Top performing postgraduate

Prizewinning student Matt Jones  smiles to the camera inside Lancaster Environment Centre's social covered courtyard space

Matt Jones’ has loved wildlife since his grandfather took him birdwatching as a child. Working on a farm as a teenager cemented his interest in outdoor life. A six-month stint doing research at a wildlife station in Sweden after his first degree confirmed Matt in his decision that he wanted a career in conservation.

“I realised that to get a decent role in conservation I needed to do a masters degree. I liked the one at Lancaster because of the choices on offer, so you can design your own course, and because of the university’s rankings.”

A year later Matt has graduated with a first-class MSc in Conservation & Biodiversity, winning the Lancaster Environment Centre prize for this year’s top performing postgraduate, as well as sharing the prize for the best dissertation. He’s just started a dream job as technical officer supporting the conservation team at the World Land Trust, which raises funds to buy land to create nature reserves. It  always works with local conservation organisations rather than buying and running the reserve itself.  

The approach of Matt’s employer, working through local groups rather than practising ‘green colonialism’, was an important theme of his degree.

“It wasn’t just about understanding how ecosystems work but also understanding how people work and how to influence that to benefit conservation,” said Matt, who found the Environmental Governance module a highlight of the course.

“It was a real eye opener for me. Jacob Phelps (who led the module) is really passionate and knowledgeable. We had a practical assessment using a software called Fishbanks to set up a scheme of how to manage a small fishery: we had to agree as a group how many boats could go out and how much you could fish to ensure everyone could fish and not destroy fish stocks. It was fascinating.”

Another inspiring module was Conservation Biology, led by Professor Nick Ostle, who invited a range of external experts to give guest lectures. One of these speakers was Dr Paul O’Donoghue, chief scientific advisor at the Lynx UK Trust, a charity campaigning to reintroduce the Eurasian Lynx into Britain, which was hunted to extinction in the middle ages.  Paul was looking for a student to work on a research project, identifying potential habitats which could support the animal.

Matt, who is fascinated by large carnivores, had found his dissertation project. Using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to identify suitable woodland, and estimating deer stocks in different areas, he identified 83 potential habitat patches across England, Scotland and Wales. He then assessed which of them were connected with each other through habitat corridors, identifying 40 in Scotland and Northern England which could actually support a viable population of up to 494 lynxes. 

A previous campaign to re-introduce the Lynx was turned down as impractical by the Government. The Lynx UK Trust now wants to publish Matt’s work, and to use it as evidence that re-introduction could work.

Matt believes his dissertation was a big factor in him getting his new job with the World Land Trust, where he will be working with GIS to prioritise land for acquisition and taking stock of species and biodiversity on the charity’s reserves.

While he’ll be based in Suffolk, he hopes to take field trips to South America, Africa and South East Asia, where the charity works.

He thinks GIS mapping is a useful tool for an organisation committed to working closely with the local community: “If you want things to be community based, GIS mapping is a good visual way for someone who hasn’t got a scientific background to understand what is going on.”

Find out more about studying for a Masters’ degree at the Graduate School for the Environment at Lancaster University.

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