Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Work experience with FPCR

This week I am working at FPCR on a work experience placement. The company is mainly architecture-based, but they have a whole host of ecologists, botanists and ornithologists working in their team to ensure that all their designs are eco-friendly and suitable for the wildlife around the proposed building site. 

On my first day I accompanied one of the ecology team members to an arable site where planning permission was being applied for. We were mainly surveying the types of habitat bordering the site, including wildflower & wild grass meadows, patches of woodland and hedgerows, but were also recording all the different species of flora and fauna we saw to see if the site needed to be protected from development. If it were down to me every site would end up being protected but I trusted that the ecologist knew what they were doing as they seemed equally concerned about the wildlife decline as much as me. It took around 4 hours to survey the entire sight and we concluded with a very healthy species list, including a ringlet, a small tortoiseshell, a green-veined white, a small white and a picromerus bidens. I took many photos during the trip so that I could do some identification work when I got home in the evening. The photos below are a selection of this shots...

On the second day I went out with a 2nd team to search for possible bat roosting sites. The two ecologists which I went with both had climbing training so that they could get into the tree canopy, where they were using a digital endoscope and bluetooth monitor to investigate the tree knots and cracks for bat droppings, scratches or even bats themselves! Having surveyed around 5 trees I was given the job of uploading all the information we gathered to a online spreadsheet to send to the developers. If any of the trees have roosting potential they will most likely be protected from felling, but if that's not possible then an alternative option may be picked, such as bat boxes or mitigation. Obviously the ecologists do all they can to protect the species. 

I spotted this ant's nest whilst doing some photography around the site. The eggs look like mini tic tacs! Colonies can have thousands of individual ants, with each and every one doing certain jobs to help the whole nest have a successful hatching rate. This photo was taken with a 55 - 250 lens, but a macro image would have been even better...

My third day was one of the most exciting. At around 5:30 in the evening the ecology team and I set off towards a location (which I can't disclose) in search of Daubenton's bats. The site was a huge airfield with a very small, abandoned brick building in the centre. The 'I' shaped concrete beams which made up the roof for this building provided cracks and tunnels for the bats to roost in at night. We had around 3 licensed bat handlers in the group, allowing us to net-trap the bats to sex, weigh and measure, giving us an insight into the health of the colony. The site has plans for over 500 houses, so one of the teams jobs is to advise the architects and builders to ensure that as little disturbance is caused to the bats as possible. This may include wildlife corridors, fences to stop cats (and children) reaching the roost, thick hedgerows surrounding the building to prevent any access, and to also limit the amount of artificial light reaching the roost. It was a fascinating evening. I managed to get a few shots which weren't too blurring, which was hard in the darkness...

I used a bat detector to ID the species using the roost, which was very exciting as I had never used one before. We detected Soprano Pipistrelle bats, Noctule bats, Daubenton's bats and even one lesser horseshoe bat which is extremely surprising as they are quite rare in the region we were in. Today I have been converting the bat recordings into audible files and graphs, further helping us clarify our findings. I am borrowing the detector to use around my patch tonight, so hopefully I will record some more files!

If you want to see some of FPCR's recent ecology projects, click here.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Attenborough Nature Reserve with Sorrel Lyall

Today I met up with a fellow young wildlife enthusiast, Sorrel Lyall. I first saw Sorrel on Springwatch Extra earlier on this year, and after following her of Twitter I realised that she lives in Nottingham too (and we had both been to the same prom a few weeks previously!) We decided to meet up at Attenborough Nature Reserve as it's local to both of us and is home to an amazing array of different species, having many hides for us to enjoy. 

