From Yorkshire Dogwhelks to Seychelles Mynas: the enduring thrill of “accepted”!

From 1965 to 1968 my PhD research investigated the biology of a rocky shore snail, the Dogwhelk (Nucella lapillus), on an exposed shale reef just north of the idyllic fishing village of Robin Hoods Bay, North Yorkshire. Leeds University had a Marine Biology recently-refurbished laboratory in the village. Based there, my fieldwork involved walking the 1.5 km along the beach to “North Cheek”, where my study population braved the sea-swept rocks to do what a Dogwhelk has to do, including drilling holes in barnacles and mussels to procure their sustenance, and avoiding the attentions of predators, mainly birds and crabs. My treks from the village to the study site were undertaken 3-4 times per week, at low tide and in all weathers throughout the year.

Despite my study animal not being a bird my first love was ornithology and my desire was to follow a career in that discipline. One autumn day in 1965, on my arrival at North Cheek a flock of small birds was scurrying over the rocks and dodging the waves. These Purple Sandpipers had just arrived from their migration from breeding grounds at higher latitudes. I was interested to know what they were eating and so collected fresh droppings for examination back at the laboratory. The droppings contained the remains of shells, ground up in the birds’ gizzards but nevertheless identifiable as young Dogwhelks. These had hatched form their bottle-shaped egg cases in late summer and were spending their first winter on the rocks low down the shore, where they spent most of their time covered by the sea and only a few hours each day exposed to the air – and to the birds. This provided me with an excuse to investigate the feeding behaviour of the Sandpipers.

My first scientific paper, published in May 1966
My first scientific paper, published in May 1966

After collecting and analysing data I wrote my first scientific paper, which I submitted it to the journal “British Birds”. After making various changes recommended by the editor I eventually received a letter saying that the paper had been accepted for publication. This was an enormous thrill, one that I am sure is shared by most scientists at the outset of their careers.

Fifty years on, and with many other scientific papers under my belt, I have just received an email from the editor of the journal “Pest Management Science”, accepting my latest paper for publication. Over the half century that has elapsed since my first paper, the thrill of receiving such a message has not diminished in the slightest! The current paper describes the eradication of Common Mynas (Acridotheres tristis) from Denis Island, Seychelles. I began the process in May 2010, at the instigation of Green Islands Foundation with funding from UNDP/GEF. The paper describes the project, including methodology, training a succession of volunteers to undertake the bulk of the practical work, the problems encountered along the way, the eventual success, and the monitoring now in place to defend the island against possible reinvasion. The paper has 14 co-authors and I am grateful to all for their invaluable contributions. Most of them are young scientists embarking on their own careers. I hope that this research on Common Mynas gives them the career launch that Purple Sandpipers gave to me so long ago and that they feel the same enduring satisfaction when they receive letters headed “Accept”!

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