Batty for Bats (and Badgers)

The Mole had long wanted to make the acquaintance of the Badger. He seemed, by all accounts, to be such an important personage and, though rarely visible, to make his unseen influence felt by everybody about the place

– Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

Firstly- apologies, apparently I took approximately two photos this week, not up to snuff.

Day 1

Badgers! Ben was away all this week for his graduation, so instead of going out for water voles, I was taken out to do some badger baiting. Let me quickly say -this is not what it sounds like at all! What this involved for us, was to walk around a beautiful farm and locate known badger sets and then… bury peanuts! Badgers love peanuts. The reason we were doing this was because we have received some TB Vaccine for the badgers so we then need to be able to catch the badgers. The easiest way of doing this, is getting them addicted to the peanuts, and then using peanuts to lure them into cages, where we can safely vaccinate them, mark them so we don’t vaccinate the same individual twice, and then let them go. The idea is to vaccinate roughly 75-80% of the population if we can, to get some level of full protection across the population.

So it was very very hot all day, and walking around with spades and a rucksack full of peanuts was quite intense. We would move from each sett digging a couple of holes in each location putting a few handfuls of peanuts in each hole, and then bury them again. This is to give the badgers peanuts, but also making them forage for the nuts, so that they don’t become lazy.

Despite the heat, and the flies, it was a nice walk around a fairly nice farm (just too much arable) but the farmer is pretty good at keeping wild borders for his field, including woodland and large broad hedges, extremely good for wildlife and breeding birds. It is also nice that the farmer is friendly towards the badgers on his land, despite the fact he has cattle!

 

Day 2

Today was my formal introduction to BBOWT, better late than never! The history of how BBOWT was formed etc, various social media policies and how we can help, whether we are volunteers or paid staff. It was an interesting day, but long and hot, and stuck in one small room with about 20 other people! Not ideal.

That evening however, I went on a Bat survey! It was an emergent survey, which means that you arrive at the site, before sunset, set up yourself in a position where you can see the entirety of the roofline/tree/ outbuilding/ whatever it is that you’re surveying and settle in. The survey starts about 15 minutes before sunset and will continue for at least an hour and a half after sunset, or until all bat activity has ceased.

In this instance we were surveying a house, so I stood watching the house to see if I could see any bats emerging from the house. As bats are (surprisingly) tiny, they can emerge from the smallest crevices, so cracks in mortar, underneath roof tiles, or gutters can all be potential roosts. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any bats this time, but it did mean that I could familiarise myself with the equipment and forms that I need to use in the future.

 

Day 3

So on the hottest day in June since 1976, I was outside, in a hay meadow, completing a rapid assessment. It was tough!

I drank a lot of water, and made some new acquaintances, complained about the heat a lot, and had fun! My botany identification skills are really improving because of the repetition that comes from doing multiple rapid assessments in the same habitats. I do need to expand my knowledge past the limited plants I see on rapid assessments, but this is a good way of getting to know some more about various families and where I can expect what plants etc.

I also did another bat survey, at a different site. This time looking at some abandoned outbuildings in a field. It was another lovely site, which I assumed would be perfect for bats, but alas, there were none! What I did get to see though, was a very active pair of barn owls, going back and forth to where they were raising their chicks! It was such a special thing to see the strength and grace of these birds.

 

I was also thinking that I want to try a new direction with this blog. A lot of my days can be repetitive, which can make it less interesting for anyone who reads this, and for me to write, so I was thinking it would be nice for people to ask me questions or suggest themes. i.e. do you want to know more about specific chalk grassland flora, mammals, butterflies or general management and ecology questions? If so get in touch and I can try and write something about it! This is on the back of my article that I wrote a short while ago for the Oxford Times- I really enjoyed researching it and structuring an article, so if anyone has any questions… let me know!

 

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Week one – Introduction

We have to prove to the disinherited majority of the world that ecology and conservation will not work against their interest but will bring an improvement in their lives.” – Indira Gandhi

Day one- Grey Partridge

My first proper day as a trainee was excellent. One of my favourite things about working in this field has been that I automatically have things in common with the people that I work with. If I wasn’t already having a wonderful time doing something I love, then the people would make it worthwhile.

The morning was taken up with a bio-team meeting (with coffee and cake), and was a great opportunity to meet everyone in the team and find out in a bit more depth about what each person does. The second half of the day was my first chance to get out in the field- and as I found out later, help with the first survey of the season!

