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!

 

Week 13 – Wandering in Willows (quite literally)

There is pleasure in the pathless woods, there is rapture in the lonely shore, there is society where none intrudes, by the deep sea, and music in its roar; I love not Man the less, but Nature more.”        – Lord Byron

So the past few weeks when I haven’t been writing, have all been fabulous as usual, although I think I have settled in and got used to it more now. It isn’t such a novelty. They do then to follow a pattern, so it has felt a little bit like I don’t have many new things to say. That, coupled with moving house and getting to know flatmates so being busier in the evenings, and a week away on holiday to Devon has meant I fell off the writing wagon- but, my new month’s resolution is to keep writing. Even just for my own records!

(I also have some news of not only getting one new job to have on the side, but THREE, two of which involve doing surveys, one of which is office based within BBOWT).

 

Day 1

So Monday this week was DRAMATIC. We had to do what we thought would be a fairly innocuous and easy survey day. It took place in the Oxford Science park, so we thought that the rivers would be more like ditches- easy to wade, not necessarily a lot to see, but should be an easy walk (maybe 3 or so Km of river).

The first survey stretch was exactly what we anticipated. We did the whole thing in about 45 minutes absolutely no bother, getting into and out of the river was a bit tricky, but ultimately it was ok.

BUT THEN.

We moved on to the next stretch of river, which involved more of a walk, carrying waders, life jackets and all of our equipment and bags in the warm sun, making me hot and flustered. Then we climbed over a fence, and waded through some fairly rank grassland, with our stuff, over two huge pipes, more grassland, and then 3 metres of nettles that were taller than me. Excellent.

THEN, the water was too deep for me to get in, so just Ben got in and I tried to walk along the bank, but it was too overgrown and the river ran under a major road, which I obviously couldn’t cross. So I had to get in. By climbing through a willow that had fallen across the river, I managed to gain access to the river, which wasn’t too deep by this point. We walked on a little bit and all of a sudden the depth increased, meaning the water came in over the top of my waders. This bit was actually quite fun, both Ben and I were giggling, then we tried to walk up river under the road and the water kept getting deeper, and deeper… and deeper until it reached up past my bellybutton – at which point I decided that it was too much, and we had to turn tail and go back on ourselves.

Back down the river, back through the willow, up onto the bank through the nettles and into the field. We sat down for a bit in the grass to empty our waders then had to walk back, for a couple of miles in wet clothes to try and find a safe way to cross the busy road. It was hot, we were soaking, and uncomfortable, but we carried on.

Again the river was too deep for me to get in, so I fought along the bank and Ben got in. It quickly became too deep for him too, and so he got out, slipped and fell through nettles. At this point, we decided to call it a day, and we walked back in the heat, to the office.

It’s nice to know that I can have bad days too.

 

Day 2 & 3

Rapid hay meadow assessments both days. Which meant two truly beautiful days, which has also improved my botany skills ten-fold. It also gave me a chance to see some more beautiful butterflies, like the Grizzled Skipper (featured below).  On the flip side, it was getting hotter and hotter and hotter.

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We didn’t have enough water, the heat was almost unbearable, and being in a hay meadow there was little to no shade.

It was a really nice way to get to know some of the regular volunteers and other BBOWT teams that we don’t get to interact with on a regular basis.

These meadows are beautiful neutral or chalk meadows, quite specific to the region. BBOWT’s doing their best to manage the meadows as traditionally as possible to try and preserve the diversity of the flora. It then also means that if there is a particularly good meadow, when the sward is cut, it is spread across a poorer meadow so the rich seed can fall into the grass and encourage better growth.

I’m learning so much! But it has been a really tiring week – heat exhaustion is becoming a more of a genuine possibility these days!

 

 

 

 

Week 4 – Snake’s-head Fritillary Count

“I don’t want to protect the environment, I want to create a world where the environment doesn’t need protecting” – Unknown

Slightly different week this week!

Day 1 – Water voles

Monday was a fun, but fairly normal day back on the border with Wiltshire surveying for water voles again. We had to go back to finish the stretch of river we started last time, and also we had a new person with us, who works mainly in the office on Land planning things, but wanted to volunteer more and come out. It makes sense that if you spend a lot of your time indoors working for an organisation that protects nature, you would want to spend at least some of your time joining other teams and seeing what you’re working for!

So, we went back to the farm as it’s a good place to survey, with almost guaranteed signs of water voles. It’s a little harder, and less fun, than wading along the river as some of the signs are hidden by the ever-growing scrub and reeds. But we saw many a dropping, latrine and feeding sign.

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We also saw how much more the undergrowth is growing, which is great, but is making me apprehensive for future surveys as it is clearly going to be a challenge pushing through a wall if nettles 7 feet high to search for the signs. But, on the flip side I am seeing more and more beautiful plants and animals every day- like the marsh marigolds pictured above (sorry about the picture quality, I was trying to get them in the context of the wider wood).

It was also really great to see how much Ben and I are improving at finding and identifying the field signs. A definite improvement from the first time we were at that site, and it means that we should be allowed to go out on surveys without Gav’s supervision! By supervision, I mean is surveying hawkeye- it was quite gratifying to have him follow us round to see if we missed any important signs and not miss any- a enormous difference. I did miss an otter sign at one point, which wasn’t great, but Ben spotted it, and it’s an important lesson to not get too focused on one species, when it is important to stay aware of everything.

Day 2 – Pre-count

So. The big Snake’s-head fritillary pre-count. The count has been done every single year since 1981 (apart from one year when it wasn’t allowed, because of foot and mouth), and it doesn’t seem very much like anyone knows quite why we do it anymore, but it’s a tradition! And people from the community do get quite involved as well, they look forward to it, it brings business to the very tiny local shop and it is also quite a spectacle to behold.

But anyway, this was the day of the pre-count! The day that two staff members, Ben and myself went down to the very beautiful Iffley meadows and counted all of the Snake’s-head fritillaries that were present in the “non-dense” patches, the rationale being that the dense patches were counted properly with a larger group of volunteers from BBOWT.

To add another layer of complication though, because the weather has been so extraordinary, most of the flowering heads have gone over and started to seed, or fade, so we also had to do at least 8 quadrats (below) and figure out the ratio of flowering heads to non-flowering heads, so then after the proper count, we could multiply the number of individual flowering plants by the ratio, to figure out the total number of plants.

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The day was spent, walking round each meadow, counting each flowering head that we saw. It took maybe five or so hours, and the four of us counted over 3000 flowering fritillaries. It was a nice walk, but it was quite slow. Sitting and having lunch amongst the flowers was lovely, especially as we had the chance to see a hobby! As we had nothing else planned for the day, Colin let us leave early!

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Day 3 – The big count

The big day.

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I love my job. I do. But I did find today quite difficult. It was a very very slow day. It involved us all walking (as pictured) with a bamboo cane in between each person, doing several passes across each dense patch of flowers and counting every single flowering head that we saw. It’s definitely not an exact science, but it’s the way that it has been done every year. This was especially frustrating when a few members of the public refused to believe that’s how we counted the flowers, but believe me, that’s how it’s done.

The first half of the day, Ben wasn’t in formation, he got to shout out from the side lines and keep everyone in line as we walked slowly across each patch, making sure that the people that didn’t have anything to count kept going at the pace of the people that were counting a lot. Then, after lunch, everyone had to deal with me shouting at them. I controlled the line very well, and I must say that I enjoyed it a great deal more than counting.

I’m making it sound a lot worse than it was probably, as the time did pass quite quickly, but I did just find the whole day quite frustrating.

 

We did go early again at least. And long weekend!