Week 3 – Walk the line

“That land is a community is the basic concept of ecology, but that land is to be loved and respected is an extension of ethics”

– Aldo Leopold

Day 1 – Butterfly Transects

More butterfly transects today – but properly, as in we actually had to count the number of butterflies that we saw.

The butterfly survey season officially starts on April 1st, but a survey can only be completed if the temperature is above 13 degrees, it’s not too windy and there is more than 60% sun. If the temperature is above 17 degrees, then sun vs cloud cover becomes less important, as it is still warm enough for butterflies to want to fly. You then record walk the transect, without stopping, recording each individual butterfly that comes into your “box”. The “box”, is the invisible indicator of how close a butterfly has to be to you before you can record it. This is 2.5 meters in front of you, to both sides and above you – not behind you. Then just make a tally of the number of each species you saw in each section of the transect. Piece of cake!

We did 3 transects, two at Grangelands and the Rifle Range, and one on Bacombe Hill. All of these reserves are based on the beautiful Chilterns, walking some sections of the Ridgeway pathway.

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Despite the weather and conditions being perfect for the survey (hello the beginnings of a tan!), we didn’t see many butterflies. The best transect was on Grangelands, and this has traditionally been the best transect for many years. We saw Orange tips, Brimstones, Holly Blues and a Peacock. These data (and the rest) will be sent to the Butterfly Conservation Society and analysed to discover what has been happening over the past year.

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The other really good thing about today is that we were finally properly initiated into BBOWT by being taken to the Crazy Bear farm shop to get THE best sausage rolls. It’s a sign that we have been accepted! There is also a small farm/play area here where we saw these very sweet Gloucestershire Old Spot piglets!

10.2 Km walked again – a solid start.

Day 2 – Watervoles

Unfortunately, I have no photos of today as I decided to take the precaution of leaving my phone safe in my bag away from the water, as I am so accident prone!

We spent the day wading down Sandford Brook near Abingdon (literally just at the back of the Tesco car park), which was quite surreal. I really enjoyed being able to survey from the water, it’s quite relaxing, but also easier as finding feeding signs and burrows is a lot easier from this perspective.

Despite the brook being small, and there being quite a lot of rubbish floating in the water from the Tescos, we found a whopping 94 feeding signs! Which was incredible especially given the territory size- although unfortunately there isn’t really a way of determining if there are a lot of individuals present, or a few very active individuals. I am happy to report that the activity has spread further down the brook from previous years, which is a positive sign!

Although I liked being in the water, it is disconcerting to not be able to see you feet sometimes. Plus I have a very overactive imagination, so can’t help but remember the hundreds of scenes from books and films of snake-like monsters lurking amongst the reeds and silt! Obviously that might be a problem, if we were wading down a tributary of the Amazon or something, but not so much in Britain… strange how irrational fears can be sometimes!

After lunch, we then walked another route (just on the bank) that will be used to train volunteers in what signs to look out for. I also had the chance to see a Garden Warbler, but Ben decided to be immature and spent the whole time throwing burdock at me, meaning that I didn’t see it!

Ended up walking 11.4 Km, which is pretty good going!

 

Day 3 – Great Crested Newts

The day of the Great Crested Newt (GCN) course!

I have discovered, that I love Newts. They’re so sweet! It’s also important to protect all of our newts, but particularly GCN as we have a population of global importance! It’s quite worrying what will happen in the context of Brexit, as a lot of the protected species legislation is European. If that is removed… then what happens? More raptor persecution, further species loss and degradation of our already suffering ecosysetms? Just today the news announced that the UK is set to lose at least a third of the environmental legislation. I digress..

The GCN course was wonderful, half of the day was spent going through the theory of GCN trapping, ID and protective legislation, in addition to wider knowledge about British amphibians and what habitat they can be found in.

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I am really looking forward to further fieldwork in this area! We built our own newt-traps and took them down to ponds where we know that there are Smooth Newts and practised using the traps and trying the netting technique. I was incredibly excited that we caught one male and one female and got to appreciate their unique beauty (each Newt’s markings are unique and so it is possible to identify individuals). It was really very special to be able to handle them and see how perfectly adapted and delicate they are. I also got to brush up on my Macroinvertebrate ID skills as there were a lot present in the pond, and I saw my first dragonfly larvae as well.

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The next stage of my licensing, is to complete further fieldwork, setting traps around the pond in the evening, and emptying them in the morning, as well as attempting all of the various techniques. If I can complete these satisfactorily then I will achieve a reference and be able to apply for a license!

A whopping 11.2 Km today. It’s starting to feel weird when I don’t walk!

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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