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2021 saw the first submission by the University of Chester to the Biological Sciences Unit of Assessment in REF.  The research addresses two main themes:

  • Animal Behaviour and Animal Welfare
  • Conservation Biology.

The University’s targeted research funding has been bolstered by external funders including: the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), Darwin Initiative +, Rutherford Fund and Leverhulme for conservation work; and Morris Animal Foundation, Horse Trust, PetPlan, and Dog’s Trust for animal behaviour/welfare work.

17 staff were identified as having significant responsibility for research in REF2021, leading to a requirement for 37 outputs to be submitted.

Research outputs submitted to REF2021 are included in the Biological Sciences Collection of ChesterRep, the University of Chester's online research repository.

The impact of research in this unit was exemplified through the following case studies:

Conservation research driving policy making and conservation action: Research undertaken at the University of Chester (UoC) has directly impacted conservation strategies and policy-making at local, national and international levels. This research has informed the evaluation of the conservation status of various wildlife species: i.e. the inclusion of Alpine ibex (Capra ibex) in the new ‘Green Status of Species’ framework of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the “Favourable Conservation Status” document for the conservation of natterjack toads (Epidalea calamita) in the UK. Research outputs produced at UoC, have also been used as evidence in support of national and international legislation: i.e. the maintenance of the fishing ban for sea cucumbers along the Egyptian coast of the Red Sea; the enforcement of international trade restrictions for thresher sharks (Alopiidae) under CITES Appendix II; and amendments to the UK Agriculture Act 2020 to allow semi feral ponies to be used in Public Payment for Public Goods schemes. Finally, the research has contributed to the improvement of local habitat management plans, benefitting the long-term conservation of natterjack toads in the Gronant Dunes and Talacre Warren SSSI in Wales and thresher sharks in the Philippines. 

Novel tools for animal welfare: maximising robustness and effectiveness of stress assessment in mammals and amphibians under human care: Animal welfare assessment is a rapidly growing field, demanding tools that are highly sensitive and rigorously robust, to ensure best possible care of animals. This research developed important novel tools, combining non-invasive endocrinology, behavioural observation, and latterly, Social Network Analysis (SNA), to maximise highly reliable (stress free) welfare assessment. Nationally and internationally, these tools have enabled significant improvement of individual animal welfare in three species of captive mammals, improving conservation breeding programmes or laboratory research use. The work also has enabled major welfare improvement for the main laboratory amphibian model, Xenopus laevis. Biological material from this species has been in wide use globally (particularly for medical research into human disease) over decades, but the animals’ welfare needs had previously been little considered.

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