One of Sorrel's photos on display on her wildlife website

It was weird meeting someone so similar, having an interest in both nature and art…even if she's a little better at identification than me! Attenborough has a huge collection of paths and trails meandering along the river trent, around the lakes, and amongst the meadows and reed beds, providing various different habitats for various different species. The last time I came to Attenborough I saw my first kingfisher so I was optimistic about what to expect! We gave the 'Bittern hide' a fair amount of time but with no luck unfortunately. One thing that we were focusing on was butterflies and bees…and there were plenty of them! Having bought myself a butterflies and moths book not too long ago I am starting to improve on my recognition of individual species. Birds were obviously still noted too:

  • Long-tailed tit - Aegithalos caudatus
  • Blue tit - Cyanistes caeruleus
  • Common Greenshank - Tringa nebularia
  • Blackcap - Sylvia atricapilla
  • Reed warbler - Acrocephalus scirpaceus
  •  Kestrel - Falco tinnunculus
  • Mallard - Anas platyrhynchos
  • Tufted duck - Aythya fuligula
  • Egyptian goose - Alopochen aegyptiaca
  • Chaffinch - Fringilla coelebs
  • Barnacle goose - Branta leucopsis
  •  Lapwing - Vanellinae vanellinae
  • Great crested grebe - Podiceps cristatus
  •  Black-headed gull - Chroicocephalus ridibundus
  •  Common tern - Sterna hirundo
  • Grey heron - Ardea cinerea
  • Moorhen - Gallinula

Below are a few of the photos I took during our time at Attenborough.

Gatekeeper - Pyronia tithonus

Comma - Polygonia c-album

White (Green veined?)

Small Tortoiseshell - Aglais Urticae 

Having been working in the Lepidoptera department at the Natural History Museum a few weeks ago it was pleasing to see some live specimens! I'm slowly becoming much more interested in Lepidoptera (butterflies & moths) and Hymenoptera (bees, wasps, ants & sawflies) having been at the NHM…now I just need to brush up my identification skills!

If anyone knows, let me know!

Lapwing - Vanellus vanellus (also spot the damselfly top left!)
Egyptian Goose - Alopochen aegyptiaca
It was a really reassuring to meet someone interested in the same things as me, giving nature hope for the future. Sorrel and I are hopefully going to be featured in "The Nottinghamshire Photography Society"'s newsletter soon so keep your eyes peeled! I look forward to catching up with her again at Birdfair at Rutland Waters later on in the Summer. If you want to follow her on twitter, click here

Sorrel's website & blog:

Friday, 24 July 2015

Kelsey Park with Lizzie Guntrip

Whilst I was down in London a few weeks ago doing work experience at the Natural History Museum (blog post coming soon!) I caught up with Lizzie Guntrip at Kelsey Park in Beckenham. I first met Lizzie at Autumnwatch last year when I was at Leighton Moss for Unsprung, having had my footage featured on the main show the previous day. Lizzie had been on the Extra show taking about how nature has helped her regain stability in her life whilst living with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) since she was young. The online campaign #WildlifeFromMyWindow is a joint effort of hers and BBC Springwatch, aimed especially at those living with a illness; Even if you're housebound there's always a way to enjoy the healing properties and enjoyment of nature and wildlife. The campaign went down extremely well, even to those with no limiting illness. It even got a mention from Chris Packham on one of the Springwatch Unsprung shows this year! Pleasingly the #WildlifeFromMyWindow is still being used…and I suggested to Lizzie to get a website or something similar set up to further connect its supporters. To follow her on twitter click here.

Below are a mixture of photos taken at Kelsey Park. I was so thrilled to have seen Ring-necked Parakeets and even a fox in the park…even if Lizzie wasn't so amused (as they are a very common sight in London!) Other species that we saw included grey heron, tufted duck, egyptian goose, moorhen and male & female mandarin duck. It was lovely to catch up with Lizzie after a busy day at the NHM museum and commuting around London solo…and who knows, we may even meet again at Autumnwatch this year!

The squirrels were so tame and confident! This can be great for photography but it doesn't help their flying-rat status as they become opportunistic scavengers...

Kelsey Park is home to a heronry which is located on an island in the middle of the lake. It is home to around 25 pairs which breed successfully each year. The island is about 50 metres from the pathway allowing for those with good lenses to get some cracking shots. My photos tend to be more of a photographic diary than competition-worthy images!

It was a well-spent, relaxing evening to end a jam-packed day. 

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Back to you Roots.

Below is an article I have written to be published in two of my local daily papers…please let me know what you think!

