By Tobias Chalcraft
To quote Kermit the Frog, ‘it’s not easy being green’. As climate change and related environmental crises increasingly decorate the media, there’s a growing demand for more people to take on a more sustainable mindset. Hannah Hall, 21, is starting her march to the front line of this cause via undergraduate studies in Conservation Biology, here in Plymouth.
When asked what guided her towards her chosen area of study, Hannah said, “I’ve always had a keen interest in conservation and ecology, ever since I was a child watching David Attenborough documentaries, an interest I feel as though many people my age share. So, when I found out I could study a course at university which allowed me to learn more about these wonderful places I had seen on TV growing up, I couldn’t think of anything more perfect”.
When hearing about the material covered on her course, including cellular genetics, ecosystem services and population ecology, it is safe to say that Conservation Biology goes way beyond gardening. “The first year allows for everyone to be on the same level of knowledge, covering subjects such as introduction to biology, animal and plant physiology and evolution. The depth and content of these subjects is similar to what is covered at A-Level biology but acts as a nice refresher into the area after a long summer break”.
In the second year of the course, Hannah highlighted that the material moved more specifically towards conservation, covering “ecology, principles of conservation, methods of conservation, animal behaviour and optional modules” as well as a field trip to Mexico.
Overall, Hannah hopes her course will allow her to pursue a career in research, as she aims to undertake both a masters and PhD after completing her degree next summer. However, her current plan does not involve sticking around in the UK. As deterioration increases in less developed tropical countries, Hannah wants to move abroad in order to work towards a more sustainable development in these exploited areas by seeing “how governments can work with the local people and conservationists, that allows a substantial income but also retains the quality and biodiversity of the surrounding environments”.
So, why should others study Conservation Biology in Plymouth? “This course is great for teaching transferable skills. The tutors, professors and lecturers are extremely supportive and are available to talk to almost whenever. They also give a keen focus on current issues and problems”. There is also a big focus on current affairs, as Hannah recommended that prospective students “get themselves up to date on current conservation and ecology issues in the UK and around the world”, as this can demonstrate an interest in the course and help to get the most out of lectures.
To compliment her first two years of university education, Hannah is about to conclude a placement year in which she has spent time in both Nepal and Peru. In her final month in South America, Hannah now looks towards her final year of undergraduate studies. “I am planning to write my dissertation on seed germination trials of an endangered Adean plant called Puya raimondii under different temperature regimes, as these plants are very sensitive to climate change”. However, permits and permissions are required to export the seeds from Peru to England and due to the difficulty in obtaining these permits, experiments on plants closer to home may have to be carried out instead.
If her dissertation is of good enough quality, Hannah’s dissertation supervisor seeks to publish her work in a scientific journal, making her a published academic before even achieving her undergraduate degree.
When asked what drives her studies, Hannah replied, “Since I have started my degree, I have been extremely lucky to travel to countries such as Mexico, Thailand, Nepal and Peru and not only seen the pristine, tidy, clean and seemingly perfect areas which are made so to attract tourists but also, what I call behind the scenes. In Thailand and Peru, I saw large areas of rainforest cut down to make way for agricultural crops and animals. In Nepal, I saw how poverty stricken the rural communities were and how heavily they rely on crop agriculture as income, but which in current years is becoming less reliable as monsoon seasons become shorter and temperatures change. Knowing that I have the skills needed to make an actual change to this world, whether big or small, makes me strive to do the best that I can!”
Perhaps with more Conservation Biologists promoting a more pro-environment development of our planet, there may be less of an excuse for good ol’ Kermit to sing his aforementioned lyric.
For those interested in studying Conservation Biology at University of Plymouth, you can follow Hannah on Twitter @Hannah_Con_Bio to find out more about the course or to ask her any questions.