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Mx Willow Neal

Profile summary

Professional biography


My name is Willow and I am a Postgraduate Researcher (PGR) at The Open University (OU). I am an OU graduate from 2019, where I studied BSc (Hons) Environmental Science part-time alongside various jobs including retail, laboratory work, and education. I graduated in 2020 from Oxford Brookes University with a Distinction in MSc Conservation Ecology, where I studied many conservation issues, solutions, and practices. 

In addition to a PGR, I am also an Associate Lecturer with the OU on the module SDT306 Environment: Responding to Change. This is a great module covering many contemporary issues from biodiversity loss, the challenges that are present, and the exploration of some solutions. There are also modules on Climate Change and an excellent module on Food Security. All these modules are intertwined to produce a really interesting and essential module for our students to learn.

I am also very enthusiastic in support of equal representation in science, particularly LGBTQ+ people. In 2023 I spoke about my path to academia at the STEMLGBTQ+ conference in March.

Research interests

My expertise are in butterflies and woodland conservation. For my undergraduate dissertation I studied phenological mismatch between plants and pollinators in an urban ancient woodland, finding that warmer March temperatures increased first flowering date by five days per 1-degree Celsius increase. I found also that butterfly emergence was impacted by warmer March temperatures as well. At Oxford Brookes University I studied MSc Conservation Ecology with a focus on butterfly conservation. I wrote about woodland management for Fritillaries and studied the phylogenetics of different sub-species of animals. For my thesis, I performed a metapopulation viability analysis using historical and then current (2019) records of butterflies in a selection of woodlands fragmented by agricultural land in Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire. Principal findings were that the fragmentation and lack of management would see most of these populations decline without intervention. 

My PhD continues this trend, looking at woodland butterflies this time within an urban matrix, and how they can persist and move between habitat patches. The main goals of my PhD are:

  • To understand which species of butterflies, occur in urban woodlands, where, and the features of the woodland that support butterfly species richness.
  • Develop a habitat network model that can simulate the habitat network and understand how butterflies move between patches.
  • Model behavioural movement ecology of a select species.
  • Make recommendations on urban woodland management for butterflies and therefore, more broadly, supporting urban biodiversity.


Teaching interests

I am currently an Associate Lecturer on the interdisciplinary ecological module SDT306: Environment: Responding to Change.

Impact and engagement

McCarron, J. and Neal, B. (2022) Mycoprotein - could this meat alternative be a food for the future?, OpenLearn. 13th June. Available at: Mycoprotein - could this meat alternative be a food for the future? - OpenLearn - Open University (Accessed: 30th October 2022).

Neal, Bradley (2022). Overcoming depression and homophobia to start a PhD: my academic journey. Postgraduate Research Poster Competition, The Open University.

Neal, B. (2022) Butterflies tell us more than you might think about our natural world, OpenLearn. 13th June. Available at: (Accessed: 16th August 2022).

Neal, B. (2022) Bradley Neal: Trans Pride & Healing, Journal of Ecology Blog. Available at: Bradley Neal: Trans Pride & Healing | Journal of Ecology Blog (

Neal, B. (2022) Overcoming depression and homophobia to start a PhD: my academic journey [Research @ OU Grad School]. 2nd April. Available at: (Accessed: 4th April 2022).

Neal, B. (2021) How my OU study put solar panels on two schools in Milton Keynes, THE HOOT. Available at:

Neal, B. (2021) LGBTQ+ identity expression at university: a way to go, CENTA Research Blog. Available at:

Neal, B. (2021) Rainbow Research: Nature, Journal of Ecology Blog. Available at:

Neal, B. (2021) Woodland management for butterflies – cutting down trees for conservation, CENTA Research Blog. Available at:

Open Door. (2021) Bradley's Story: How Futuremakers made Open Day a success. OpenDoor. pp 7. Available at:

External collaborations

CENTA DTP Studentship
Issued by Natural Environment Research Council 

Doctoral training partnership with the Central England NERC Training Alliance. 


Ecological impacts of habitat fragmentation (2023-11-23)
Neal, Bradley
In : Habitat fragmentation workshop (23 Nov 2023, Royal Agricultural University, Cirencester, Gloucestershire, UK)

Maximising the benefit of urban woodlands for butterflies (2023)
Neal, Bradley; Araya, Yoseph and Wheeler, Philip
In : British Ecological Society Annual Meeting 2023 (12-15 Dec 2023, Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK)

Urban Woodland Butterfly Habitat Suitability (2022-12-19)
Neal, Bradley; Araya, Yoseph and Wheeler, Philip
In : British Ecological Society (BES) Annual Meeting 2022 (18-21 Dec 2022, EICC, Edinburgh, UK)

Overcoming depression and homophobia to start a PhD: my academic journey (2022)
Neal, Bradley
Postgraduate Research Poster Competition, The Open University