Back to your Roots

For all my life I have been fascinated by nature, and inevitably the more you love something the harder it is to see it get hurt. Hedgehog. Turtle dove. Water vole. Stag beetle. European wildcat. Otter. Dormouse. Bumblebee. Tortoise-shell butterfly. All of these British wildlife species are in trouble. They’re in trouble because of our attitudes toward nature. To most people nature is now seen as little more than unnecessary pretty things, but we need to change this attitude by reminding people about the exciting, magical and often breath-taking side of nature. I use the word ‘remind’ instead of teach as I believe that everyone begins life loving nature. The endless hours of jumping in puddles and jam-jarring frogspawn would have been an ordinary pass time for many…but now-a-days times have changed. Videogames have replaced countryside walks and outdoor learning has been substituted by computers. Appreciation of our natural world has been lost, and my generation is now labelled as the ones who lack connection with nature. In many respects this is true, but there are exceptions to this rule…those who have fought against the crowd and dodged the computer games, as well as those who have actually successfully worked with technology to get closer to nature. No one can say that technology is bad for us; after all if it weren’t for technology I wouldn’t be speaking to you now. But like lots of good things…too much of it and it’s bad for you. This is definitely the case with technology. We need to change this.

There is one thing that confuses me however. The older generations are the ones always telling their childhood stories of climbing trees and building dens in local woods. They, from what we’re told, were the generation immersed in nature…no technology to be seen. If so, then why has this said generation seen a 58% decline of UK wildlife in their lifetimes? My guess is this… Up until relatively recently nature has been completely idealised, shown to have a dome of peace and prosperity protecting it from our intrusion. Wildlife documentaries are wonderful, but the majority fail to mention the serious issues. Tilt the camera just a few degrees to the right and the viewers will realise that these “wild places” are in fact just small pockets of vulnerability. This idealisation of nature has actually led to an attitude that nature is expendable. Apart from a one-off Geography lesson on Amazon deforestation our natural world has been portrayed as an idyll, which is seemingly resistant to the interference of humans. We need to change this by revealing both the joys of nature but also the harsh realities of its current fragile state. Not only do we need to teach the old dog new tricks but we also need to work with the education sector focusing on bringing up children with a balanced opinion of nature, illustrating both the glories and the problems.

My idea is this…

A new topic within the Biology syllabus should be created for both primary and secondary schools…Natural history and conservation. This balanced equation would be echoed in the subject’s textbook, which would be built around an alternate page structure, with the left hand page educating the reader about a particular species: it’s behavior, their most remarkable adaptations, their communication abilities and so forth. This would educate the reader about the magical world of flora and fauna, hopefully bring to the fore their innate connection with our natural world.  On the right hand page, the reader would be informed of the future of this species, whether good or bad. It would also suggest ways of how to help the species in a clear way therefore not making the information too over-whelming! Balanced education is key to developing a positive attitude towards wildlife, ensuring that the protection of our planet doesn’t seem like a burden, but more of an enjoyable responsibility. After all…nature is truly magical.

Monday, 13 July 2015


I was planning on doing a blog post about my week in London last week (including work experience at the Natural History Museum and meeting up with my friend, Lizzie Guntrip.) However with the news of the hunting act vote being so soon I felt that the London post had to wait!

Having immersed myself in our natural world since I was little I have come to realise one thing…no matter how much we call some animals "pests" but others 'man's best friend' there is nothing that that actually divides them, apart from our own biased categorisations. When they no longer serve a purpose needed by us they move between these categories and our attitudes towards them change. Take the pigeon for example…records say that over 100,000 pigeons were used in WW1 alone, with a success rate (in terms of the message getting to the right location) standing at just over 95%. In my eyes they were just as important as our soldiers. Yet now-a-days they are the avian version of a rat…a "pest" which we have banished from our towns using spikes on buildings and trained birds of prey. Our attitudes towards foxes are very similar. In Labour's last reign the 2004 Hunting Act was put in place ending the use of hounds to hunt wild animals. Drag hunting (in which a artificial scent is followed) is still legal. For some reason David Cameron feels that the return of fox hunting is the most pressing national issue at the moment…despite the majority of British Citizens wanting to keep the ban as it is. Twitter and Facebook have gone mad with the #keeptheban growing in popularity and beginning to trend. Stories have even made front page news, revealing the truth behind the hunt. (See the articles below)

See the full article here.

