Conservation Lead, Wetland Ecosystem Restoration
Wetland conservation

Alison Debney has been championing the protection, restoration and sustainable management of wetland habitats across the globe for 25 years.  

Alison Debney at work

As Conservation Lead for wetland restoration at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), Alison has worked across a range of ecosystems including mangroves in Asia and Africa, Amazonian flooded forests and urban rivers in central London. In 2010, Alison was enlightened about the role of native oysters in the coastal ecosystem and dismayed to learn of their plight. Since then, Alison has worked to recover shellfish reefs. Alison is currently the Chair of the Essex Native Oyster Restoration Initiative (ENORI) and Co-Chair of the Native Oyster Network for UK & Ireland in collaboration with the University of Portsmouth, which aims to catalyse a national approach to oyster habitat restoration via action, communication and providing evidence for policy change. She is a steering board member for the European Native Oyster Restoration Alliance (NORA) and has recently been elected to the board of the Wetlands International - European Association, where she acts as Treasurer. Alison leads a portfolio of wetland restoration projects in the UK including ENORI, the Wild Oyster Project, Restoring the Greater Thames Habitats (Thamescape), London’s Rivers as well as many projects to understand, protect and restore Essential Fish Habitat, particularly in estuarine environments.

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Alison Debney at work

Alison is also passionate about recovering the aquatic species that depend on these wetland habitats, particularly as nursery areas. From the European eel, so iconic to the Thames, to seals, sharks, and diadromous fish, Alison works to build evidence on the use of this essential habitat to inform better management.  

In 2023, she will launch the UK Sturgeon Strategy and Conservation Action Plan.   

Major projects

  • Essex Native Oyster Restoration Initiative
  • The Wild Oyster Project
  • Thames Seascape
  • London's Rivers
  • UK Sturgeon Conservation
  • Greater Thames Eel Conservation Project
  • Thames Seal Project
  • Thames Sharks Project
  • Estuaries as Essential Fish Habitat
  • Native Oyster Network
  • Stronger Shores
  • Natural Environment Investment Readiness Fund for Thames Rivers
Professional accreditations
  • Board of Wetlands International - European Association
  • Board of Native Oyster Restoration Alliance - Europe

Hughes, A., Bonačić, K., Cameron, T., Collins, K., da Costa, F., Debney, A. et al. (2023). Site selection for European native oyster (Ostrea edulis) habitat restoration projects: An expert-derived consensus. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, 1– 16.

Gamble C., Debney, A., Glover, A., Bertelli, C., Green, B., Hendy, I., Lilley, R., Nuuttila, H., Potouroglou, 
M., Ragazzola, F., Unsworth, R. and Preston, J, (eds) (2021). Seagrass Restoration Handbook. Zoological 
Society of London, UK., London, UK

zu Ermgassen, P.S.E., Bos, O., Debney, A., Gamble, C., Glover, A., Pogoda, B., Pouvreau, S., Sanderson, W., 
Smyth, D. and Preston, J. (eds) (2021). European Native Oyster Habitat Restoration Monitoring Handbook. The 
Zoological Society of London, UK., London, UK.

European Native Oyster Habitat Restoration Handbook. Zoological Society of London, UK., London, UK. J. Preston, C Gamble, A Debney, L Helmer, B Hancock, and P zu Ermgassen (eds). 2021 

Could impact investing catalyse an ecosystem wide recovery for native oysters and native oyster beds? Lessons learned from the Zoological Society of London’s Rhino Impact Investment Bond that could shape the future of oyster restoration. C Endsor, A Debney, and O Withers. Aquatic Conservation: marine and freshwater ecosystems. 2020.

Can Bivalve Habitat Restoration Improve Degraded Estuaries? M McLeod, P zu Ermgassen, C Gillies, B Hancock, A Humphries, S Westby, W Quan, S Allison, A Debney. Coasts and Estuaries: The Future. Book Chapter. 2019

Tidal drift removes the need for area restricted search in foraging Atlantic puffins. A Bennison, A Debney, A Quinn, and M. Jessopp. Biological Letters. 2019

Using citizen science to improve the conservation of the European Eel (Anguilla anguilla) in the Thames River Basin District. J Pecorelli, K Macphie, C Hebditch, D Clifton-Dey, I Thornhill, and A Debney. Freshwater Science. 2019. 38(2):281–291.

Variation between European eel Anguilla anguilla (L.) stocks in five marshes of the Thames Estuary (United Kingdom). K. Steel, A Debney, S Chadwick and M Gollock. Wetlands Ecological Management. 2018