Bournemouth University

School of Conservation Sciences

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Wildlife call leads Young Thinker to UK award

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Bournemouth University researcher Sally Keith Bournemouth University researcher Sally Keith

A call for a greater understanding of non-native species of wildlife settling in Britain has earned Bournemouth University researcher Sally Keith recognition as one of the UK’s brightest Young Thinkers.

Sally finished runner-up amongst 12 nominees for the Universities section of the national competition with her paper ‘Wildlife Xenophobia’. The Young Thinker scheme aims to stretch the minds, broaden the horizons and develop the communication skills and confidence of people in the early years of their working lives across a number of sectors.

“I felt privileged to spend time with people who were willing to debate fascinating and diverse perspectives on a wide-range of topical issues,” said Sally. “Being named as runner-up amongst university Young Thinkers simply topped off what was already a great experience.”

Sally, 27, is nearing the completion of her PhD at BU. The main focus of her research is the impact of environmental change on biodiversity across terrestrial and marine environments, a theme she explored through the paper she submitted for the competition. Nominees were charged with delivering a persuasive and opinionated view on a controversial topic that was required to end with a decisive conclusion. Sally’s paper urges politicians and conservation agencies to encourage the potential for biodiversity to adapt through flexible legislation. She also calls for Britain, as a whole, to embrace new species of wildlife that arrive through natural processes to escape climate change.

“Invasive species are not always the evil aggressors they are made out to be, and they are not appearing with the sole purpose to usurp our native wildlife,” Sally argued. “The majority of natural arrivals exist in harmony with native wildlife. All these species are trying to do is to outrun the climate change that we have created. Despite this, politicians advocate culling programs for these unfortunate species, often without any evidence that their presence is a problem for native wildlife. Such a xenophobic approach to biodiversity is highly inappropriate and stifles natural adaptation.”

Sally arrived at BU after completing an MSc in Primate Conservation, which led to research and conservation work in Indonesia and Vietnam. She is now in the final months of her PhD at BU where she has developed a fascination for marine biodiversity that she would like to pursue in future research.

Professor Adrian Newton of BU’s Centre for Conservation Ecology and Environmental Change, and Sally’s PhD supervisor, expressed his delight following her achievement in the Young Thinkers competition. “Competing as she did against students from all disciplines, it is great to see her contribution on conservation ecology recognised,” said Professor Newton. “As she has demonstrated in her research, the problems of environmental change present an enormous intellectual as well as practical challenge.”

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