One of the things that annoys me most is that people often complain when foxes make a home in our towns and cities, giving the reasoning "they belong in the countryside" - so why is it okay for us to intrude on their habitat? They intruded on ours yes, but at least they're not riding on the back of lions, flushing us out of our homes whilst we're sleeping and then unleashing their bears upon us to mercilessly rip us to pieces. Sounds like a nightmare, right? But if this ban is uplifted this scene will be playing on loop across our countryside every day. So what can you do to help?

Write to your local MP and encourage them to vote against the repealing of the ban on this week. Be concise and polite…here is a draft for you to use:

Dear (name of your constituent MP),

As you may have seen there is an online petition calling for David Cameron to keep the ban on fox hunting. The petition already has over 500,000 signatures, and you as my MP should be representing our constituency. 

I am emailing to ask for you to see how horrific it is for Cameron to even think of repealing the ban, and I hope you do the right thing and vote AGAINST REPEALING THE BAN in the vote this week.

Yours sincerely,

(Your name)

Sign the online petition:

On the 15th of July there is going to be a demonstration at 12:30, meeting at Richmond Terrance (opposite Downing Street). Speakers such as Dominic Dyer (CEO of the Badger Trusts) will be there joined by a huge number of supporters. If you're free it would be wonderful if you could attend as every person there will make a difference. 

Print out the poster I have made (above) and display it in your local area!

If we all stand together this ban will remain…helping us protect these beautiful creatures for years to come.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Silver DofE Qualifying Expedition!

From last Friday till the Tuesday just gone I have been in the Yorkshire Dales completing my Silver DofE Qualifying Expedition. To meet the criteria we had to walk for 3 days and camp self-sufficiently for 2 nights, with water being the only thing provided for us each day. Our 6 person group walked around 20km each day of the expedition, navigating the various footpaths and trails meandering through the national park. Our practise expedition was in the Brecon Beacons in Wales which is a much harsher environment with very steep climbs. However the Dales were much more comfortable allowing our group to spend sufficient time exploring and completing our expedition aim - 'To investigate the wildlife of the Yorkshire Dales with the aim to compare it with the Brecon Beacon's wildlife'

Even though the terrain was much flatter than the practise we still had to maintain a relatively quick pace to complete out days route with extra time to set up our tents, and to prepare our meals which were cooked on stoves that we carried with us in our backpacks. Despite the quick pace I still managed to set some pleasing shots of the Dales in all it's glory! I carried a notepad and pen around with me all the time so I could scribble down any sightings throughout the day. 

The Dales aren't as diverse as the Beacons but we still walked through very diverse habitats including Farmland, wild-flower meadows, woodland and villages. As the habitats changed so did the type of wildlife we saw. There was one common denominator throughout the whole expedition though…midges! They were everywhere, and at one point we all had to "batten down the hatches" of our tents and wait for the buzzing cloud to pass over. The cows were very friendly but we did have a slightly precarious encounter with a group of bullocks at one point! 

For some reason we saw lots of dead moles along the route…maybe due to the hot weather. Thankfully we found this one before it was too late and we managed to move it off the path and into the shaded grassy verges where it probably stood a better chance of survival. Lots of roadkill was also sighted but I suppose that's inevitable when you have a road running though a national park. In some ways roadkill is a good things as it indicated a healthy population. 

Other mammals which we saw: field mouse, hare & rabbit, and of course all the farm animals.

Here are just a selection of the birdlife we saw along the trip: oystercatcher, tree-creeper, lapwing, curlew, reed bunting, goldfinch, pied wagtail, song thrush, sand martin and many more! 

