THE Arctic is ground-zero for climate change, and polar bears are on the front line.

Yet, there’s still a whole lot to learn about these magnificent animals. How many are there in the wild? And how will they respond to the dramatic loss of their icy home?

Whilst he hasn’t got all the answers to these questions, there’s no doubt that WWF Chief Polar Advisor Rod Downie knows a thing or two about polar bears.

Over the past few years, he’s been one of only a handful of scientists to have undertaken direct scientific field research on these remarkable animals.

Now he’s sharing his understanding of – and encounters with – these icons on ice at a Royal Scottish Geographical (RSGS) Inspiring People talk in Galashiels on January 28.

During his talk, Rod will examine the current status of polar bears, and future predictions linked to rapid Arctic warming.

He will also explain the practical ins-and-outs of carrying out science in such an inhospitable location – and in extremely close proximity to such large natural predators.

These include how scientists are able to take skin biopsies from big angry polar bears, how environmental DNA can be extracted from bear footprints, and how state-of-the-art airborne infrared photography is being used to census polar bear populations.

Rod told us: "I will never forget the first time I came face-to-face with a large adult male polar bear in the wild. I look forward to sharing some of the exciting and innovative solutions that WWF have developed with our partners across the Arctic to help chart a future for these icons on ice.

“I feel very honoured and very humbled to be participating in the RSGS Inspiring People lecture series. Scotland is the Arctic’s closest neighbour.

"I grew up on the south west coast of Scotland and I have vivid childhood memories of 35,000 barnacle geese flying in from Arctic Svalbard and landing in the fields outside my house – Scotland and the Arctic are inherently linked.”

Rod will deliver his talk at the Heriot-Watt University Scottish Borders Campus on Tuesday, January 28 at 7.30pm.

Tickets for Rod’s talk - priced at £10 and free for RSGS members, students and under 18s - will be available on the door or online via Eventbrite until noon the day before.

Mike Robinson, chief executive of the RSGS, commented: “In spite of the threats posed to the arctic by global increases in temperature, Rod Downie and the WWF are working hard to promote a sustainable future for polar bears in the wild.

"I hope that these talks will inspire those in attendance to learn more about these incredible animals and encourage them to think more broadly about how we can preserve their habitat for generations to come.”

For more information see the RSGS website (, RSGS social media, or contact the RSGS Communications Officer using the details supplied below.



[1] For more information on the RSGS

[2] Rod Downie is WWF’s Chief Advisor for Polar Regions. He grew up in Drummore on the Mull of Galloway, the southernmost village in Scotland. He has been working in the Polar Regions for two decades, initially at the British Antarctic Survey and for the last 6 years with WWF.