James Pantefedwyn Foundation

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Bethan Eira Wallace

I am eternally grateful for the funding provided by the James Pantyfedwen Foundation. This funding allowed me to accept my place at King’s College, University of Cambridge, to complete an MPhil in the Department of Zoology.

I was part of the Insect Conservation Group, based in the Museum of Zoology, Cambridge and my research focussed on the effect of climate change and land-use change on British butterflies. Butterflies are ideal for investigating anthropogenic impacts, due to their sensitivity to habitat and climate change. British butterflies have been extensively studied since surveys began in 1976, but by this time, anthropogenic habitat and climate change was already extensive. Therefore, I used museum specimens and historical literature to extend this baseline back in time to 1818, an additional 158 years’ worth of data. Alongside analysing changes in abundance and distribution changes at the national and county level, I also analysed the composition of the Museum of Zoology’s British butterfly collection and the Natural History Museum, London’s collection, examining the potential effects of collector bias on research. The most disturbing finding of my research was that Cambridgeshire had lost 36.5% of its butterfly species since the 1800s and this loss has gone mostly unnoticed and underestimated. At the end of my MPhil, I successfully applied to present my research at the annual British Ecological Society conference. I was also invited to present my research to the Cambridge Conservation Initiative.

During my time in Cambridge, I was elected as the Environmental officer of the King’s College Graduate Committee. This allowed me to sit on three official College Committees to learn and affect how the college runs. Over lockdown, I was able to use the quiet of college to photograph the wildlife found on King’s College’s grounds. My photographs won a department level competition and one is now being used as the cover of the 2021 Department Calendar. My photographs are also featured by King’s College for its advertising. I have devised and produced a ‘Guide for Estranged Students’ for Stand Alone. This guide is now available on the Stand Alone and UCAS websites to help estranged students, living without family support, to navigate applying to higher education. For this work, I won the Stand Alone Student Voices Award 2020.

My aim now is to undertake a PhD in Arctic Research in 2022, hopefully continuing at Cambridge University. This PhD would combine my interest in habitat and climate change, the Arctic and my new-found love of historical research. In order to help finance my PhD I am currently working as the Admissions Officer/ School Liaison Officer for Murray Edwards College, Cambridge. Murray Edwards College is a women’s only college focussing on empowering and elevating women’s education. I have also obtained permission from Murray Edwards College to develop an independent project to transform Emma Darwin’s (Charles Darwin’s wife) original greenhouse, which stands in college grounds, into a butterfly house. I aim to rear some of the species my research has shown to be locally extinct in Cambridgeshire. By doing this, I hope to raise awareness of biodiversity loss on our very own doorstep, and show the importance of museums and archives to current research.

I am so incredibly grateful for the opportunities that the James Pantyfedwen Foundation’s funding has provided. It has enabled me to study for my Masters and increase my knowledge in a subject that I love.  I now intend to continue to push the boundaries of my research whilst also assisting the next generation of students.