced to make do without subscriptions at all.

It is somewhat of a dilemma for scientists looking to publish their work. It is no crime to want your paper published in a high impact journal, where it will receive lots of attention. After all, if science is not discussed, not read, not received by other scientists around the world, it cannot evolve, the information we gather will not be shared, and it essentially becomes useless.

However, by publishing work and then hiding it behind a paywall many cannot afford to climb over, we are left with a situation that is not dissimilar to a world in which science is not published at all.

It is a practice which has been described by science journalists as immoral, and it is easy to see the reasoning behind this; by publishing work and locking it behind a paywall, it is being denied to the very people who can do things with it – other scientists. It wastes time, money and work, of both the publishing scientists and the scientific community hoping to read their peer’s work. And it needs fixing.


In the meantime, allow me to direct you to a number of illuminating articles on the subject.

Hiding your research behind a paywall is immoral

Time to tear down the paywalls?

Let’s shine a light on paywalls that deny open access to scientific research

Why is science behind a paywall?

bp;dr – behind paywall, didn’t read – the internet’s next new acronym

Jaw Surgery

As it’s coming up to 3 months since my surgery, I thought I’d write a quick blog on the experience as a whole.

A lot has happened since my operation. Christmas has been and gone, a new year is upon us, and I’ve spent two weeks in Kenya as part of my Masters degree. I’ll admit I was more nervous for the latter than I was even for my surgery, but I had the absolute time of my life and I’m already planning to go back.

The first week after the surgery was hard, physically and mentally. The first two or three days were undoubtedly the worst – Sunday and Monday, after the operation on the Friday, were rock bottom. I was thankful I knew that would be the case though. There is comfort to be had in knowing that you are at rock bottom and that things will improve from then on.







This was me only two days after the surgery. Swelling is not obvious from that angle but from my eyes down was swollen like a balloon, and completely and utterly numb. Like an idiot, I gave my dad free rein with my camera. He took pics of me right after I got back on to the ward after the surgery. I don’t remember that, I wasn’t fully aware of things, drugged up on morphine and still only just round from the anaesthetic.







The stuff round my head is ice to soothe the swelling and in this shot I still have the drains in – they didn’t get taken out until 6am the next morning. At which point they took the morphine away, which made me sad.

So as you can see, the first few days were rough. It didn’t help that I was on awful drugs. I couldn’t chew or open my jaw much, so I was on soluble paracetamol and ibuprofen syrup, as well as antibiotics which had to be ground up into a kind of chalky paste. All three of those, apart from tasting utterly utterly disgusting, made me feel unbearably nauseous, to the point where I was willing to go without pain meds [which I still really needed at that point, although the ice did a lot of good, but swelling hurts more than you expect it to] just so I wouldn’t have to take them. My parents had to all but force them down my throat with a syringe and it was miserable.

After Tuesday, things started to look up. My dad called the doctors and after a lot of faffing about, got me some anti-nausea meds. I managed to swallow an ordinary paracetamol tablet, which meant I could stop with the horrid pain meds from the hospital.

I had my first post-op check up on the Wednesday, and managed to get dressed and go to the hospital without anything disastrous happening. The consultant was lovely and gave me more confidence to be able to eat actual food. I felt quite a bit better that afternoon, and had a bath in the early evening, around 7.30pm.

That was a mistake.

My mum stayed with me while I was in the bath – being only 5 days post-op, I wasn’t really able to wash my own hair or anything and needed help getting out and stuff. Which was a good thing, because I got out of the bath, and immediately felt bad. I told mum I needed to sit down, plonked myself in the chair, and didn’t feel any better.

Next thing I know, mum is screaming in my ear for my dad to come upstairs. I’d passed out, and only about 30 seconds after my dad arrived, off I went again. So dad went off to call 999 and mum had to calm me down – passing out for an unknown reason is terrifying and I still didn’t feel great, black dots in the vision, sweating and white noise in your ears does that to you. Mum and dad thought I might be suffering from low blood sugar, so they brought some lemonade up and started spooning that into me quickly. The woman on the other end of the 999 call wasn’t pleased about that but it did me good, woke me up a bit.

Then they decided I need paramedics and next thing I know an ambulance turns up, which freaked me out, because I was already reasonably stressed out by the situation and I’d never had to be treated by paramedics before and that’s scary and only happens to people who are really sick.

But the paramedics were lovely, the woman in particular – I dealt with her most because I didn’t have an awful lot of clothes on and so the man stayed outside in the hall with dad. She was very calming and they can do all sorts of tests, they did ECGs and took my blood pressure and blood sugar.

But the decision was I needed to go to A&E. Which again freaked me out – going in ambulance?! To A&E?! But you know, 5 days post-op is still pretty dangerous and apparently I was distressingly pale and clammy so off I went. Fortunately they didn’t blue light me. Dad stayed behind to get food [he is diabetic] and I had to sit in the ambulance and try not to be sick. I get travel sick and facing backwards on a trolleybed is not conducive to feeling great.

A&E seemed to be okay. I had needles poked in me again – the nurse couldn’t find my vein – and they all asked questions I could hardly answer cos I could still hardly talk from the numbness and swelling – the first day in hospital was a nightmare because my bag had got lost and I couldn’t talk at all and when my dad arrived and went to find my bag, with the pen and notepad in, it was wonderful – I could communicate again!

Anyway they moved me out of triage into the treatment area and I kind of realised – gonna be a wait here. So I settled on the new trolleybed. But space was kind of cramped and a nurse asked me if I could hop off the bed and go and sit down in the waiting bit. I didn’t feel fabulous but I agreed. Halfway across the room I started to feel bad again. My parents rushed me to the chairs, and it was like a parting of the waves – my dad called out that I needed to sit down quickly and people quickly got out of the way. I still didn’t feel good once I’d sat down and my dad went and asked a nurse for help, getting told that they were busy with a patient and couldn’t help. And then I fainted again. Which was kind of useful, because my dad just bellowed ‘We need some help here, now!’ and I came round to about 5 or 6 doctors and nurses around me, trying to stop me falling onto the floor and get me onto a trolley bed.

Fainting in A&E, whilst not recommended, is useful. At that point they have seen you lose consciousness and you get bumped up the waiting list. I got put back on a trolleybed and given my own bay to lie and wait in. Someone took my blood pressure. After not very long an A&E doctor came and assessed me, and then whacked me on fluids. They called the on-call doctor down from the department which did the operation, and he was super lovely and spoke to us for ages about the operation and everything. The fainting was a simple vasovagal attack – in other words, through lack of fluid from not eating and drinking much, the hot bath, and being upright sent my blood pressure crashing through the floor.

They kept me in A&E til 1.30am, until they saw that I could walk a lap of the hall without passing out and my blood pressure was more normal. The next few days were mostly taken up by boredom, because after that I wasn’t allowed off the sofa without supervision – the A&E doc had advised that I was quite likely to pass out again, and so I wasn’t allowed anywhere alone. I felt quite a lot better by this point, in terms of swelling and pain, and I was off all the nasty meds, so I was HUNGRY, and I quickly started climbing the walls.







I look reasonably cheerful here but I was losing my sanity with boredom and fed up of dribbling everything I ate/drank all down myself because my lips were numb.

And here are the all-important before and afters. Because this is, after all, what it’s all been for.









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