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Twitter's Choice for 'Most Outstanding Woman of Scotland'
Outstanding Women of Scotland Community
Professor Sarah Wanless is an animal ecologist who throughout her life has been fascinated by the role of seabirds in marine ecosystems. She was born in Scarborough on the Yorkshire coast but migrated north to Aberdeen in 1969 for her undergraduate degree and remained there for her PhD under the supervision of Bryan Nelson. Her PhD involved three field seasons on the island of Ailsa Craig in the Firth of Clyde, collecting data on northern gannets. Visiting her study sites each day required a gruelling climb so that by the end of her project she estimated she’d ascended Everest from sea level more than 20 times.
For most of her career she was based at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology in Banchory (CEH, formerly the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology). Here she carried out pioneering work developing methods of monitoring numbers, breeding success and diet of some of Scotland’s most iconic seabirds. In the late 1980s she undertook some of the first radio-tracking studies of northern hemisphere seabirds. Results from this work helped identify important foraging areas in the North Sea and have subsequently highlighted the intensifying threats faced by seabirds from climate change and other human activities. The majority of her research was carried out on the Isle of May in the Firth of Forth in collaboration with Mike Harris with whom she co-authored the monograph ‘The Puffin’. However, she also spent two southern summers at the British Antarctic Survey base at Bird Island, South Georgia where she was BAS’s first female visiting scientist.
Aside from her research, her other main achievement has been supervising, training and mentoring the next generation of seabird ecologists and many of her former students now occupy key positions in academia and conservation organisations.
She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2006, awarded Honorary professorships from the universities of Glasgow and Aberdeen and Lifetime Achievement awards from both the UK Seabird Group and the Pacific Seabird Group. She received the Zoological Society Marsh Award for Conservation Biology in 2007 and the British Ornithologists’ Union Godwin-Salvin medal in 2014. She retired in 2017 but remains closely involved with the Isle of May studies as a CEH research fellow.