Out of the laboratory, into the field: perspectives on social, ethical and regulatory challenges in UK wildlife research

Ally Palmer, Beth Greenhough
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Drawing on insights from qualitative social science research, this paper aims to prompt reflection on social, ethical and regulatory challenges faced by scientists undertaking invasive animal research in the field and propose ways of addressing these challenges to promote good care for animals and environments. In particular, we explore challenges relating to the management of (i) relationships with publics and stakeholders, who may be present at field sites or crucial to research success; (ii) ethical considerations not present in the laboratory, such as the impacts of research on populations and ecosystems; (iii) working under an array of regulations, which may operate in accordance with competing ethical principles or objectives; and (iv) relationships with regulators (especially vets), which may involve disagreements over ethics and expertise, especially because regulators may be more accustomed to overseeing research in the laboratory than the field. We argue that flexibility—at a personal and policy level—and respect for others’ expertise emerged as two key ways of negotiating ethical challenges, fostering positive working relationships and promoting good care for individual animals and broader ecosystems. While our analysis focuses on the UK, we propose that many of these lessons are broadly applicable to international contexts.