Meet Dr Sarah Bell

Dr Sarah Bell came on board as a Senior Project Officer for Saving our Species in our North-Western NSW Regional Office based in Dubbo in November 2016.

Dr Sarah Bell in a helicoptor

Sarah completed a PhD at the University of Queensland, looking at the ecological, physiological and genetic responses of a forest-dependent mammal to island life. She used the squirrel glider as a case study.

Before joining OEH, Sarah worked for five years with Brisbane City Council in Invasive Species Management where she developed an awareness and early detection campaign for cane toads on Moreton Island.

Saving our Species (SoS) News asked Sarah about her current role with SoS – and for her tips to young aspiring conservationists.

What are you mainly working on now and who is in your team?

I am responsible for several funded projects this year, including the Regent Honeyeater, Purple Copper Butterfly, Red-lored Whistler, Eucalyptus alligatrix subspecies alligatrix, Phebalium bifidum and Nitella partita (threatened algae – who even knew algae could become threatened?).

Twelve people make up our Ecosystem and Threatened Species team in Dubbo, led by our Senior Team leader Garry Germon. Roles vary and include SoS-dedicated Project Officer roles, Senior Threatened Species Officers, Spatial Data Specialists, Technical Officers and volunteers.

Three people sitting in doorway of helicoptor looking outWhat is one of the best workdays/projects you’ve worked on?

This would have to be the experience I had in July where I was given the opportunity to be trained up in aerial surveys for the Yellow-footed Rock-wallaby. I accompanied a ‘volunteer’ (our Director Peter Christie who has been working on the species for many years) to Mutawintji National Park, which took 10 hours by vehicle. Here we met up with the rest of the survey team from National Parks and the helicopter pilot.

The morning schedule of the four-day survey trip was to meet at the helicopter on which we would depart and fly a set route around The Gap and Coturaundee Ranges, counting every Yellow-footed Rock-wallaby sighted and returning to camp mid-morning. Each survey involved three counters, all sitting on the edge of the helicopter, to get the best view.

I thought that the landscape was pretty spectacular from the ground, but from the air you got a whole other perspective. The Yellow-footed Rock-wallabies are quite distinctive in their movement and appearance, so easily differentiated from other macropod species.

Dr Sarah Bell with cane toad detection dog in QueenslandWhat is your favourite SoS project at the moment?

The Purple Copper Butterfly project would have to be my favourite. The unique life history and specific habitat requirements (only found at altitudes above 850m) of the butterfly presents challenges to implementing management strategies to secure the species. It is certainly less challenging to monitor than other more wide-ranging, cryptic species such as the regent honeyeater.

Ed: Look out for more on the Purple Copper Butterfly in a future SoS News!

What do you like to do outside of work?

Outside of work, I love to run, if there is a trail involved, even better. I also like to hang with our two west highland terriers.

Dr Sarah Bell holding a quollWhat message would you send to a young person about to embark on a career in conservation/threatened species management

I would recommend that they volunteer as much as they can on as wide a variety of projects as possible. These experiences will provide a diverse skill set which will be an advantage when applying for a job.

Even while employed, I continue to volunteer, including recent work on the Northern Quoll on Groote Eylandt with The University of Queensland.

Be open minded with locations where you apply for work in and follow the opportunities. We could certainly benefit from more volunteers coming to Dubbo to help with our SoS projects.

Ed: Readers wishing to enquire about volunteering with SoS can email: savingourspecies@environment.nsw.gov.au