The Biodiversity Fellows Programme at ICCS
Generously supported by Merton College, University of Oxford.
One of the aims of the ICCS group is to improve engagement between researchers, conservation practitioners in the international and local NGO sectors, and businesses developing and implementing corporate biodiversity strategies, in order that scientific research is informed by, and meaningful for, real-world conservation issues.
There is a widely recognised problem of a mismatch between academic research and conservation practice, which we are keen to bridge. Conservation NGOs and businesses contain many highly skilled individuals who have substantial experience in implementing conservation on the ground, and often have collected excellent datasets which could contribute to the academic evidence base on policy effectiveness. However, often they do not have the time, technical skills or academic environment within which to write these datasets up for publication. To address this issue, ICCS offers a unique initiative in its Biodiversity Fellows Programme.
The programme offers NGO or business employees working on biodiversity conservation the chance to spend up to 3 months with the ICCS group at the University of Oxford, writing papers, developing ideas or writing grant proposals. The Fellow will be encouraged to take part in a range of valuable interactions with students (undergraduate and post-graduate) and potential donors. For example, through offering reading groups relating to their subject area, evening talks or individual guidance to students wishing to learn more about how to approach the real-world issues of biodiversity conservation worldwide. The Fellows will be encouraged to host or take part in ICCS workshops and technical events.
Who should apply?
We are targeting people who we feel would particularly benefit from this scheme. We particularly welcome applications from developing country nationals.
If you are a senior member of staff, who would benefit from the opportunities offered by stepping away from your NGO, governmental or business environment and commitments for a short period of time, to develop new strategic approaches, write up their ideas, or build partnerships, then this scheme may be right for you.
Alternatively, if you are at a relatively early stage in your career, and would benefit from the academic possibilities offered by the University of Oxford and the ICCS group you are also particularly welcome to apply. Particularly if you would benefit from learning new skills, analysing and writing up your datasets, and building an international network.
During the weeks that I will be with the ICCS team, I plan to begin and complete at least one manuscript. Specifically, I will like to prepare one ecological manuscripts on Ghanaian frogs. The first paper outlines the first detailed ecological knowledge and population status of an evolutionary distinct and globally endangered frog in Ghana. The species (Conraua derooi) was recently discovered after nearly 40-years of believed extinction and currently at the verge of extirpation because of local exploitation of its meat as food. I have already collected all the data needed as part of previous grants (IFS and ZSL EDGE Fellowship and CLP). At the ICCS, I hope to include one more ecological analyses (Niche modelling) and complete the write-up.
In addition to the above subject and of course depending on the progress I make on the above manuscript, I will consider putting some initial thoughts into a paper on the role of religion in conservation practice in Africa. It is my opinion that the possible influence of religion in conservation has so far been underrated. In Ghana, traditional religious practices was a key determinant of conservation practice centuries ago. For instance, there were religious rules that controlled over hunting, deforestation and unsustainable use of river catchments. In recent times however, due to the advent of other religions in Africa particularly Christianity and Islam, most of these traditional religions and associated conservation laws have been undermined to the detriment of biodiversity conservation. During, my stay in Oxford I want to formally introduce the concept of conservation Evangelism to the scientific community. Conservation evangelism is an approach I have pioneered in Ghana to incorporate conservation in Christianity and Islam. It is my hope that this will open up the subject to the scientific community for rigorous assessment in different regions of the world.
Finally, and most importantly, I will like to use my stay in Oxford to interact with the ICCS team to look at possibilities of incorporating some of their interdisciplinary research tools in my conservation research project in Ghana. I am truly fascinated by the research that is being done by the ICCS group.
As a young conservationist, working with the ICCS team as a Biodiversity Fellow was a great opportunity. Being among a team of people from different disciplines and professions has opened my eyes to different perspectives on wildlife conservation. the fellowship has not only improved my knowledge and understanding of different ways to tackle conservation challenges but also given me a set of new skills, including the making of short documentaries, statistics, research writing and publishing.
The opportunity to give talks about my work in different UK universities and the positive feedback and suggestions that I received have confirmed for me the importance of my projects. This opportunity also enabled me to build my network through meeting funders, and different leaders in conservation who inspired and motivated me to continue doing the great work despite the existing conservation challenges.
In a nutshell, the knowledge and skills that I have acquired during my ICCS fellowship at Oxford University have both improved my project management skills and empowered my sense of optimism regarding youth conservation programmes in Africa such as my VIMA project.
This was highly successful from many viewpoints. The primary aim was to focus on writing a paper on wildlife trade: for a species in demand in trade, under what conditions is a trade ban, or a sustainable trade, more likely to result in conservation of the species?