Along the route we crossed lots and lots of water courses which were wonderful locations to take a rest at and observe the wetland species, such as this cormorant above! Soon after this picture above was taken the cormorant bent it's neck and fired it's beak into the water presumably trying to catch a fish. I got very excited when I saw the pile of remains of this crab/crayfish? I didn't really have any idea of what could have predated on it apart from a large bird, an otter or another larger mammal…any ideas? 

There is nothing better than observing the big four all parading around the sky together: swallows, swifts, house martins and sand martins! That is exactly the sight we saw most days. The river banks were ideal for sand martins and the old fashioned houses likewise for house martins. I wish I had had my Canon camera with me as I reckon I could have got some lovely shots of the swallows skimming over the wild-flower meadows whilst plucking insects out of the air. Hopefully I'll return to the Dales in the future with my proper camera… I've got a question: If not too long ago the UK was solely a woodland habitat then how has UK wildlife evolved so fast to become so diverse (moorland species, farmland species, town species etc)? If anyone knows please comment! The weather was on our side for most of the trip excluding the morning of the second day when it rained non-stop! But it could have been worse. In many ways the rain was good as it made us stop taking so many breaks meaning we could press on and arrive at the campsite early! 

The Comparisons
The red bars represent the Brecon Beacons wildlife and the blue bars represent the Yorkshire Dales wildlife. I have roughly categorised the species into groups including mammals, amphibians, birds of prey, common garden species, migratory species, corvids and wetland species. Some of the species didn't only fit into one category but I've done my best to put them in a category to best represent them. 

In the graph above you can see that there was more spawn in the Brecon Beacons than in the Dales, but this was because of a third factor…time. As we visited the Dales a month of so later than the Beacons it was inevitable that things would have changed. This problem is also prominent in the migratory section as some of the species wouldn't have arrived from Africa (or other southern locations) yet.

As you can see in the graph above there were no birds of prey spotted in the Yorkshire Dales. My prediction for this is that BOP such as the red kite like moorland to hunt on as thats where most of its prey live. I would have expected to see at least a kestrel in the Dales but as we were only there for 3 days it wasn't a definite. 

In the graph below you can see the comparison of wetland species between the two national parks. I am currently looking into why the Dales had a higher wetland population but my guess is that the Dales simply has more water sources. It also has a less harsh climate so water won't freeze over/run dry…it's more stable.

I am currently doing some research as to why these changes in species are. You also have to remember that I only spent 3 days recording the wildlife so the results aren't as representative as they should be, but it's a good start! For the latest news keep up to date with my Twitter page…click here.

Notts TV appearance!

After reading a BBC news article a few weeks ago about how Nottingham has one of the fastest Hedgehog declines in the country I decided to contact Notts TV and see if they wanted to do a piece about how to help the species. At first it was just a suggestion but I got more and more involved throughout the process, providing information and statistics for the journalists to use. Yesterday one of the Notts TV journalists called Danielle came over to interview me in my patch, and to film all the things I have in place around my wildlife garden to help this endangered species. This footage was going to be used to make a short 2 & 1/2 minute long package to be shown that evening on the news at 5:30, 6:00 and 7:00. Danielle had around an hour before she had to get back to do the edit and record the voice over. 

It was a beautiful hot and sunny day which was both good and bad…my patch was looking great but it was difficult to find a place in the garden with the right lighting to film in! The focus of the package was the decline in hedgehogs so we made sure to film relevant items around the garden…the hedgehog escape routes, the 'hog hotel' and the hole in our garden hedge. I was dying to show Danielle all my other projects including my wildlife shed and all my bird box camera systems but we had to stick to the script if we were to finish on time!

It felt like a very long wait until 5:30 which was the first showing of the package. It was wonderful seeing my patch on the TV, showing everyone watching that just a few very simple changes can dramatically help the species. With more than 20,000 viewers tuning in each week to was a great way to showcase my tips! Below are a few screenshots from the package…

It was also very nice to have lots of support on Twitter including two of my twitter friends Kate and Georgia! It was a very exciting experience and I hope it won't be my first and last appearance!

If you want to watch the package click here.

Helping out at Crossdale Drive Primary School!