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Award details

[Ecology and sustainable management of gulls on offshore platforms], [Ecology, Marine biology, Zoology, Conservation] – PhD (Funded) Ref: 4482

About the award


Professor Robbie McDonald - University of Exeter, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, Biosciences

Professor Stuart Bearhop, - University of Exeter, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, Biosciences

Dr Richard Sherley - University of Exeter, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, Biosciences

Professor John Swaddle - College of William & Mary, Virginia, USA

Professor Richard Delahay, RSK Biocensus


Environment and Sustainability Institute and Centre for Ecology and Conservation, Penryn Campus, Cornwall

The University of Exeter is inviting applications for a PhD studentship fully-funded by RSKBiocensus to commence on 26 September 2022, or as soon as possible thereafter.  For eligible students the studentship will cover Home tuition fees plus an annual tax-free stipend of at least £16,062 for 4 years full-time.

Project Description:

This research will seek to understand the ecology and sustainable management of offshore platform use by gulls. This will involve ecological and behavioural field studies, technology development and advisory work with commercial partners. The student will conduct ecological studies of gulls, particularly kittiwakes, using tracking, modelling and risk assessment. The student will focus initially on the development of humane and effective treatments (particularly the Sonic Net system) to deter gulls from nesting prior to platform decommissioning, and from roosting where this prevents safe platform operations.

The overall objective is to generate evidence to support sustainable management of gull use of platforms, addressing the interests of birds and platform operators.As offshore platforms reach the end of their commercial life and as part of a transition towards different energy sources, they require decommissioning. This is a complex engineering process that happens at sea. Decommissioning plans can be severely disrupted by birds establishing nesting sites on platforms, as they cannot be disturbed at this stage of their life cycle. This research will improve understanding of the ecology of kittiwake use of platforms, to deter such use ahead of decommissioning, and allow this vital work to take place as scheduled.

Unmanned offshore platforms are routinely accessed by helicopter flights but landing safety can be compromised by gulls roosting on platforms. Gull activity close to landing areas can lead to having to abandon and reschedule flights and accumulated faeces presents potential health and safety risks to operatives. Gull activity can also adversely affect the performance of safety systems on platforms. This research will seek to understand correlates of gull use of platforms in order to make risk predictions, and to develop technology to deter such use, particularly during helicopter operations.

The project is a collaboration between ecologists at the University of Exeter in Cornwall and RSKBiocensus (, a leading ecological consultancy and part of RSK Group, and will be delivered in partnership with their clients and with the College of William and Mary, USA.

The project will suit an ecologist, with a track record of fieldwork, ideally on birds and/or in demanding environments, and an aptitude for technology. They should be an independent worker able to take initiative and to work effectively in small teams. They will be based on the Penryn Campus in Cornwall. Fieldwork will include boat-based surveys and periods working offshore, and the candidate will be required to undertake health examinations to provide an OGUK health certificate, or equivalent, prior to an award, and then to undertake (BOSIET) safety training, including sea survival, fire-fighting and helicopter safety.

This award provides annual funding to cover Home tuition fees and a tax-free stipend.  For students who pay Home tuition fees the award will cover the tuition fees in full, plus at least £16,062 per year tax-free stipend.

Students who pay international tuition fees are eligible to apply, but should note that the award will only provide payment for part of the international tuition fee and no stipend. International applicants need to be aware that you will have to cover the cost of your student visa, healthcare surcharge and other costs of moving to the UK to do a PhD. The conditions for eligibility of home fees status are complex and you will need to seek advice if you have moved to or from the UK (or Republic of Ireland) within the past 3 years or have applied for settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme.

This studentship is still subject to final contract agreement between the University and RSK Biocensus and appointment to the studentship will not be made until this agreement has been signed.

Entry requirements

Applicants for this studentship must have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an appropriate area of science.
Applicants should note the mandatory requirements for obtaining an OGUK health certificate, or equivalent, and for undertaking BOSIET safety training for working offshore, or equivalent.

If English is not your first language you will need to meet the required level (Profile B) as per our guidance at

How to apply

In the application process you will be asked to upload several documents. 

• CV

• Letter of application (outlining your academic interests, prior research and ecological fieldwork experience, willingness to undertake health assessments and safety training, and reasons for wishing to undertake the project).

• Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained (this should be an interim transcript if you are still studying)

• Names of two referees familiar with your academic work. You are not required to obtain references yourself. We will request references directly from your referees if you are shortlisted.

• If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your proficiency in English.

The closing date for applications is midnight on 29th August 2022. 

Interviews will be held on the University of Exeter Penryn Campus on 5th September 2022

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email or phone 0300 555 60 60 (UK callers) +44 (0) 1392 723044 (EU/International callers)  

Project-specific queries should be directed to the main supervisor, Prof Robbie McDonald


Application deadline:29th August 2022
Number of awards:1
Value:For eligible students the studentship will cover Home tuition fees plus an annual tax-free stipend of at least £16,062 for 4 years full-time.
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Admissions Team