SAC Expert panel members

SAC Expert panel members provide expert advice on scientific matters, review reports and other papers, and contribute to reviews.

Scientific Advisory Committee Expert Panel Terms of Reference.


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Dr Nicholas Aebischer - Deputy Director of Research, Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, UK

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Nicholas Aebischer has over 30 years’ experience in statistical, ecological and ornithological research.  His research interests are in wildlife population dynamics and avian ecology, particularly in relation to species of unfavourable conservation status and to exploited species.  He graduated in Mathematical Sciences at Lausanne University, Switzerland, and was awarded a PhD and a DSc at Durham University, UK. 

Nicholas is currently Deputy Director of Research at the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, an independent UK conservation charity.

Professor Stuart Gibb - Environmental Research Institute, University of the Highlands and Islands

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Professor Stuart Gibb is Director of the Environmental Research Institute at the North Highland College of the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) where he a leading professor in Environmental Sciences.

Stuart grew up in Aberdeenshire, Scotland and studied in Aberdeen, and at the University of East Anglia in England.  Prior to joining the UHI, he has worked with the Plymouth Marine Laboratory, University of East Anglia and with the British Antarctic Survey, including participation in national and international research programmes in Antarctica, the Indian and Atlantic Oceans and the Mediterranean and Northern Seas.

Stuart joined the North Highland College (NHC) to establish the Environmental Research Institute (ERI), a Centre which now employs almost 40 staff and research students. Here he is committed to instigating and developing research, learning, enterprise and outreach around a portfolio contemporary environmental issues currently focused on the priorities of ‘Renewable Energy and the Environment’, ‘Carbon water and Climate’ and ‘Environmental Contamination and Ecological Health’

He has published articles in ~20 different peer-reviewed journals on topics ranging from marine biogeochemistry & environmental analytical chemistry to water remediation; and from coral reef ecology to climate change in mountain environments. He has active collaborations and partnerships with SMEs and stakeholders across Scotland, and with universities and research institutes across the UK, Europe, North America and Asia, including experience of leading and participating in EU programmes.

He has had the opportunity to work as an advisor and reviewer for national agencies such as the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency and NatureScot as well organisations from further afield including Research Council of Norway and NASA in the USA. He is currently chair of the European Offshore Windfarm Environment Committee and the Peatland Partnership.

As well as holding Chartered Chemist and Chartered Scientist status, Stuart has held Visiting Professorial appointments with the East China University of Science and Technology in Shanghai and at the Changsha University of Science and Technology in Hunan Province of China. He is a fellow of both the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Higher Education Academy.

Dr Chris Ellis - Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Dr. Chris Ellis


Dr. Chris Ellis is Head of the Cryptogamic Plants and Fungi Research Section at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE). His research focus is on the biodiversity and ecology of lichens, and particularly epiphytes in Scottish woodlands. This includes studies to investigate how habitats might be managed to protect species threatened by climate change.

Chris co-ordinates RBGE activities contributing to the Scottish Government’s Strategic Research Programme (Theme 1), as well as Chairing the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy Habitats and Species Working Group. He is on the Directorate for and is a PI in the ‘Adaptation’ theme of, the Centre of Expertise on Climate Change (ClimateXChange), and is on the Met Office’s Non-Government User Group advising on the development of future climate change scenarios (UKCP18).

Chris is a Council Member of the International Association of Lichenology, as their ex officio member of the Lichen Specialist Group in the IUCN Species Survival Commission.

Professor Richard Ennos

Professor Richard Ennos


Richard Ennos is a Professor of Ecological Genetics and now Honorary Fellow at the University of Edinburgh. His broad research interests centre on the integration of genetic and evolutionary approaches into ecology, with special emphasis on how this can contribute to better guidance for conservation and management of plant, and particularly forest tree populations.

Much of Richard’s research has been based in Scotland and has involved native plants (twinflower, aspen, Arran whitebeams) and communities (native woodlands) of conservation concern.  Current interest is in developing sound policies for facilitating genetic adaptation of native tree populations to the twin threats posed by climate change and emerging pathogens.

