Vicky BowskillThe Open University
Sustainable management of floodplain meadows in a changing environment
Professor David Gowing and Dr. Shonil Bhagwat, Open University
Floodplain meadows are a semi-natural landscape, created and maintained through traditional haymaking practices. They are also a threatened high nature value habitat type of international importance, supporting some of our rarest flora and fauna. I am looking at the sustainable management of floodplain meadows in a changing environment, with a view to finding synergies between enhanced low-input agricultural production and benefits for biodiversity. I'll be examining the impact of management strategies, such as the timing of summer hay cutting, on both crop yield and quality, and on species richness. I’ll also be using a mix methods approach to investigate the acceptability of different management strategies to various stakeholders with potentially competing priorities, such as farmers, policymakers and conservation interests.
What inspires you?
I grew up with nature, but two early incidents really inspired my lifelong passion. When I was about 5, my grandad – a farmer in his day – found a dead orange tip butterfly in a cobweb, carefully placed it in a match box and gave it to me. I can clearly recall sliding the box open to feast my eyes on every detail of this most delicate and magical treasure. A few years later I was playing in the local stream and my brother and I found a freshly dead mallard drake that had the plastic rings from a four-pack of cans around its neck and lower beak – the poor thing had drowned. We were so shocked at the injustice that we took it home to mum and insisted on giving it a proper funeral in the garden. I still make extra sure to snip through any plastic rings to make sure nothing can get trapped – and then dispose of them responsibly, of course! That is how I became an ecologist at heart.
Coming to my PhD as a mature student, I’ve had a few careers already. I worked for about a decade in Countryside Access, dealing with all aspects of Public Rights of Way and access to the countryside, including some great projects around improving access for people with disabilities. For the last six years or so I’ve been working in volunteer management with the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM), during which time I also studied part time with the Open University for my BSc (Hons) Environmental Sciences, which I completed in 2018. It didn’t take long to get the academic itch again and start looking at PhD options.
Why did you choose Docotoral Research?
I enjoyed the research I was able to undertake during my BSc and wanted more. I am particularly interested in impacts and was attracted to research that has the potential to influence real world practices, with applications in conservation management and agroecology.
Why did you choose a CENTA Studentship?
The project topic caught my eye and the transdisciplinary nature of it hooked me. Opportunities to learn and network both within and outside academia were important factors.
What are your future plans
Currently I’m interested in pursuing a career in academia, though I’m writing this very early in my studies, so will have a different perspective further down the line. The opportunities to network, work across disciplines and gain transferable skills will certainly help with building a successful career in any sector.