Louise Hartley, Project Manager, Zoological Society of London
by Louise Hartley, Project Manager, Zoological Society of London
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by our natural world and its awe-inspiring wildlife. Family holidays to areas like the Lake District – one of the best places in the world in my opinion – and the countryside surrounding my home meant I spent a lot of time exploring the great outdoors.
I have always liked to understand how and why things work, so at school I was naturally drawn to the sciences, studying physics, biology and geography for A-Level. I then studied geography at university as I knew I wanted to pursue a career in the environment sector. It was at university that I began to see the huge potential that technology has to improve our ability to monitor and protect our planet.
During my degree I focused on the use of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and satellite remote sensing. These tools are hugely valuable for analysing geospatial data to help us understand environmental change and how we can address the world’s conservation challenges.
Around this time I also volunteered at the Centre for Alternative Technology and was totally inspired by the innovations being made in renewable energy technology. This led me into my first job after university where I coordinated events to help renewable energy innovators find investment opportunities. But I knew I wanted to be much more involved in conservation and so decided to make the transition into the charity sector, where I worked for a charity focusing on environmental policy issues.
Then, two years ago, I got the chance to become a coordinator in the Conservation Technology Unit at the international conservation charity the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), an opportunity too good to miss. Since then, I have worked on some hugely exciting projects to help scale-up our ability to monitor wildlife, tackle illegal wildlife poaching and engage people in conservation through technology. My focus is mainly on project management and while I don’t see myself as particularly ‘techie’, my technical knowledge is continually improving.
The projects I’ve been involved in during my time at ZSL include the development of a camera trap system called Instant Detect, which uses satellite technology to send images from anywhere in the world in real-time. We are using this technology to remotely monitor wildlife – penguins in Antarctica, for example – as well as an alarm system in protected areas to alert rangers to potential poaching threats.
Conservationists often work in very remote places and improving connectivity to these areas is a key focus for us. We have worked with top technology companies including Google to trial an innovative technology called TV White Space. This is a way to send data over long distances using unused frequencies in the television broadcast spectrum.
I’m also working on some exciting projects to connect more people with nature and engage them in our conservation work through technology. One of the projects I’m particularly passionate about is called Instant Wild – our free ZSL mobile app and website that displays live wildlife camera trap images from sites around the world. Users identify what species they see in the images by matching the photo to a field guide on the app. It is a great way for people to learn about species ecology whilst also making an active contribution to our conservation work. Crowdsourcing species identifications from the public in this way helps us process large amounts of camera trap data, saving precious time for our scientists in the field.
Another exciting project ZSL is currently working on, as part of the United for Wildlife (UfW) partnership with stakeholders including The Royal Foundation, is gaming designed to educate young people about conservation issues. United for Wildlife has just launched a Minecraft adventure map called We Are The Rangers, where players take on the role of rangers to save species including elephants, rhinos and pangolins.
The use of technology in conservation and opportunities to work in this area are only going to grow. It really is such an exciting time for technical innovation in conservation and I believe, if used in the right way, this will massively improve our ability to protect and conserve nature for the benefit of all.