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Personal profile

Research interests

My research expertise encompasses avian ecology & conservation science, urban ecology, human-nature interactions, citizen science, and patterns & drivers of extinction risk. I'm passionate about sharing my sense of wonder and excitement about the natural world, including finding effective ways to conect membersof the public (particularly children and teenagers) with nature. Collectively, my research aims to better understand the impacts of both threatening processes and conservation actions on wildlife and people. I am a strong proponent of the conservation optimism movement, evidence-informed conservation, research transparency, and for reducing the current research-implementation gap.

Scholarly biography

My long-lasting passion for wildlife, the environment and the outdoors in general led me to do a BSc in Zoology at Durham University (specialising in whole organismal zoology). My dissertation saw me conducting fieldwork in order to research the value for birds of riparian restoration in livestock grazed landscapes. In addition, whilst at Durham I had the brilliant opportunity to go to South Africa as part of a field course module - this certainly played a large part in my decision to continue within this field.

After this, I wanted to specialise a bit further so did an MSc in Conservation Science at Imperial College London, based at Silwood Park. For my research project, I assessed the impact of tourist development in St. Lucia (Caribbean) on the endangered and endemic White-breasted thrasher (Ramphocinclus brachyurus). The research was supervised by Dr Richard Young (Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust) and Dr Mark O’Connell (ERT Conservation). This led to my first publication and importantly my results were passed onto the St Lucian government and fed into conservation policy reports.
After a year of volunteering and internships at various conservation organisations (e.g. JNCC and RSPB), I decided to embark on a PhD. Mine was based at the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE) at the University of Kent under the supervision of Dr Peter Bennett. My research aimed to improve understanding of interspecific variation in morphology, life-history, ecology and extinction risk with respect to elevational distribution – at the global scale, using birds as a model system and a global avian trait database.
After my PhD I stayed at Kent working as a post-doc research assistant on a Natural England project entitled “Costs, benefits and trade-offs in creating large conservation areas”. I also undertook a month’s field research on Ascension Island – a UK Overseas Territory – where I assisted with vegetation mapping as a part of a Darwin Initiative funded project called: “Designing and implementing a Biodiversity Action Plan for Ascension Island”.
I then became a lecturer in ecology and conservation here at the University of Brighton in the middle of 2014 and was promoted to senior lecturer in 2016.

I am currently the Early-Career Representative for my School (PABS) - 2019 ongoing.

Approach to teaching

I enjoy using a variety of dynamic and interactive teaching/assessment methods and audio-visual aids (e.g. videos, class debates, quizzes, journal clubs, and cutting-edge case studies). I regularly incorporate my research into teaching as it helps students put theory into context and think critically. For all modules I lead, I create online resource portals within studentcentral where I provide various learning materials and weblinks to the wider research community. I encourage my students to be inquisitive, engage proactively, and ask questions. I assure them that they should never be afraid to make mistakes, but instead use them to learn and develop. I encourage all of my students to be environmentally conscientious as they are the next-generation of ecologists/conservationists.

I facilitate my students to conduct their final projects on applied topics in collaboration with respected organisations (e.g. RSPB, GWCT and Sussex Wildlife Trust). This not only increases student’s sense of ownership and confidence in their work, but provides invaluable networking and job prospects. I have a growing passion for outreach and environmental education, and offer opportunities for my students to participate; e.g. Brighton & Hove House Sparrow Project, Wild About Mid-Sussex, and Bird Buddies (citizen science project with urban school children). These extra-curricular opportunities strengthen transferable skills and highlight the importance of science communication and impact.

I am a strong advocate for providing fieldwork opportunities in Higher Education. Benefits are multi-faceted and include enhanced problem-solving skills, teamwork, communication and logistics, learning contextualisation/application. I supervise students on a variety of national and international field-trips.

