Professor Robbie McDonald

Team Role: Professor at the Environment & Sustainability Institute, University of Exeter

What is your area of expertise in the field of conservation? My research is mostly on animals, primarily mammals and birds. I work on a variety of wildlife conservation and management projects, mainly in the UK, but also further afield in Africa and Australia. Recent work has addressed the conservation of hazel dormice, pine marten restoration and its ecological effects, the recovery of polecats, wildcat conservation, swan conservation and lead use, and predation of pheasants by buzzards. I also work on problems caused by invasive species and how to manage them, and how best to control diseases carried by wildlife that affect people and animals. I am increasingly interested in companion animals, mostly dogs and cats, and how their ecology relates to their roles as predators and as a source of some important infections.

What are the key issues you are engaged with at the moment? I am interested in the practices of animal management. My work is interdisciplinary in nature and addresses problems that animals cause for people and the conflicts and disputes among people about their management. I work on the management of native and introduced, wild and domestic species to achieve goals for conserving biodiversity, controlling and eradicating disease in people and animals, and for improving livelihoods.

What could people in the outdoors do to protect and minimize their impact on the type of habitats you focus on? When we visit the outdoors for recreation it is sometimes easy to forget those who live and work there, alongside the species and habitats we so enjoy and admire. People increasingly end up in conflict over wildlife management, at least partly because we often don’t understand, or try to understand, the perspectives of others. Nevertheless, there is almost always an accommodation to be found, so long as we listen enough and can establish trust.

How and why did you become involved with EOCA? I saw a recent call for a public vote on which projects to support and was impressed by the diversity and quality of proposals for hands-on projects from around the world, so I offered to lend a hand. (I confess I am also a bit of an outdoor gear enthusiast).

Favourite wild place: Northwest Highlands of Scotland – particularly Wester Ross around Torridon and Gairloch, where my family lived for many years.

Favourite outdoor activity: Once upon a time climbing, but now more hill walking, though I still call it mountaineering. I also enjoy sea-kayaking and squeeze this in whenever I can, wherever work and holidays take me (most recently South Skye).

Perfect day: A long walk over high tops with no midges and a fine breeze. Most recently, the circuit of Ben More Coigach and Sgurr an Fhidleir.