Fully-funded PhD position: Ecology and sustainable management of gulls on offshore platforms

richard-sherleyRichard Sherley
  • 3 Aug '22

The University of Exeter is inviting applications for a PhD studentship fully-funded by RSKBiocensus to commence on 26 September 2022, or as soon as possible thereafter. The student will be based in the Environment and Sustainability Institute and Centre for Ecology and Conservation, Penryn Campus, Cornwall. For eligible students the studentship will cover Home tuition fees plus an annual tax-free stipend of at least £16,062 for 4 years full-time.

Project Description:
This research will seek to understand the ecology and sustainable management of offshore platform use by gulls. This will involve ecological and behavioural field studies, technology development and advisory work with commercial partners. The student will conduct ecological studies of gulls, particularly kittiwakes, using tracking, modelling and risk assessment. The student will focus initially on the development of humane and effective treatments (particularly the Sonic Net system) to deter gulls from nesting prior to platform decommissioning, and from roosting where this prevents safe platform operations.

The overall objective is to generate evidence to support sustainable management of gull use of platforms, addressing the interests of birds and platform operators. As offshore platforms reach the end of their commercial life and as part of a transition towards different energy sources, they require decommissioning. This is a complex engineering process that happens at sea. Decommissioning plans can be severely disrupted by birds establishing nesting sites on platforms, as they cannot be disturbed at this stage of their life cycle. This research will improve understanding of the ecology of kittiwake use of platforms, to deter such use ahead of decommissioning, and allow this vital work to take place as scheduled.

Unmanned offshore platforms are routinely accessed by helicopter flights but landing safety can be compromised by gulls roosting on platforms. Gull activity close to landing areas can lead to having to abandon and reschedule flights and accumulated faeces presents potential health and safety risks to operatives. Gull activity can also adversely affect the performance of safety systems on platforms. This research will seek to understand correlates of gull use of platforms in order to make risk predictions, and to develop technology to deter such use, particularly during helicopter operations.

The project will suit an ecologist, with a track record of fieldwork, ideally on birds and/or in demanding environments, and an aptitude for technology. They should be an independent worker able to take initiative and to work effectively in small teams. Fieldwork will include boat-based surveys and periods working offshore, and the candidate will be required to undertake health examinations to provide an OGUK health certificate, or equivalent, prior to an award, and then to undertake (BOSIET) safety training, including sea survival, fire-fighting and helicopter safety.

The project is a collaboration between ecologists at the University of Exeter in Cornwall and RSKBiocensus (https://biocensus.co.uk/), a leading ecological consultancy and part of RSK Group, and will be delivered in partnership with their clients and with the College of William and Mary, USA.

Entry requirements
Applicants for this studentship must have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an appropriate area of science. Applicants should note the mandatory requirements for obtaining an OGUK health certificate, or equivalent, and for undertaking BOSIET safety training for working offshore, or equivalent.

Closing date
The closing date for applications is midnight on 29th August 2022. Interviews expected to be held on the University of Exeter Penryn Campus on 5th September 2022

Full advert and link to apply: https://www.exeter.ac.uk/study/funding/award/?id=4482