Richard has long running collaborations with the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, and Forest Research. He is also a visiting Professor at SRUC.

Dr Alan Fielding - Formerly Manchester Metropolitan University

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Dr Alan Fielding was originally a marine algologist (University of Liverpool) but gradually morphed into a conservation biologist with an interest in uplands and data analyses.  Data analysis is a very important part of his work as a researcher and, previously, during a 35 year career as a university lecturer. Alan still retain links with various universities and is currently an external examiner at Newcastle University for their Ecological Monitoring MSc.

In addition to a BSc and PhD, Alan has an MSc in Biological Computation from the University of York obtained during a sabbatical year.

Alan regularly review manuscripts for peer-reviewed journals (British and international) on topics including: golden eagle and hen harrier conservation and ecology; species distribution modelling (particularly methods used to assess the accuracy of the models) and the impact of wind farms on conservation interests.

Alan was the joint author of the two major species conservation frameworks commissioned by NatureScot (golden eagle and hen harrier). These frameworks were only made possible by a collaborative and cooperative approach with NatureScot, NGOs and field workers. They integrate a great deal of information from different sources across Scotland and use a wide range of analysis and modelling techniques. He was also a joint author on the 2017 report analysing patterns in the distribution of satellite tags fitted to golden eagles which seemed to cease transmitting in suspicious circumstances.

Alan is a member of the newly formed Raptors and Forests Joint Working Group and is currently involved with analyses examining the relationships between forest schemes and the distributions of hen harriers and golden eagles.

Alan has considerable experience of wind farm environmental impact assessments in Scotland combined with contributions to three significant wind farm monitoring programmes (Edinbane, Clyde and Farr).

Alan is a director of the Highland Renewal charity which manages the Tireragan estate on the very southwest tip of Mull This estate has one the best Atlantic Oak woodlands in Europe combined with breeding golden eagle, hen harrier and merlin. They manage the estate for regeneration, conservation and educational purposes. The estate encompasses wild rocky coastline, upland heath and bog, nationally important native woodland communities and associated wildlife all regenerating to an increasingly natural state. Importantly, and consistent with NatureScot’s aims and objectives, Highland Renewal is also committed to the promotion of conservation through education and environmental arts.

Professor Xavier Lambin FRSE - University of Aberdeen

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Xavier Lambin is an ecologist with a deep interest for population dynamics and conservation. He left Belgium in 1986 after a degree in Zoology at the University of Louvain and many years of involvement with natural history education.  After one year at the University of Oslo, he moved to Vancouver in Canada in 1988 where he did his PhD on the role of kinship amongst females on cooperation and the dynamics of Townsend’s vole populations. He then moved to Scotland in 1993.

Xavier conducts research on both fundamental and highly applied issues in population dynamics. With his team, he seeks to understand how predation, herbivory and parasitism together with animal movement shape the dynamics of animal populations. He uses field experiments and large surveys and the Adaptive Management approach with e.g. field and water voles, birds of prey, pine martens, American mink and people.

Professor Davy McCracken - Professor of Agricultural Ecology at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and Head of SRUC’s Hill & Mountain Research Centre

Professor Davy McCracken

Davy is Professor of Agricultural Ecology at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and Head of SRUC’s Hill & Mountain Research Centre which is based at the 2,200 ha Kirkton & Auchtertyre upland research farms, near Crianlarich.

Davy took over as Head of the Centre in 2013 and has been tasked with raising wider awareness of the agricultural and environmental research and demonstration potential on the farms. For example, SRUC has conducted peatland restoration works on the farms in collaboration with Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park and NatureScot’s Peatland Action Programme. The work of the Hill & Mountain Research Centre aims to help address the economic, environmental and social challenges facing hill and mountain land use systems at a Scottish, UK and international level. They regularly host workshops for farmers, crofters and their advisors on agricultural or environmental topics.