Conservation science is seen as a crisis discipline, where bad news predominates. Although biodiversity is facing huge challenges, there are many positive stories out there where conservation efforts have made a positive difference. I have read and discussed widely with other academics/practitioners from around the world about the recent growth and value of “conservation optimism”. I promote this mind-set to my students from day one, so that they realise the importance of not being overwhelmed by “doom and gloom”, but instead celebrating positive thinking in conservation and learning from success. 

I have won the University of Brighton's "Excellence in Facilitating and Empowering Learning Award" twice - 2018 and 2019.

Supervisory Interests

Passionate about avian ecology & conservation science, urban ecology, human-nature interactions,  and patterns & drivers of extinction risk. Happy supervising field, questionnaire, and desk-based projects.

Education/Academic qualification

PhD, University of Kent


Master, Imperial College London


Bachelor, Durham University



  • QH301 Biology
  • Conservation Science
  • Avian Ecology
  • Avian Conservation
  • Extinction Risk
  • Mountain systems
  • Environmental Eduction
  • Human-nature interactions
  • Connection to nature
  • Interdisciplinary

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Research Output

Does dehorning lead to a change in inter-calf intervals in free-ranging white rhinoceros?

Penny, S., White, R., MacTavish, D., MacTavish, L. M., Scott, D. & Pernetta, A., 8 Oct 2020, In : Pachyderm. 61, p. 191-193

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Open Access

Insights from social media into the illegal trade of wild raptors in Thailand

Panter, C. & White, R., 30 Apr 2020, In : TRAFFIC Bulletin. 32, 1, p. 5-12 8 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Open Access

Teaching and learning in ecology: a horizon scan of emerging challenges and solutions

Cooke, J., Araya, Y., Bacon, K., Bagniewska, J., Batty, L., Bishop, T., Burns, M., Charalambous, M., Daversa, D., Dougherty, L., Dyson, M., Fisher, A., Forman, D., Garcia, C., Harney, E., Hesselberg, T., John, E., Knell, R., Maseyk, K., Mauchline, A. & 10 others, Peacock, J., Pernetta, A., Pritchard, J., Sutherland, W., Thomas, R., Tigar, B., Wheeler, P., White, R., Worsfold, N. & Lewis, Z., 15 Sep 2020, In : Oikos.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • Advancing impact assessments of non-native species: strategies for strengthening the evidence-base

    Strubbe, D., White, R., Edelaar, P., Rahbek, C. & Shwartz, A., 29 Oct 2019, In : NeoBiota. 51, p. 41-64 24 p.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    Open Access
  • Assessing the ecological and societal impacts of alien parrots in Europe using a transparent and inclusive evidence-mapping scheme

    White, R., Strubbe, D., Dallimer, M., Davies, Z., Davis, A., Edelaar, P., Groombridge, J., Jackson, H., Menchetti, M., Mori, E., Nikolov, B., Pârâu, L., Pečnikar, Ž., Pett, T., Reino, L., Tollington, S., Turbé, A. & Shwartz, A., 15 Jul 2019, In : NeoBiota. 48, 48, p. 45-69 25 p.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    Open Access
  • Activities

    Ecological Solutions and Evidence (Journal)

    Rachel White (Member of editorial board)

    1 Jan 2020 → …

    Activity: Publication peer-review and editorial workEditorial work

    Graduate Certificate in Endangered Species Management (DESMAN), Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust

    Rachel White (Examiner)

    1 Jan 202030 Dec 2023

    Activity: External examination and supervisionTaught course

    Predicting land-use of white rhino using an agent-based model: implications for conservation planning and reserve management

    Maureen Berg (Supervisor), Angelo Pernetta (Supervisor) & Rachel White (Supervisor)

    1 Oct 201930 Sep 2023

    Activity: External examination and supervisionResearch degree

    Young Nature UK 2019

    Rachel White (Organiser)

    17 Jun 201918 Jun 2019

    Activity: EventsEvent

    Birds in the playground: inspiring the next-generation of conservationists

    Rachel White (Presenter)

    Jan 2019

    Activity: External talk or presentationInvited talk