As the planned bird survey was rained off, we ended up going to a gorgeous reserve called Wells Farm (BBOWT’s answer to Hope Farm) to do a Grey Partridge Survey. This meant that we walked the whole of the reserve and did a count of how many Partridge we saw. Quite an easy day to start, although we still ended up walking over 11 kilometres! We ended up only seeing 2 pairs and 1 single partridge (5 total), but the fields were absolutely teeming in other birdlife – yellow hammers, meadow pipits and reed buntings to name a few! I noticed how poor my bird ID skills are, especially if I am trying to ID birds through song alone, but that is a good thing, it’s something to improve on! The weather might have been quite poor, but the birds didn’t mind- and it shows how well birds can still thrive on farmland. Just by making small changes to management, farmland birds can be saved from such a steep decline, and the farm can still be productive. Quite tired now, but I think a great first day!

 

Day two- Hazel Dormice

I was so excited for today! Hazel Dormice, with their ginormous beady eyes and bushy tails, are (or should be) the Audrey Hepburn of the rodent world. Although we were out in the field all day at Chinnor Hill, it was surprisingly less strenuous than our half day the day before. It is a steep survey site, which can be difficult on chalky grassland as it has a tendency to become very slippery after even a bit of moisture! But it was a lovely day, and a chance to work with the Reserves team and some more members of the Bio team, which meant I’ve got to know everyone a bit better.

We started by checking half of the old survey boxes from previous years and found that all the boxes (with one exception) were inactive, and the active box was with a blue tit nest rather than dormice! As the site had been found to be inactive (for dormice) for a few consecutive years, it was decided that we would remove the boxes and move them somewhere more likely to be used. After lunch, we walked back up the slope with some spare boxes and checked the other half of the survey site. Although alas, no dormice, we did find a box full of wood mice! I didn’t get a chance to handle any this time, but I’ve decided to try going for my dormouse survey license which would involve learning how to handle small rodents! I did watch one of the bio team learn how to handle the wood mice, but because we thought that they might have been a young family we ended up leaving them be. We ended up having to replace so many of the old boxes that had been chewed through, that we didn’t actually have enough boxes left to extend the site as first planned. A shame perhaps, but it means that it’s a chance to go back, by which time hopefully some dormice have taken advantage of our beautiful and improved (look at the picture!) boxes, and I will be able to see one in the wild!

The whole day was rather special, beautiful sunshine and good company and plenty of dogs walking through the reserve- which probably got quite annoying for everyone else as I insisted I said hello to all of them.

On the way home we stopped off by an old chalk quarry as apparently a little ringed plover had been spotted, but we couldn’t see any. We did see a few teal, mallard and canada geese in addition to the red kites, which now seem completely ubiquitous throughout the Chilterns. Then back to HQ just in time for a cup of tea and some admin work and reading codes of practice.. not going to lie, although codes of practice are very important, I think that I enjoyed the tea more than the reading!

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Day three- Butterfly Transects

Another important day. Today was a day to walk two of the butterfly transect routes, in order to double check the route map and instructions for new volunteers that might not know the site. We went to Gomm Valley and Homefield Wood reserves, both of which are in the Chilterns so mainly consist of chalky grassland, scrub and some established woodland. The Gomm Valley transect was relatively straight forward, but Homefield wood was much trickier! The instructions weren’t particularly clear, but also as it’s a more intensively managed area, it is possible that site of the landmarks that were mentioned had been moved, or might have disappeared.

I’d like to focus particularly on Homefield wood, as it is really a hidden gem. Used mainly by local dog walkers, it is a steep wooded reserve in the heart of the Chilterns, with open glades perfect for Military Orchid. I also saw a pair of nesting ravens, fire crests, gold crests, marsh tits and a jay. All stunning birds that I haven’t previously had a chance to properly look at. I really love this job, I’m outside for most of the day, and I get to see places and things that I would never have had the chance to see before. Plus I’ve walked over 33 kilometres in the past three days, so I have a sneaky feeling that I will also get fitter.

One of the other things I’m beginning to love about this job is that it always seems to work out that the reserves are in close proximity to quintessential country pubs so if the weather is awful, there’s always great places to shelter! But that’s just a small perk.

 

Next week I should be going out on deer impact surveys and water vole surveys, plus even more!

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