Davy conducted his PhD on the red-billed chough on the island of Islay in the late 1980s and has remained closely involved with the long term study of the population dynamics of chough on the island being conducted in collaboration with the Scottish Chough Study Group, Universities of Glasgow and Aberdeen, NatureScot and RSPB Scotland.

Davy has been investigating the impacts of Common Agricultural Policy on the biodiversity associated with what are now termed High Nature Value farming systems across Europe for over 25 years. He was also a founder member of the European Forum on Nature Conservation & Pastoralism in 1988 and worked closely with that NGO until stepping down to focus on other work commitments in 2016.

Davy has served on a wider range of advisory committees over the years. In addition to the NatureScot’s Expert Panel, he is currently a member of the Scottish Rural Development Programme (SRDP) 2014-20 Agri-Environment & Climate Monitoring and Evaluation Subgroup, the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy 2020 Science Support Group Group, Scotland’s Moorland Forum, RSPB’s Committee for Scotland and Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Conservation Committee.

Dr Rob Ogden - Head of Conservation Genetics at the University of Veterinary School (R(D) SVS) and the Roslin Institute

Dr. Rob Ogden

Dr Rob Ogden is Head of Conservation Genetics at the University of Veterinary School (R(D) SVS) and the Roslin Institute. His research as a conservation geneticist focuses on the production and application of molecular genetic data to inform species conservation, from intensively managed zoo populations through to wild population monitoring of terrestrial and aquatic species. Alongside conservation genetics he specialises in the development of techniques and international capacity for forensic science to support wildlife law enforcement. Rob is President of the Society for Wildlife Forensic Science (2015-2019), and a Director of TRACE Wildlife Forensics Network, a specialist NGO operating widely in Africa and Southeast Asia.

He has a strong commercial background, having co-funded two successful biotech companies and worked in the molecular diagnostics industry. In the non-profit sector he has been Head of Science and more recently Director of Conservation at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, where he led the establishment of a conservation genetics laboratory while developing the Society’s strategy for conservation science, field programmes and education.
Rob is recognised as an advisor to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime for whom he has been employed as a senior consultant and regularly participates in wildlife forensic expert group meetings. He is also a member of the IUCN Conservation Genetics Specialist Group. In academia, he is a visiting professor at Kyoto University’s Wildlife Research Centre, Japan and holds an honorary research post at Bangor University, UK. He has over 50 peer-reviewed publications with more than 2000 citations.

Rob aims to continue the development, application and promotion of cutting-edge science to biodiversity conservation, through leading novel research, managing conservation programmes and engaging at the interface of conservation science and policy.

Dr James Pearce-Higgins - Director of Science, British Trust for Ornithology

James Pearce-Higgins, SAC

Dr James Pearce-Higgins has been Director of Science of the British Trust for Ornithology since July 2014. He is a member of the senior management team, and responsible for providing strategic leadership of the science of the organisation, which encompasses both monitoring and research. James also leads BTO's climate change research, which involves documenting the impacts of climate change on UK biodiversity, undertaking projections of the likely future impact of climate change on species' distributions and abundance, and informing the development of climate change adaptation.  

From 2010-2014 he led the Population Ecology and Modelling team and was responsible for the BBS research programme, which not only informed potential improvements and additions to the BBS survey, but developed new modelling techniques to understand the drivers of population change, and to improve predictions of future abundance. 

Prior to this, James worked for 11 years in Scotland for RSPB, leading a wide-range of upland research projects.

He was awarded a PhD from the University of Manchester in 2000 on The Ecology of Golden Plovers in the Peak District.

James has published over 100 peer-reviewed scientific papers, and co-authored Birds and Climate Change. Impacts and Conservation Responses, published by CUP in 2014.

