Conservation award named after courageous graduate

Conservation award named after courageous graduate

Probing Britain’s rarest freshwater fish has seen one of University of Cumbria’s first marine and freshwater conservation students awarded a prestigious memorial prize.

Sam Poultney said it was a privilege to receive the award named after Sarah McClay, the UoC graduate who died after being attacked by a tiger at the South Cumbrian zoo where she worked.

For the 23-year-old from Staffordshire, it brought reflection after a course which saw a seven-month work placement in Norwegian fjords and extensive research into illusive Vendace, dating back to the Ice Age.

He added: “I’m told Sarah had a passion for conservation and I’m honoured to be associated with her legacy. Each time this award is presented we are reminded of her contributions and dedication.

“I hope that her mum approves of my small chapter to the continuing story.”

Admitting to being obsessed with freshwater ecosystems, Sam’s research involved looking for vendace remains in otter spraint, which could become a measure in the toolbox for conserving the endangered species.

He explained vendace had only managed to survive naturally in the Lake District and as rare fish in Cumbria had become ‘his niche’ studies had included many harsh, dark winter evidence gathering freshwater forays.

“Although I didn’t find any evidence of vendace in the spraint, I detected other important threatened freshwater fish, including European eel.”

Speaking after a graduation ceremony at Carlisle Cathedral, Sam said he was hoping to head out to British Columbia to work as a field technician with Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans, investigating Pacific salmon species.

Praising the course and tutors at Ambleside campus, he said he had chosen UoC because a new course promised flexibility and the opportunities to explore his own interests.

He added: “I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. You were helped as if you were the one and only student, regardless of tutors’ workloads and deadlines.

“I loved the Norway placement, meeting interesting and prominent researchers and participating in groundbreaking research into salmonid conservation.”

Aiming to eventually study for a Masters and PhD in rare UK salmonids, Sam said he hoped his obsession with freshwater ecosystems would inspire others.