IBERS graduate wins Welsh Ornithological Society Student Prize

Iolo Williams and Stacey Melia. Photo by Anthony Walton

Iolo Williams and Stacey Melia. Photo by Anthony Walton

13 November 2013

Stacey Melia, an Aberystwyth University 2013 Zoology graduate has been awarded the Welsh Ornithological Society Prize for the best student project based on a study about how environmental factors alter fish eaten by osprey - one of Wales’ rarest breeding birds.

Stacey recently received her prize from wildlife expert, broadcaster and President of the Welsh Ornithological Society, Iolo Williams.

The Welsh Ornithological Society Student Research Award is open to any full- or part-time undergraduate or Masters student who writes a dissertation based on a study of birds in Wales. Stacey’s research was undertaken in collaboration with the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust at the successful Dyfi Osprey Project based on the Dyfi Estuary outside Machynlleth in Mid Wales, and studied the effects of environmental conditions on osprey prey choice.

IBERS at Aberystwyth University entered into an arrangement with the Dyfi Osprey Project in 2011 when 27 IBERS students helped to lay almost one kilometre of heavy duty fibre optic cable, which was donated by Network Rail, to drive the high definition nest cameras that enable live streaming video feed on the Dyfi Osprey Project website.

The arrangement enables individual IBERS students to work with the project, and Stacey used data collected by staff and volunteers at the Dyfi Osprey Project to assess the diet of osprey chicks born in 2012. Bad weather resulted in the death of two of three chicks and only one named Ceulan survived. The high-definition cameras that beam images to the Cors Dyfi Visitor Centre and website were crucial in collecting detailed information about the types and size of fish fed to the chicks. Temperature, cloud cover and rainfall influenced the fish caught by the male osprey and, interestingly, the chick received enough calories on only one day out of three.

Dr. Pippa Moore, IBERS Lecturer in Aquatic Biology and Leader of the Genome Diversity Theme said “Working with Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust’s Dyfi Osprey Project gives our students a unique opportunity to collect data on osprey behaviour and food choice that would not be possible without access to the HD cameras at the nest site. Moreover, MWT/DOP, and osprey conservation in general, benefit from the high quality research that IBERS’s students undertake during their final-year honours project.

Stacey’s research will be published in the peer-reviewed journal Birds in Wales, which emphasises the quality of the research she undertook”. This is the first of three undergraduate final year dissertations based on the Dyfi Osprey Project. Fred Griffith is the British Trust for Ornithology representative in his third year at IBERS and his dissertation will compare Dyfi osprey migration data to data on other ospreys; and Claire Davey will repeat the work done by Stacey, but on the two new chicks born in 2013 and also looking at the relationship between the fish in the Dyfi and the species caught by the osprey.

The arrangement with IBERS also enabled the Dyfi Osprey Project to invest in satellite tracking devices to follow the migration of the osprey chicks born in 2012. The surviving chick Ceulan migrated to Senegal in Africa where he later died. The tracking device was recovered providing information that his death was the result of becoming tangled in fishing nets.

Speaking from her home in Coventry, Stacey said, “I was delighted that my study has been chosen for this award, and it’s great that the Welsh Ornithological Society is encouraging students to study birds in Wales while at University. I hope that this award will help in my search for a career in nature conservation”.

Since graduating, Stacey has secured a position as a lecturer in Ecology and Conservation at Bridgwater College, Somerset, while pursuing a PhD with Oxford Brookes University based at the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust’s new site at Steart Marshes on the Severn Estuary.