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Reflections from our new President

Juliet Vickery
BOU President
RSPB Centre for Conservation Science, UK

At the timing of writing, I’ve been BOU President for 25 hours, 3 minutes and 25 seconds . . .

In that time I have served drinks at our annual conference ECR event, enjoyed great dinner time conversation with Jane Reid, one of our superb plenary speakers at BOU2019, managed an early morning run around Warwick University campus in bright spring sunshine, chatted to some post-ECR scientists about how the BOU can support them better, collated the results of our Equality and Diversity suggestions bag, chaired the final inspiring session of BOU2019 and awarded prizes for the best ECR poster and talks. The next 25 hours may be more restful but they won’t be half as much fun!

As I said at the AGM, I joined the BOU in 1987 as a postdoc when I reckon half the delegates at BOU2019 weren’t even born! Something that is simultaneously sobering and encouraging, but ‘boy’ has the this old (second oldest in the world) ornithological society moved with the times. The average age at our conferences has plummeted, the BOU is at the forefront of ornithological science, not only with our journal IBIS, but also in promoting ornithology across social media, plus four of the seven plenaries and four of the seven session chairs at BOU2019 were women. I can’t recall my first BOU conference, but I am quite sure it would be unrecognisable as the same event.

Prof Lei Cao delivering her Alfred Newton Lecture at BOU2019 © Veronica Mendez

I was blown away by all the plenaries. Lei Cao started by saying ‘never forget how lucky you are to be in Europe’ with access to so much existing data. She then proceeded to demonstrate the phenomenal speed with which she and her team (in China) are catching up – tagging 2,000 individuals of 56 species of waterbird in just five years. Kyle Horton stunned the audience with incredible animated, disco-like, visuals visually collating and interpreting radar data at staggering scales to integrate migratory movements of birds with weather and night-time light pollution. James Gilroy and Jane Reid showed, with beautiful clarity, the value of clear theoretical frameworks within which to collect data and test hypotheses. Lucy Hawkes reinforced the phrase ‘aren’t birds amazing’ with an exposition on the physiology of the Bar headed Goose. Though their ‘summiting Everest at c. 8000m is almost certainly myth, its VO2 max of 3.7 times an endurance athlete does enable it to fly within 800m of it and cross the Himalayas less than a day. As for the ECR and non-ECR talks – they suggest we will be spoilt for choice for future plenaries.

View oral and poster abstracts from BOU2019

For me, three general themes recurred.

Firstly, the huge value of collaborations across continents. The classic migratory divide of Red necked Phalaropes would never have been revealed without pooling data across the northern hemisphere breeding grounds. High seas Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) have been identified thanks to scientists contributing to a central seabird tracking database which now contains 23,000 tracks and 12 million locations from 119 species and 190 collaborators!

Second, the value of multiple approaches to data gathering. Yes, we have ever more remarkable biological and ecological insights thanks to the miniaturisation of tracking devices but there is still a key role for ‘muddy boots and binoculars’. Jane Reid and her team have gained incredible insights into the selection pressures on individual shags to be resident or seasonally migrate, through a staggering programme of ringing and re sighting – 17000 shags ringed at six sites in north-east Scotland and 62,500 re-sightings in winter alone.

Claire Buchan was voted Best ECR poster at BOU2019 out of over 20 ECR poster presenters. The future of ornithology is looking bright! © Aldina Franco

Third, that science and scientists are best promoted and cultivated in the sort of constructive and open atmosphere that was evident throughout BOU12019 – great questions, good discussions, open sharing of ideas and having fun are all as much part of BOU conferences today as the scientific programme at the core.

I’m already looking forward to more of the same at #BOU2020.

I have now been president of the BOU for 26 hours, 32 minutes and 11 seconds . . . I am slow writer!

About the author

Juliet Vickery is Head of International Research at the RSPB Centre for Conservation Science.

Het key interests are the causes of declines of and potential conservation action required for Afro-Palearctic migrant land birds, the problems relating to the impact of agriculture on biodiversity in temperate and tropical systems and the impact of invasive non-native species on the ecosystems of UK Overseas Territories. Juliet is an honorary research fellow at the University of Cambridge, Chair of the Policy Committee of the British Ecological Society, part of the expert panel for the Darwin Initiative, and on the advisory group for the Cambridge student conference. Juliet was elected BOU President at our AGM on 27 March and chairs the BOU’s Equality & Diversity Working Group.

Follow Juliet on Twitter @juliet_vickery

Image credits

Top right: Spotted Tanager Tangara punctata | Sandysphotos2009 | CC BY-SA 2.0 Flickr

Blog posts express the views of the individual author(s) and not those of the BOU.

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