Meet the Editor: Ben Sheldon

Ahead of this year’s British Ecological Society Annual Meeting, where you have a chance to meet our Senior Editors, we thought it would be good to get to know the people behind the decision letters. First up is Ben Sheldon.

Ben Sheldon

What can you tell us about the first paper you published?

Sheldon and Duckworth (1990) Rediscovery of the Madagascar Serpent Eagle. Bull Brit.


Madagascan serpent eagle (Eutriorchis Astur). Drawing by J G Keulemans, 1875 Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London

Orn. Club. When I was an undergraduate I was part of a group of students who spent 3 months carrying out faunistic surveys in a remote part of North-east Madagascar. I had the great good fortune to blunder into a settled Madagascar Serpent Eagle one morning – at the time, it was known only from 8 specimens, the last collected in 1930. It’s since turned out to be reasonably widespread, though hard to see, across Eastern Madagascar.

What’s your favourite species and why?

I really don’t have one! I have some fond birding memories (spring passage Pomarine Skua always a pleasure), and recently have been getting pretty keen on moths – mostly in my back garden. But I find pleasure in lots of things – the first migrating meadow pipits and redwings each autumn, the first brimstone butterfly and swift each spring, a carpet of bluebells under oak trees in Wytham Woods near Oxford in April. The list would be long.

Who inspired you most as a student?

I had the tremendous good fortune to be lectured to by Nick Davies on Behavioural Ecology as an undergraduate – he was a great inspiration to me, and many others. I was very pleased to be able to replay him a tiny bit by finding a woodpecker finch tool-using in the Galapagos, and being able to show him a behaviour that he’d never seen.

If you could wake up tomorrow with a new skill, what would it be?

I’d suggest asking my research group which – of many things – they most wish I was able to do for myself.

Are you a good cook? What’s your signature dish?

I think such judgements should be subject to peer review.

Please share a [funny] story about a paper you had rejected.

My first foray into normal academic publishing as a final year PhD student was a paper on sexually transmitted disease in birds, that I sent to Am Nat. It had pretty positive reviews, including some really nice and encouraging comments from Bill Hamilton, but was rejected by the Editor, who is now a member of academic staff in my department. I tease him from time to time about how he could have crushed my fledgling career (but in hindsight think he made the right decision!)

What’s your favourite sports team and why?

I’ve actually always been drawn more to sports events where individuals challenge themselves – long distance endurance events.

If you could recommend one place for people to travel to on holiday, where would it be and why?

This is a hard question to answer without sounding like a total hypocrite. I have been lucky enough to visit some amazing wildlife destinations (Madagascar, Borneo, Galapagos, Ecuador, Svalbard), but most of those trips were before I at least was aware of the complexities of environmental impacts of this kind of travel. Equally wonderful have been shorter distance trips to wilder parts of the UK and Sweden, where part of my family is based (I love Norfolk, Gotland and the Swedish mountains), but the attraction of most of those places for me is the lack of people, so can’t really recommend them! For many years I was a regular visitor to Portland Bird Observatory in Dorset which is one of the best places to see one of the great spectacles of a really big movement of migrating birds. It’s the one place that I most wish I had more time to spend, if work would permit.





What was the first album you owned?

I think it was Queen’s News of the World

If any fictional character could join your lab, who would it be and why?

Seriously would rather real historical characters!

How many British Ecological Society annual meetings have you attended? Which one was the best?

About half a dozen. Loved the recent meeting in Edinburgh, but they have all been so good recently, that I try to convince people it is the meeting not to miss.

Are you attending #BES2018? If so, when is the best opportunity for people to meet you?

Yes. In and around the talks and posters I hope!



Common brimstone butterfly (Gonepteryx rhamni). Photo by Charles J Sharp .


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