ICCS was an ideal place to be writing this, given the research interest and support from its Director and others in the research group, as well as the full facilities of the university library. The entire ICCS team was extremely hospitable and welcoming, and it was fun to be part of the group and learn about their work, participate with them in the Interdisciplinary Conservation Network (ICN) graduate student conference, as well as enjoying social events with them such as punting!
Being a Fellow at Merton College during the time was also extremely special, and led to some fascinating over-meal discussions with people from other disciplines. Finally, living right in the middle of Oxford allowed me to hear much magnificent music throughout the visit, from frequent choral evensongs and college chamber recitals to wonderful orchestral concerts in the Sheldonian.
Many thanks indeed to Prof. E.J. Milner-Gulland and Carlyn Samuel for making it happen and all of their support, and to all at ICCS for making it so productive and enjoyable.
As a Biodiversity Research Fellow, I was very happy to share and discuss my research into the Ploughshare tortoise in Madagascar with all the ICCS members, while learning many new things. Being in Oxford University gave me opportunities to access many resources I wouldn’t have otherwise had access to, like published papers, libraries and courses.
It was a really valuable experience to be able to meet and speak with students, post-docs, lecturers and professors who are leaders in their field, yet so forthcoming in sharing their knowledge with me. They were all so interested in my research and always willing and able to give me great input, that it has really inspired me to do more work in the biodiversity conservation field when I get home!
I also had the opportunity to improve my statistics, data analysis and writing skills while in Oxford; things that you probably have taken courses in before, but it is always good to refresh your knowledge, learn about the latest developments and adapt with evolving technology and science.
I loved being able to attend such a wide variety of seminars and talks, where I learnt about what other researchers are doing and how I can apply their methods to my own work.
To summarise; Biodiversity Conservation is not just about in-situ actions or fieldwork, but about building on your knowledge and experiences, and the Research fellowship with ICCS is one of the best ways I can think of for doing that.
It was my utmost pleasure to spend the first quarter of 2017 as Biodiversity Fellow at the Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science (ICCS) and Merton College, University of Oxford. Offering a peak into the world of cutting-edge academic research and the charming Oxford life, my fellowship was a one-of-its-kind experience.
The fellowship afforded me an opportunity to pursue research in ‘Business and Biodiversity’, an area in which up till then I had worked as a practitioner. I spent close to three months working with the focused objective of developing a research paper on no-go policies in biodiversity conservation. Not only was this a crash course in conservation policy apropos economic development but also training in how to develop papers for peer-reviewed journals. My mentors Dr. E.J. Milner-Gulland, Dr. Prue Addison and Dr. Joe Bull helped me navigate through this process of learning, providing first-hand insights and reflections at every step. I remember having the most stimulating discussions with them, exploring and debating on all possible strands of argument on the topic.
In addition to working on the research paper, I got an opportunity to interact with and learn from other researchers of the ICCS group who work across the globe on diverse domains ranging from biodiversity offsets to sustainable fisheries and poaching to illegal wildlife trade, producing cutting-edge research which informs as well as influences policy. During weekly meetings, external experts are invited to share their work with the group, providing an opportunity for further exposure. My teammates Carlyn Samuel and Annabel Halfhead ensured that I felt at home all through my stay.
The Biodiversity fellowship comes with a membership of the Senior Common Room at the Merton College, one of the most prestigious colleges of the Oxford University. The college buildings are magnificent and the dinners, a classy affair. But more than that, you get to interact with a number of senior academics – an edifying experience in its own right. I also got an opportunity to interact with Merton College undergrad Biology students when I delivered a lecture on ‘How Businesses Interface with Biodiversity’ for them.
I completed my Master’s from the University of Oxford back in 2011 and I am yet to come across anything that fires up my brain cells like the scintillating talks at Oxford. My ICCS exposure was matched only by the various talks I attended on a range of frontier topics including Climate Change, Development Financing, Energy Markets, Food Systems, Stranded Assets and Impact Investing – the quintessential Oxford experience. I also got a chance to attend a two-week training programme on ‘Enterprise and the Environment’ organized by the Smith School. An exposure to such overarching issues added a new dimension to my understanding of my domain i.e. ‘Business and Biodiversity’, making me increasingly curious to examine how broader systems and patterns of globalized economy, trade and consumption impinge upon biodiversity and govern the impact corporations have on it.
I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said that the fellowship at ICCS has been a turning point in my career. It has expanded my horizons and opened my mind to a whole new world of ideas. It has allowed me to take a step back, re-caliberate my goals and embark upon them with renewed vigour.