Professor Chris Quine - Forest Research

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Professor Chris Quine is Head of Centre for Ecosystems, Society and Biosecurity and Head of Station at the Forest Research’s Northern Research Station (NRS); he is a member of the Forest Research Executive Board, a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Foresters, a member of NatureScot’s Expert Panel to the Scientific Advisory Committee, and recently joined the steering group for the EPIC Centre of Expertise on Animal Disease Outbreaks. 

Chris has extensive knowledge of applied research in temperate/boreal forest ecosystems and expertise in knowledge exchange and interdisciplinary research.  He has recently contributed to two LWEC Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Initiative projects (FOREMOD, UNPICK), leads the work package on resilience within the Defra funded programme ‘Future Proofing Plant Health’, and is project director for Defra-funded EUPHRESCO project ‘PREPSYS: Risk-based strategies to prepare for and manage invasive tree borers’. 

He has published widely in academic journals, books and Forestry Commission publications.  His first degree was in geography, followed by an MSc in forestry, and after a period working in forest management he joined Forest Research and undertook a part-time PhD in forest ecology at Edinburgh University.  He was awarded an honorary professorship by Stirling University in September 2014.

Research interests include:

  • ecosystem services and integrated land use
  • interdisciplinary approaches to land management
  •  risk communication
  • resilience and tree health
  • biodiversity of managed forests

Dr Beth Scott - University of Aberdeen

Dr. Beth Scott

Dr Beth Scott is a Reader at the University of Aberdeen. Prior to this she was first a Lecturer and then a Senior Lecturer at the University from 2006 to 2014.

Beth currently conducts multi-disciplinary research using her expertise in marine ecology, oceanography and fisheries sciences. Her research identifies general rules in bio-physical oceanographic processes that lead to the creation of hotspots of predator-prey activity. Specifically, her research group defines biological and physical variables that provide the limited, patchy locations and conditions where energy is transferred across trophic levels in marine food webs. Beth's research team uses approaches ranging from the collection and use of fine scale (second by second) information throughout the water column as well as the analysis of large scale (100s or km) long term data sets on spatial and population dynamics.  Both scales of information are also used within simulation modelling methods which are agent based

Professor Ben Wilson - University of the Highlands and Islands and the Scottish Association for Marine Science

Professor Ben Wilson

Ben Wilson is Professor of Energy at the University of the Highlands and Islands and the Scottish Association for Marine Science. He is interested in the ecological interactions between industrial activities at sea and marine vertebrates, particularly marine mammals and fish.

Ben's work on Scottish dolphins has involved long-running collaborations with biologists at the Universities of Aberdeen and St. Andrews.

His current research focuses on the acoustic interactions between sensitive species and renewable energy installations, fish farming and oil and gas decommissioning.

Ben has worked on fish, pinnipeds and cetaceans in a variety of countries but primarily Scotland, the US and Canada.

Dr Sarah Woodin - University of Aberdeen

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Sarah Woodin is a Reader in Plant Ecology in the School of Biological Sciences, University of Aberdeen. Her research interests are in the effects of drivers of change on native plant species, vegetation communities and ecosystem process in the British uplands and the Arctic. Sarah is involved in projects investigating ecological impacts of climate change, herbivory, land management practices and atmospheric nitrogen deposition, often in interaction with each other. Much of Sarah's research in Scotland is conservation based, undertaken in collaboration with NatureScot.


Sarah is also very involved in teaching and does her best to get undergraduate and masters students interested in plants! Sarah currently oversees the suite of Masters programmes which cover ecology, conservation, environmental science and marine science, at the University of Aberdeen.


Professor Richard Mitchell - Health and Environment, University of Glasgow

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Rich Mitchell is Professor of Health and Environment and leads a programme of research on Neighbourhoods and Communities at the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow. He is also co-director of the Centre for Research on Environment, Society and Health (CRESH) an interdisciplinary and inter-institute centre, focused on exploring how physical and social environments can influence population health, for better and for worse.

