Helen Gath

Great questions from St.Andrews CE....just not enough time! Wish I could answer them all.

Favourite Thing: Getting outdoors! There’s no better way to learn about wildlife than getting up close, so being outside always makes me happy, where I can see it, hear it, maybe catch it….taking blood samples from birds is always a thrill!



University of Cardiff, Wales. 2006 – 2010. Prince Henry’s Sixth Form, Evesham. 2002 – 2004. Prince Henry’s High School, Evesham, 2000 – 2003.


First Class BSc degree in Zoology with Placement Year. 3 ‘A’ Levels in Biology (A), Chemistry (B), Physics (B) and 1 ‘AS’ Level in French (D). 9 GCSE’s.

Work History:

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), 2013. Round Island Warden for the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, Mauritius. Lab Assistant at Cardiff University…..and LOTS of volunteering!

Current Job:

I am a PhD student at the University of Reading, researching how to continue conserving an Endangered species of bird in the Indian Ocean.


University of Reading, University College of London, Zoological Society of London AND the National Environment Research Council. Phew, that’s a lot of people!

Me and my work

I am a PhD student working to understand how we can prevent an endangered bird, the Echo parakeet, from returning to critically low numbers by protecting it in the wild.

My work has taken quite a change recently! From having always worked outdoors, on my feet all day studying plants and animals, I am now very office based…but I still love it! The PhD I began last year largely involves analysing twenty years of data collected on an endangered bird, the Echo parakeet, and this means I am teaching myself a lot about statistics and maths at the moment. Eek! This is great though, because as important as it is going outdoors collecting the data, it’s pointless if we don’t use it! Scientifically studying this information can tell us lots of thing about the birds we didn’t previously didn’t know or understand. For example, how regularly do they produce chicks? What are the chances of these chicks surviving? Does weather have an effect on their growth and survival? So many questions to be answered!

The echo parakeet is already intensively looked after in the wild to ensure their survival. They are provided with nest boxes, extra food, and given medical care when needed, but we really want these birds to be able to survive without our help, and to do that, we need to understand them. That’s my job!

For now I am based in an office at Reading University, but soon I will go out to Mauritius for 6 months to visit these birds in the wild, and collect some more information. When I return, I will continue studying this massive data set and produce a plan of how we should look after these parakeets in the future….one of the many stepping stones towards me becoming the next David Attenborough…female of course.

My Typical Day

A 7am spin class, porridge and coffee starts the day well! An office full of good friends helps me through a day of reading, maths, emails and meetings, making me very ready for a run round the country side when I leave. Refreshed from the outdoors, I spend the evening relaxing with friends. Perfect.

Did I mention I like to keep busy and active?! So what a better way to start the day than getting the blood going to brain, ready for lots of hard work and learning? As a PhD student I am pretty much my own boss, so can work where I like, when I like, as long as I am achieving what I need, but since I have a great office where help is always at hand (and a good gossip too) I generally prefer to work 8.30 to 5pm.

Each day can vary. I have a lot of background reading to do about my subject so I can increase my own knowledge, and find out what other research scientists go about their work. I usually attempt some analyses with my huge data set, making graphs and charts, often crying for help from my colleagues – i’m just learning at the moment! I attend seminars where other scientists talk about their work, meet with my supervisors and discuss what I have achieved so far and what goals to set next.  Right now, i’m planning my trip to Mauritius in August, which means buying lots of cool field kit like binoculars, clothes, tents, GPS units….exciting!

So after copious amounts of tea drinking, and lots of staring at the computer, I head out for another activity – the legs need a stretch after so much sitting still. Whether climbing, a run, a stroll through the park or time at the gym, I finally head home to my lovely house mates and catch up on the day. Hmmm, I might make a cake if there’s time……

What I'd do with the money

Give it to Act for Wildlife

Why do I want to donate to Act on Wildlife? We really do need to act now to preserve our environment, and that’s not motivated by cute animals and natural landscapes. It’s more than that. We need to respect our natural environment because without it we couldn’t live as we do now. Nature provides us with clean air, fresh water, food, building materials, it even affects our well-being and happiness. By the time you’ve read this page, Earth will have lost an area of forest the size of eleven football pitches. So lets act now to work towards a more sustainable way of living.
Act for Wildlife is a wildlife conservation campaign, led by Chester Zoo. Aimed at raising awareness of these desperate conservation needs and the money needed to make that difference.

