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Urban Ecology

1) Supplementary feeding of birds

More than half of the World's population now lives in towns and cities. The result is that for many people their interactions with wildlife are distant and dilute. Yet urban ecosystems can be incredibly diverse, providing habitats to species of conservation concern and natural history interest.

From an academic perspective, urban areas also provide an opportunity to explore fundamental questions in ecology, providing a tractable system for studying interactions at a range of trophic levels, and how each is affected by human intervention.

Key questions we ask:

  • What is the nature of supplementary feeding? Who feeds, how much?
  • Which species benefit, who loses?
  • Are there indirect consequences of supplementary feeding for non-target species?
  • How does habitat isolation resulting from urbanisation affect host-parasite interactions?
  • Is there a relationship between urbanisation and the complexity of insect communities?
  • Can we replace lawns with pollinator-friendly flower lawns?
  • Can we provide habitat corridors for urban species of conservation concern?

2) Uncovering the hidden world of cats!

There are more than 10 million pet cats in the UK, and most live in urban and sub-urban areas. Despite how much we know about their home lives, we still have relatively little idea what they get up to when they leave through the cat flap.

The study aims to compare the movements of cats in an urban environment with those living next to a green area to see if this affects how far they roam. We are also interested in recording any "gifts" brought back home to see if this varies with how far they are roaming from their home. This builds on our previous work, so we have much experience in tracking cats and working with their owners to find out more about their the hidden life of their pets outside of their homes!

Many cat owners are interested in helping to protect wildlife, therefore we hope by understanding cat movement in more detail, we may be able to provide information which may help both cats and wildlife, by providing insights into what will help reduce the risks to cats when they are roaming, and how we may manage habitats to help protect birds and small mammals.

We are looking to recruit 140 cats from across 10 different sites, with 70 cats living at the boundary of a green site and 70 living a kilometre from a green boundary (we think that habitat might affect how far they roam). A small GPS device will be attached to a breakaway collar, so we can track the movements of your cat over a week each month. The study will be conducted over a year so we can compare movements throughout the different seasons. We will provide every owner with a detailed map of where their cat has been, what habitats they prefer and when they like to visit them, and how their cats compare to other cats in the study.

If you have had a leaflet through your letterbox and are interested in uncovering the secret world of your cat, please contact Dr Tara Pirie ( for more information about how you can get involved. We look forward to welcoming you (and your cat!) to our team.

Interested in garden birds?
Check out the details of our Urban Bird Conservation project to find out how you can take part.