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Profile (5)

Jeanette Hall, Scottish Natural Heritage…

Profile (5)

Jeanette Hall

Woodland Adviser, Scottish Natural Heritage


When Hall was 17 years old, she decided that she wanted to be an ecologist, and in her mid-twenties, she decided to focus on woodland. After gaining her BSc in Pure and Applied Ecology at the University of Sheffield, she studied for her MSc in Conservation at University College London (UCL) from 1993 to 1994. She has been a Woodland Adviser for Scottish Natural Heritage since 2002, and in her free time does a lot of field work, co-authoring papers on amphibian ecology and the value of SuDS (sustainable drainage systems) for biodiversity.

Conservation must be relevant

In her day job, Hall advises SNH staff and landowners on managing woodland for conservation. Most of her work relates to sites designated for their conservation interest under Scottish or European law, and in many cases this leads to changes in management, and an improvement in their condition. Most of Hall's work is long term, and she hopes that people will look at woodlands in 100 years’ time and see that she has made some contribution to what they see around them.

Her personal research focuses on the conservation of great crested newts and their habitat, as well as amphibians in SuDS in Inverness. Says Hall: “I believe my work on urban wildlife is valuable because it focuses on the benefits to local people as well as biodiversity. Conservation will only succeed if it is relevant to people’s lives.”

She and her colleagues have been able to demonstrate that great crested newts are native to the area around the Moray Firth, and this has created a great deal of interest, working with the Forestry Commission (several of the most important sites are on the National Forest Estate) and local landowners to improve the habitat for newts – and other biodiversity. The work has included creating ponds to improve metapopulation dynamics, and several of these have been colonised in the first season after creation, leading to a 10% increase in the number of breeding sites.

Biggest threat to the environment?

“Globally, the biggest threat is climate change,” says Hall, “but for Scottish ecosystems, and specifically woodland, I think over-grazing is an even bigger threat. A lot of ancient woodland has already been lost because of heavy grazing preventing regeneration, and the structure and composition of many other woodlands is highly impoverished. The Native Woodland Survey of Scotland, published in 2014, found that about 12% of ancient woodland has been lost to open land, most likely as a result of herbivore pressure, and a third of all native woodland has high or very high herbivore impact.”

In Hall's view, the key to progress is “a real understanding amongst political leaders of the vital importance of the environment to humanity.” She also thinks the challenges will not change in the future – but they will become more intense. “Climate change, and its impact on human populations, especially increased migration, will continue to be the greatest challenge to the environment,” she says.

Endangered species?

If Hall could save one species, she would choose the orangutans. She herself says this is a “purely visceral answer,” but even though fungus or plants would be “less showy” answers, the orangutans win: “They appear so gentle and intelligent, but also because of their dependence on high-quality primary forest, you have to save their habitat and everything in it, in order to save them.”


What interests Hall about biodiversity is the breadth of the term, encompassing all levels of biology, from genetics to species and ecosystems, including natural history, ecology and human engagement with nature. She explains: “The rapid adoption of the word in all levels of social and political discourse, not just amongst scientists, has led to the topic becoming embedded across society in discussions about transport, food and energy, etc., in ways that would have been previously unimaginable.”

When it comes to choosing a ‘biodiversity hero,’ Hall nominates her father: “He was my greatest inspiration. He loved nature, and was incredibly knowledgeable about the whole range of wildlife.” Another champion for Hall is the scientist Professor Lynne Boddy, who pioneered the study of fungal communities in wood, demonstrating that fungi are fundamental to the functioning of woodlands – “a fervent advocate for the vital importance of fungi to all ecosystems.”


"Profile (5)". Science Scotland (Issue Twenty-one)
Printed from on 06/07/20 11:33:37 AM

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