You don’t have to be a Game Ranger in Africa to help protect black rhinos. You don’t have to be a community worker in Assam to help people humanely protect their crops from elephants. You don’t even have to be a member of a North West community group to help with local monitoring of hazel dormice. What makes any donation even better is that Chester Zoo funds the admin costs, so 100% of the money donated will go directly towards helping a variety of projects world wide.

It might buy seedlings to replant forests in Borneo. Or help fuel an anti-poaching vehicle in Africa. It could buy equipment to help monitor dormice in Cheshire. Or pay for educational materials that help communities around the world understand the vital importance of wildlife. It might help fund a student to carry out vital research. Donations will also make sure that the people working at the face of conservation, out in the wild, have got the skills they need to do their jobs, to make the difference, to save and protect our planet’s wildlife.

I have worked closely with Chester Zoo in the, and I feel very strongly about the good work they do, and I have seen first hand the difference they make.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Chatty, sociable, curious

Who is your favourite singer or band?

That’s always changing, but right now, Pharrell Williams

What's your favourite food?

Apples…and mangos, ooh can’t forget roast potatoes!

What is the most fun thing you've done?

Been the manager of a whole Island!

What did you want to be after you left school?

I couldn’t put a name to it, but I wanted to work outside, with nature and people, and just keep on learning about the amazing natural world we live in.

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

This will sound very dull, but no! But that’s a good thing, right??

What was your favourite subject at school?

That’s got to be two; Biology and Art.

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

I was involved in the movement and re-homing of 40 very rare snakes from one Island to another.

What or who inspired you to become a scientist?

David Attenborough and James Herriot, and my family for letting me bring so many unusual creatures into the house, and encouraging my passion for wildlife.

If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?

I’d love to go down a sport science route…..but I do have the classic dream of being in theatre too!

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

Free flights to any country so I can travel endlessly, have a better memory, have 6 lives – there’s so much to do in one life, I need more!

Tell us a joke.

What cheese do you use to hide a small pony? Mascarpone. Get it? Mask a pony?

Other stuff

Work photos:

myimage1 My office out in the field, when I was Warden of Round Island in Mauritius.

myimage2 The Echo parakeet! Hopefully the work I am doing will contribute to many conservationists’, students’ and volunteers’ hard efforts over the years, each of whom aspire to keep these beautiful birds flying free in the wild.

myimage3 My desk at the University.

myimage4 Ringing a Red-tail tropic bird; Bird ringing is one of my favourite hobbies, but I also get to do it as part of my work. Placing small identification rings on the leg of birds helps us to monitor their movements and behaviour, and provide brilliant insight into their ecology.

myimage5 Most people get to work by bus, train, foot….I used to get a boat or helicopter on and off my Island.

myimage6 When not based at a computer, my work takes me to some very beautiful places where the scenery is a little more inspiring than my desk!

myimage7 A trip to Borneo as part of my undergraduate degree….we kept getting stuck in the mud…a lot….I even lost a welly boot!

myimage8 Volunteering in South Africa on my Gap Year involved a whole variety of conservation work. This helped me experience environmental science in action and decide if I liked it. I did 🙂

myimage9 Not your typical nursery, but on Round Island it was crucial for carefully growing plants from seed, raising them to a strong enough size to be planted out in the wild and restore the very degraded landscape.

Seabirds!!! Sea birds are really cool, and this Petrel is one of my favourites. What I love most about my work is the variety involved; sometimes I work with reptiles, plants, insects, people from all types of backgrounds, in the UK, abroad…never a dull moment.