Rich grew up in Devon, spending as much time as he could walking on Dartmoor. He read Geography at the University of Southampton and actually went there thinking he would like to be a hydrologist. However, at University he discovered two things – hydrology was harder than he’d expected… and he found the human aspects of geography more interesting. Following a PhD, also at Southampton, which focused on neighbourhood social structures and geographic information systems, Rich made a move to London and into public health and epidemiology. He trained and did post-doc work in a series of jobs at universities in England before moving to a fellowship at the University of Edinburgh medical school in 2001. In this early phase of his career he had focused most on monitoring and exploring social and geographical differences in health. Over time however, he became more interested in how health can be protected than in what damages it, and in how social and geographical gaps in health could be addressed. He found himself drawn back to thinking about physical environment, and urban natural environments in particular. A fortuitous invitation to join a Europe-wide research network introduced him to research on contact with nature and urban green space in particular. He subsequently developed an extensive programme of research on the health benefits of urban green spaces and is author and co-author of several key studies in this field. Moving to the University of Glasgow in 2007, Rich continued to develop research on how change in the state, management and/or use of natural and other neighbourhood environments can positively affect population health, and in the methodologies required to know about, measure and evaluate such change. In 2010, together with colleagues Jamie Pearce and Niamh Shortt at the University of Edinburgh, Rich co-founded CRESH. The team’s website and blog carries details of their research. In February 2017, Rich joined the Social and Public Health Sciences Unit and now leads a programme of work exploring how people and their environments interact as part of systems, and how these systems might help keep us healthy and happy. Over the course of his career so far, Rich has produced more than 150 articles, books, book chapters and reports and secured nearly £18m research funding. He is also a Director and board member of the NatureScot-supported Paths for All charity, which champions everyday walking as the way to a happier, healthier Scotland.

Professor Josephine Pemberton - Head of the Institute of Evolutionary Biology, University of Edinburgh

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Josephine is an ecologist and geneticist with particular interests in British ungulates.  She is currently Professor of Molecular Ecology and Head of the Institute of Evolutionary Biology at the University of Edinburgh.

Josephine studied Zoology at Oxford University and then obtained a PhD on the mating system of fallow deer at Reading University.  Since 1985 she has conducted research on red deer on the Isle of Rum, and Soay sheep on St. Kilda, first from University College London, then from Cambridge, and since 1994, from Edinburgh.  For several years both the Rum red deer study and the Soay sheep study have been run from the University of Edinburgh by Josephine and her colleagues via NERC Response Mode grants.

Josephine’s specialism is the use of genetic information to answer questions in population biology.  Her lab pioneered the identification of parentage in mating systems where there are many potential fathers, exemplified by the polygynous mating system of the red deer.  The resulting near-complete pedigrees for long-term, individual-based study populations have enabled Josephine and her collaborators to investigate the influence of genetics on individual and population performance.  This has revealed, for example, the extent to which characteristics such as antler and horn sizes are inherited and favoured by selection, and the amount and impact of inbreeding.  Currently, Josephine is investigating exactly which genetic loci underpin some of these effects.

Josephine’s other main research theme concerns hybridisation between introduced Japanese sika and red deer.  Her group has developed species-specific genetic tests and analysed large numbers of deer from across Scotland and Ireland to document the extent to which hybridisation and introgression has taken place.

These core studies are set within a strong interest in all aspects of population biology and wider ecology in her study systems.  The current NERC funding for the Rum study concerns the effects of climate change on red deer performance, for which the long term data on individual performance under constant management are invaluable.  Recently she has supervised PhD projects on topics as diverse as the management of upland vegetation mosaics using free-ranging deer (in collaboration with NatureScot and the James Hutton Institute) and the population biology of the St Kilda mouse (in collaboration with the National Trust for Scotland).

Josephine was a member of the Deer Commission for Scotland from 2005 until its merger with NatureScot in 2010. Being an NatureScot Expert Panel member reflects her ongoing commitment to using her science to inform and advise on the management of the natural environment.  She is also keen to further the ongoing collaboration between NatureScot and the red deer project on Rum to promote public understanding of science, and wider messages for deer management in Scotland.