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Ecology and Conservation

Interactions between wildlife and agriculture, behavioural studies in wild and captive populations, species and habitat management, and plant-animal interactions are key themes of our Ecology and Conservation research at Askham Bryan College. Practical and sustainable management solutions for the conservation of plant and animal species underpins our research and our undergraduates work alongside our staff and other external professionals on a range of conservation-based research activities. Our brand new Wildlife and Conservation park, a multi-million pound investment allows our students to engage in and conduct their own research in a wide range of captive conservation techniques and principles. The College is part of the Tansy Beetle Action Group (, and we currently are working alongside a range of external stakeholders  in the conservation of the nationally endangered tansy beetle (Chrysolina graminis). A tansy ark, the first of its kind for this species, was established at the College in 2012, and is now home to a thriving C. graminis population. 

Project Staff:

Dr Deirdre Rooney, Director of Higher Education

Dr Jo Beukers-Stewart, Lecturer in Countryside and the Environment

Mark Hoyle, Lecturer in Business Management

Dr Anna Riach, Lecturer in Animal Management and Equine

Alex Downing, Lecturer in Animal Management


Current Staff Research


How ready is the Yorkshire Dales to help woodland species threatened by climate change?
Micah Duckworth

The  impacts of  global  climate  change may  be seen at  national  and  region  levels  where  changing conditions  may  require  wildlife  populations  to  shift  their  biogeographic  range  in  order  to  survive. Conservation  managers  are  tasked  with  implementing  work  programmes  to  address  these pressures, responding to policies that demand integrated strategies working with multiple partners at landscape scales.

In  partnership  with  The  Yorkshire  Dales  National  Park  Authority  (YDNPA),  this  study  applied  the ecological  modelling  tool  CONDATIS  to  mapped  native  woodland  within  the  national  park  to evaluate the connectivity of woodland networks to facilitate range shift potential for species existing in  metapopulations.  The  software  allows  comparison  of  the  connectivity  for  different  habitat configurations with the tools to inform management options on optimal areas for enhancement.

Based  on  electrical  circuit  theory,  CONDATIS  requires  the  identification  of  source  and  target habitats  to  model  multigenerational  colonisation  potential  through  a  landscape  of  mapped habitat patches  suitable  for  breeding  and  reproduction.  Test  scenarios  focused  on  woodland  mapped across  the  national  park  and  sub-regional  areas  providing  evidence  to  evaluate  the  effect  on outputs of user choices in data preparation and selection of model parameters.

Further  tests  aimed  to  evaluate  the  connectivity  impacts  of  both  historic  woodland  planting,  and potential  new  woodland  in  identified  upland  gills.  Tests  were  repeated  for  a  range  of  mean dispersal  distance  parameters  to  gain  an  overview  of  colonisation  responses  representative  of generic  focal  species  dependant  on  native  woodland.  Iterative  processing  using  a  backwards optimisation  tool  within  CONDATIS  allowed  additional  woodland  patches  to  be  ranked  on  their potential contribution to connectivity in a given direction through the park.

Colonisation  speeds  results  across  the  range  of  dispersal  distances  suggest  a  threshold  below which  the  landscape  may  be  functionally  disconnected,  though  in  review  of  the  ecological framework it is advised inappropriate to infer responses for individual species. Though the pattern of  existing  habitat  within  the  park  is  the  major  determinant  of  colonisation  speed  in  a  given direction,  modelled  speeds  are  shown  to  increase  in  proportion  to  additional  habitat,  with optimal patch  selection  providing  further  small  improvements.  The observed  spatial  clustering  of  optimal patches may be useful in identifying zones where new gill woodland could be prioritised.

If able to reliably generalise the ecological processes it models, CONDATIS offers conservationists a  workable  tool  to  assist  and  justify  strategic  habitat  interventions  to  enhance  metapopulation range shift potential at appropriate scales.


Assessing Re-Introduction Protocols  using the Harvest Mouse Micromys minutus as a case study
Jo Beukers-Stewart, Sarah Bird, Caroline Howard and Penny Rudd
Chester Zoo, Moston Rd, Upton-by-Chester, Upton, Chester CH2 1EU

As populations of wildlife face the effects of climate change along with the fragmentation of the UK landscape, re-introduction programmes have been identified as a significant technique that could aid in their conservation. Failures for the target species have been commonly due to: lack of robust monitoring methods, lack of consideration of health and welfare issues and lack of understanding of permissions and approvals. Other issues include the release and spread of diseases, parasites and gene pool effects.

