Sarah Watts


Image by Raquel Baraut Riu on 07/09/2016

  • BORN 1987, Glasgow, Scotland
  • WORKED Ben Lawers NNR the National Trust for Scotland, Killin, Scotland; University of Edinburgh, Scotland

Artistic Connections

Minerva Scientifica (2018)……..


Tall Herbs (Image by David Mardon)

Title: Sarah’s 9 Ladders of Tall Herbs
Words by: Frances M Lynch in collaboration with Sarah Watts
Written in: 2018
For: 2 speakers, solo mezzo and double choir
Performed by: Margaret Cameron, Sarah Watts and The Killin Community Choir

It will be first performed at The Big Shed, Tombreck, on September 22nd 2018.


After leaving school I first studied performing music at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester. I then took two gap years which involved travelling around the world, working and mountaineering. The highlight was joining an expedition to South Georgia and the Falkland Islands during which I undertook vegetation, bird and glacier surveys, as well as the Shackleton Crossing.

I then studied Ecological Science at the University of Edinburgh and volunteered with the National Trust for Scotland in the holidays. I graduated with a Bsc. (Hons.) 1st class in 2012.


Alpine forget-me-not (Image by Sarah Watts)

Seasonal Ecologist
I work at Ben Lawers NNR for the National Trust for Scotland for 6 months over the summer. This involves carrying out biological survey and monitoring work of rare upland habitats and species. My current scientific research includes the impact of peat bog restoration techniques in grazed and ungrazed sites, and mycorrhizal associations on planted montane willows.

I have assisted the University of Edinburgh with ecology field courses and workshops

First job in the winter after leaving university!

Data entry for New Zealand Post
Some money to finance my travels abroad!

Scientific Achievements

Snow Pearlwort (sagina nivalis) (Image by David Mardon)

Vegetation change in an upland tall herb community excluded from grazing at Ben Lawers

  • By resurveying the plants present 18 years after an entire hillside was excluded from grazing, I have demonstrated that a large herbivore exclosure can promote the expansion of the rare, grazing-sensitive upland tall herb habitat.

Population dynamics and life history of Sagina nivalis

  • Analysing data from permanent study plots has allowed us to learn more about this incredibly rare, tiny montane plant.

A study of nesting sparrowhawks using video analysis

  • Part of this work formed my Bsc. Honours Dissertation. Using a novel observation technique I studied sparrowhawk nests in the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh and provided a unique insight into parental behaviour, prey delivery rates and weather impacts on reproductive success.
Did You Know?

I have two children, both born in the winter so that I could carry on working during the summer field season. I was committed to breastfeeding them and so expressed milk whilst working on the hill, even at the summit of Ben Lawers (the 10th highest mountain in Britain!).


I have been inspired by the women in Scotland who are currently researching upland ecology, vegetation change over time and applied ecology including Alison Hester, Ruth Mitchell, Diana Gilbert, Andrea Britton, Sarah Woodin and Louise Ross.  Reading their articles in scientific journals motivates me to apply similar methods when working at Ben Lawers.