For over 40 years Tim Birkhead has studied the guillemot population on Skomer Island. Now the project is threatened by a withdrawal of funding, a move which Prof Birkhead believes is due to the short-sightedness of funding bodies. In this article, he highlights the need for long-term monitoring and the surprising patterns that it can uncover. The take home message is that if this can happen to successful and well known long-term studies, it does not bode well for species conservation in this country.
The current focus by the main funding bodies on what they consider economically useful research with a quick return is short-sighted. When my study started in the 1970s, climate change was barely on anyone's radar. The main benefit of long-term studies is that they allow researchers to address problems that no one has yet imagined. If we are to have any hope of conserving species, we need to understand them, and we need to understand the way they are affected by environmental change.