International Women’s Day 2020: Becky Priestley
Establishing new red squirrel populations in Scotland
Lost from most of the UK, reds need help in areas where grey squirrels are currently not present. Becky is releasing reds into newly planted forests in the Highlands.
How did you come to lead your conservation team?
I gained a BSc in Ecology in 2005 and then an MSc in Conversation Biology in 2008. In between and afterwards I spent a number of years volunteering on various wildlife conservation projects around the world – bears in North America and Poland, turtles in Costa Rica and cetaceans in Spain, before gaining my first paid seasonal job as a Peregrine Protection Officer with the Scottish Wildlife Trust in 2010. I then had a couple of other short term wildlife contracts before beginning permanent employment with Trees for Life in 2012, and spent three years working in marketing!During that time I designed and helped fundraise for our Red Squirrel Reintroduction Project which I have led since 2015.
What has been your biggest challenge so far?
Our red squirrel translocations are carried out seasonally, in spring and autumn. Each translocation involves 2.5 months of intense fieldwork with long hours, lots of travelling and a lot of logistics to co-ordinate. By the end of each season I’m always pretty exhausted!
What has been your biggest achievement in the field in the past year?
We have now carried out eight red squirrel translocations and our annual monitoring has shown that all the populations are flourishing – breeding successfully and expanding throughout the available habitat. Looking at maps of red squirrel distribution prior to the project and now, and seeing all those new populations marked on the map, is incredibly satisfying.
What would you say to aspiring women who want a future in conservation?
Conservation is, sadly, one of those fields where there aren’t many junior paid positions and so getting your foot on that ladder can be a long and frustrating struggle. Experience is key so try to decide early on which species or field you want to work with/in and volunteer as much as you can in that specific area. Make as many contacts as you can and keep knocking on doors. Perseverance is imperative but dreams can come true!