Speaking to… Dr Helen Roy

“I feel that I have a responsible to share my findings with others and to help people get involved with science.  A connection to nature, in whatever way, is so important.”

Image credit: Centre for Ecology and Hydrology

This is part of a series of interviews with science communicators about science communication. Today we are Speaking to… Dr Helen Roy


Dr Helen Roy

Where are you based?

Wallingford (South Oxfordshire)

Who do you work for?

Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

How did you get into science communication?

I have been passionate about natural history for as long as I can remember and communicating my interest has always been so intertwined with the natural history itself – the two go together. As a small child I would write booklets on wild animals and as a teenager I enjoyed helping to put together an annual report on a local nature reserve for the Natural History Society magazine. As an undergraduate I enjoyed writing for the University newspaper. So it is perhaps not surprising that alongside my career as an ecologist I have taken every opportunity to communicate my research interests and discoveries in as many different ways as I can – I am very fortunate that I have been given lots of opportunities to pursue my desire for communicating science. Science communication is an essential part of the scientific process.

What type of science communication do you do?

Much of my science communication has been in relation to my research on ladybird ecology and in particular through the UK Ladybird Survey (which I co-lead). I enjoy writing for peer-reviewed journals but I also enjoy writing for more popular publications such as entomological magazines or British Wildlife. I have also had the opportunity to work with journalists on newspaper article, radio and television interviews and features. Additionally I have a twitter account for the UK Ladybird Survey – which I thoroughly enjoy. I have also contributed to blog entries for a number of science blogs. In 2009 I worked with the BBC on their Breathing Places initiative and had the utter pleasure of writing ladybird “top trump” cards. I have led a number of exhibitions including a contribution to the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition in 2009 – that was amazing! I also get invited to give talks for natural history societies and wildlife groups, Café Scientifique and other groups – I thoroughly enjoy the discussions with so many people who attend these events across the country. The UK ladybird Survey has an e-mail account and I respond to every enquiry – another fun communication activity! I even still write the occasional letter in response to a postal enquiry.

Who is your main audience?

Many, many different people – most frequently the people contributing to the UK Ladybird Survey but really anyone who will listen and chat!

Why do you do it?

First and foremost it is the privilege and the pleasure of having the opportunity to do so. It is fun. It gives me such a tremendous buzz.I come away with new ideas. Secondly I feel that I have a responsible to share my findings with others and to help people get involved with science. A connection to nature, in whatever way, is so important.

Why do you think science communication is important?

There are some enormous questions to be addressed in science and some difficult decisions to make going forward – particularly in relation to environmental change. It is really important that we work together to address such demanding questions and there is a part that everyone can play. Science communication helps increase understanding and is underpinned by a call to action in some cases.

What do you love about science communication?

Science involves a systematic approach to understanding our natural world. Some people might consider it as a factual and solitary pursuit but to me it is so creative and hugely collaborative. Science communication allows me to extend my collaborations from the science community to the wider world. It is the most amazing experience to talk to others about something that delights me on a daily basis – science.

What has been your favourite project?

The UK Ladybird Survey. I remember my first observations of ladybirds as a 6 year old in my back garden on the Isle of Wight. Here I am decades later still as captivated as I was in 1976.

Do you have any new science communication projects coming up?

I am delighted that this year I will be working with the British Science Association and EDF Energy on a project with schools (and others) to record insects visiting flowers – I am really excited to be working alongside communication experts and a colleague at CEH Dr Michael Pocock – we have some really exciting plans for the year ahead!

The UK Ladybird Survey will continue to be a focus of activity for me – I run this as a volunteer alongside Dr Peter Brown (Anglia Ruskin University) and Richard Comont (Bumblebee Conservation Trust). It is the most enjoyable hobby – and the information we gather from the thousands of people who contribute records is making amazing contributions to our understanding of ladybird ecology in the UK.

I am extremely keen to get people recording the parasites of ladybirds and I have already begun to ask people to look out for one very special parasitic wasp which forms a fuzzy straw-brown cocoon under the ladybird and so is very easy to spot. We are interested in exploring the way in which this parasite attacks the harlequin ladybird compared to other species of ladybird such as the 7-spot – we are getting some interesting sightings.

Any tips for those wanting to get into science communication?

Take every opportunity to communicate science whether to passersby when you are out on field work or through the media – it is immensely rewarding.

You can follow Helen’s activities with the Ladybird Survey on Twitter at @UKladybirds