Micromys minutus is listed as a Biodiversity Action Plan species and was named as a conservation priority under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework (Natural England 2014). This species is cryptic in nature and hard to survey, therefore, even basic details of its distribution and abundance are lacking. Reasons for the apparent decline in M. minutus remain unclear. Following a comprehensive re-introduction programme for M. minutus, combined with a desk based study of previous re-introduction programmes, generalised best practice protocols were compiled that adhered to the IUCN guidelines. These were designed with industry in mind in order to simplify and ease the process. Initial indications were that the protocols were well received. Future research will seek to assess industry reaction including an assessment of demand, ease of use and mode of delivery. The Field Study Council have expressed an interest in publishing these protocols in their fold out chart range.


Stalking for beginners: a review of human traffic monitoring methods in wilderness landscapes
Mark Hoyle

Who uses the wilderness? Why? When? Are all questions posed by rural land owners, managers and funders? The answer to these questions can often influence government policy on the way the wilderness is managed and used. It is crucial, therefore, to have systems of people monitoring in these areas that are robust and reliable to generate appropriate data that informs policy.

Here the methods of people monitoring in remote areas are critiqued by considering the cost, legality and advantages of a range of monitoring options: manual observation, mobile phone signal records, electronic counters, manual counters and drone footage. The results of an on-going visitor counting survey on Ilkley Moor, West Yorkshire are reviewed in order to provide evidence of use over a range of time and weather variables.


Staff Research

Project Title: Making the use of shape recognition software for automated counting of seals accessible to researchers  Start Date: August 2016
Project Lead Staff: Mark Hoyle Project Partners:
Other Project Staff: Anna Riach
Project Aims and Overview:

Shape recognition and automated counting for wildlife has been developed for a number of species. More researchers could benefit from using automated software if the methods were made more accessible and therefore easier to apply. There have been a number of projects on seals that could have benefit from such techniques (Wood et al., 2007; Hauksson 2007; Kumar and Johnson, 2014; Cronin et al., 2007). In addition, it is possible that this knowledge could apply to other marine species such as sealions or walruses.

This project aims to produce easy-to-use instructions for using shape recognition software to count seals in aerial photographs.


Project Title:

Assessing visitor usage on upland Pennine moorland

Start Date:

December 2010

Project Lead Staff:

Mark Hoyle

Project Partners:

PhD project, LJMU

Other Poject Staff:

Project Aims and Overview:

Over two years data has been collected using remote micro electronic sensors, distributed across moorland to count user activity.  Providing the first continuous (24/7) usage data set for a piece of Pennine moorland.  Previously data has been collected in short surveys and aggregated to produce estimates of usage. 

Weather data is collected every 30 minutes at airports; this data has been collected from local airfields and will be used with the 24/7 usage data set to provide an accurate usage model.  This model will be used to predict future moorland usage.

The modelling will be useful for future management planning, conservation and funding allocation.  The electronic counting devices and methodology will be applied to other environments and tourist attractions where continuous counting is required.


Project Title:

An investigation into the population parameters of the Harvest Mouse, Micromys minutus, in both captive and wild settings.

Start Date:

August 2016

Project Lead Staff: Dr. Jo Beukers-Stewart

Project Partners:

Chester Zoo, Natural England

Other Project Staff: Richard Heaton - Agriculture, Caroline Howard - Animal Management

Project Aims and Project Overview:

The harvest mouse, Micromys minutus (Pallas), was listed as a Biodiversity Action Plan species and was named as a conservation priority under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework (Natural England 2014). Existing measures for its protection are necessarily broad and generalised (Access to evidence, Natural England 2015). This is because there is a paucity of data about the species in the wild with even basic distribution and abundance information lacking (Poulton and Turner, 2009). Population densities have been claimed to have declined with increased use of mechanisation in agriculture and removal of hedgerows (Battersby 2005), however this relationship may be a little more complex (Robinson and Sutherland 2002). Certainly, this species has very little known about it compared to other small mammals and in order to improve population densities we need to understand its population parameters better. Improving our understanding of the population biology and behaviour of this species should help significantly to inform conservation measures.

This project will investigate effective methods of population estimation for this species and if possible assess movement and dispersal rates. It will also seek to formulate protocols for re-introduction programmes and assess the possibility of using this conservation technique for Micromys minutus populations in the UK.

Askham Bryan College,
Askham Bryan,
YO23 3FR
01904 772277