News Article29/05/2019

Meet our BoPH HQ Manager – Dr Georgia French

Hello everyone! I’m really pleased to have the chance to introduce myself to you all and tell you a bit about how my first two months (where has the time gone?!) as HQ Manager for Birds of Poole Harbour have gone.

About Me

I have loved birds since I was a child and remember clearly learning my first bird species (magpie) and watching yellowhammers in my dad’s garden. During my Undergraduate Degree in Zoology at Cardiff University I was lucky enough to do some project work on puffins, great black-backed gulls and Manx shearwaters over on Skokholm and Skomer Island off the Pembrokeshire coast. I fell in love with seabirds and felt in awe of my supervisors as they identified birds by their calls. After I graduated, I went on to do some field work for a PhD student on lesser black-backed gulls on Flatholm Island where I spent two months being attacked for intruding on a 2000 strong colony and measuring their eggs. It was brilliant! If being pooped on is considered lucky, I must be one of the luckiest people alive.

I then went on to do my Master’s degree in Wildlife Management and Conservation with Reading University. Here I was fortunate enough (thank you gulls?) to win a scholarship that paid for my field work in the Seychelles. I worked on a sooty tern reintroduction project on Denis Island with the legendary Professor Feare, and it was here that my career really took off. The Critically Endangered Seychelles paradise flycatcher had recently been reintroduced to the island and after I completed my MSc I was hired by Nature Seychelles to monitor those birds. I spent 7 months following the birds around, mapping their territories, recording breeding attempts and habitat data and collecting blood samples from their chicks. I also helped out with the Seychelles magpie robin monitoring and mynah eradication, and the ‘magpies’ remain one of my favourite birds of all time. Denis was also where I bumped into my first shark; a meeting that radically altered the course of my career.

I’ve always held a fascination with sharks, partly stemming from when I watched Jaws when I was far too young – thanks Dad! When I bumped into a small blacktip reef shark when out for a snorkel, it was one of the pivotal moments of my life. I looked at the shark, it looked at me and for a split second that felt like minutes we shared the same thought; “What is that?!”. I was exhilarated. At the end of my flycatcher contract I discovered that the Marine Conservation Society, Seychelles were looking for a Project Coordinator. I applied and instead of heading back home to the UK, I was offered the post and stayed in the Seychelles for another 3.5 years, gaining experience in shark, turtle and coastal management science and conservation.

When I came back to the UK, I spent a brilliant six months working for the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust, helping to map the distribution and model the abundance of natterjack toads and great crested newts before I started my dream PhD on great white sharks. I conducted my field work in South Africa with the Dyer Island Conservation Trust and Marine Dynamics, collecting photographic data and muscle biopsies from free-swimming white sharks. My favourite sharks include ‘Frowny’, the first shark that I named, and ‘Maureen’, a 4.6m female that I have actually spotted in two separate nature documentaries! I’m ecstatic to say that earlier this week, I was awarded my PhD with an unconditional pass. It still hasn’t quite sunk in that I’m a Dr!

During my PhD, it became clear to me that the sharks around the UK are hugely underrepresented and appreciated. Most people in Dorset don’t realise that we have many species off our coast, that that’s a really good thing and that several of these species are Endangered and could do with our help. To help rectify this situation myself and my soon-to-be husband Chris set up SharkStuff, a Registered Charity dedicated to education and research for the benefit of sharks, especially those off Dorset. SharkStuff has some really exciting projects happening this summer!

Why Birds of Poole Harbour?

I first found out about BoPH when I booked onto an osprey cruise last year. I was seriously impressed with the project, and the knowledge and passion demonstrated by the BoPH team. When I saw the HQ job advertised, my heart skipped a beat at the thought of being involved in some really worthwhile bird work. I was blown away by the superb new HQ and meeting the Trustees sealed the deal for me; their passion and dedication are infectious!

The first two months have flown by and it has been brilliant being able to engage with the public over our spectacular bird life and learning more about the different projects that BoPH are running. I feel like I have learned an incredible amount already from the Trustees and our wonderful volunteers, and my eyes have been truly opened to how lucky I am to live here. I’m excited for the osprey project’s second year to kick off in July and I hope to help to build the charity over the next few months. If any knowledgeable birders out there are keen to volunteer in the HQ, I’d love to hear from you!

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