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Mrs Holly Woo

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Professional biography

I joined the Open University in October 2020 to undertake a PhD project investigating the impacts of urbanisation on ancient woodland ecosystems.

My BA at the University of Cambridge was in Natural Sciences specialising in Zoology. I then did an MSc in 2006-7 at Imperial College in Taxonomy and Biodiversity, where my research project focused on the evolution, morphology and ecology of birds of prey. This work led me to pursue a MEXT research scholarship at the University of Tokyo in 2009-11, where I spent 18 months studying migratory birds of prey such as Oriental Honey Buzzards, visiting their habitats and working with taxidermy specimens in museums across Japan.

I spent several years working in natural history collections management in museums including London's Natural History Museum, Warwick Museum and Nottingham Natural History Museum. Part of my work was to offer stewardship and advice to provincial museums in the West Midlands to make geology and natural history collections more accessible for researchers and public engagement.

I was also employed by the Field Studies Council from 2015-18 where I facilitated their work in environmental education and biodiversity.

I currently enjoy volunteering for the Wildlife Trusts doing conservation work and learning more about how to manage wildlife sites. I am involved in biological recording and ran a group to record and raise awareness of Swift conservation in Shrewsbury from 2017-2019. 

Research interests

My research at the OU focuses on how patches of ancient woodland left during urbanisation are affected in the long term by proximity to urban development.

Ancient woodlands are those that have been continuously wooded for several hundred years. The recent development of Milton Keynes as a "new town" offers a unique opportunity to understand ecosystem change in the urban environment. There are three woods within the city with historical evidence showing forestation dating back to the Middle Ages. I will be looking into how and why these patches differ from ancient woodland in a more rural setting. 

I explore the forest structure, ground flora and community ecology, using historical data to see how these have changed over time. As my research progresses I will also investigate ecophysiological impacts of urbanisation by looking at evidence from tree rings and examine the biogeochemistry of these ecosystems to understand how soils and hydrology are affected by nearby development.