Activity patterns in mammals: what are the costs of rehabilitation? (The Academic Perspective)

Student: Owen Bidder
Company: RSPCA
Academic Supervisor: Prof Rory Wilson & Dr C Garcia De Leaniz

The Project

The KESS project was run in collaboration with the RSPCA in order to assess the post-release success of rehabilitated Badgers in Britain. Every year the RSPCA provide veterinary treatment to injured Badgers in the hope that they will be able to return to the wild and reintegrate into the population. Recent evidence suggests that this may be problematic as Badgers are highly territorial and form complex social groups. Our aim was to monitor a group of released Badgers in the south of England and develop methods by which future groups could be monitored easily. As a particularly important result of this project, the methods developed can also be applied to other species, enabling us to better research wild animal movements and behaviour in the future.

Contribution to our research profile

At present the most significant output has been the production of high quality, highly visible, peer-reviewed literature. These publications have prompted new international collaborators to engage with us, and have opened up exciting avenues for research that will benefit studies in animal ecology for many years to come.

Impact of the Research

The impact for the RSPCA has been significant in that they have been able to review their rehabilitation and release strategies based on the work we have done together. This means more effective and successful care for Badgers in the future but also, the RSPCA (and other organisations) have a framework for best practise for the reintroduction of any rehabilitated animals.

As a result of the public engagement work we have undertaken, such as appearing on television and radio, the profiles of both the RSPCA and Swansea University have been raised. Improving public awareness of environmental issues is an important outcome of projects such as this, with not only societal impact, but future economic impact as it leads to improved student recruitment to the university.
An important outcome of this project is, of course, the development of the student’s career prospects and personal development. We have seen Owen develop over the past three years into an independent researcher with an exciting career in ecology ahead of him. Without this funding, Owen would not have been able to enrol on a PhD course, and the benefits of funding schemes such as this to him personally are immeasurable.

Engaging with external organisations

The RSPCA have been involved in all aspects of this research project, providing networking opportunities, mentorship and resources. Without them, this project would not have been possible, so engaging with them on projects such as this would definitely be something we would hope to do again in the future.

Further research opportunities

We have been able to discuss further projects with the RSPCA, but the publication of the research conducted during the projects has definitely made the University and Owen Bidder more visible to the academic community. We have been contacted by researchers from all over the world hoping to initiate collaborative relationships. They often cite the research portfolio generated as a result of this project, as a reason for why they have contacted us.

As a result of conducting the project, Owen was able to travel to Triglav National Park in Slovenia. We hope that this trip will enable him to forge further collaborative relationships that will benefit both him and the university in the long term.

Positives of KESS

The KESS system has a generous funding scheme which provided us with funds to obtain equipment that was necessary to fulfilling the project’s potential. Without these funds, we would not have been able to fully capitalise on new research opportunities as they arose, and the quality of the project outcomes are testament to the comprehensive nature of the funding scheme.

New opportunities

I think it is important that we obtain another round of funding as the benefits of a scheme such as KESS are so obvious (and pivotal in creating expertise in Wales). The funding scheme is unique in its approach to interaction with enterprise, and allows us to provide talented students with critical post-graduate training.

Additional benefits of collaboration

Engaging with enterprise not only improves the employability of the research students, but it also allows us to tap into funds and open up new research opportunities. With public funding budgets being cut, interaction with enterprise has become vital in enabling universities to meet their research objectives.