Esmee Fairbairn acknowledgement

A Whirlwind of a Month

I knew from reading previous trainees blog posts that this time of year would get rather busy, however I didn’t appreciate quite how busy it would be! My feet have barely touched the ground and I have learnt an incredible amount. Hopefully I can give you a small flavour of this in this blog post.

Dead Wood Beetles


My work at Blenheim Palace has really taken off now, I didn’t really catch that much in the first month of my vane traps being out, however in the last few checks of the traps there has been a lot more in there for me to identify and start to build up a picture of the beetles living within the dead trees, an area that no one has looked at properly! Checking traps may sound like a rather easy survey technique, all I have to do is change over a bottle, right?! Well the traps are quite often inside a dead tree, 3 metres of so up and can be challenging to reach by a ladder, which means that I have to have someone come with me each time to assist me. This is great though as it gives me an opportunity to show lots more people how amazing dead trees are for wildlife, something that I knew nothing about before this traineeship! I have been slowly working through and identifying the dead wood associated beetles that I have found on site. This is rather challenging as there are dead wood species in all sorts of beetle families. But I find this challenge rather exciting and I am learning lots every day. I have also been wandering around Blenheim beating the hawthorn and dead wood, this is because I only have 16 traps up and there are over a 1000 veteran oaks within the area and the adult beetles of many dead wood species visit hawthorn blossom. By using this technique I have picked up around 15 species which I haven’t recorded in my traps yet. I will also check umbellifers later on in the year. Buglife and Natural England are working on a HLF bid to conserve dead wood species (not just invertebrates), so I have been lucky enough to be able to tag along to some site visits there, including a lovely trip to Little Doward on the Welsh border which was just beautiful and gave me a chance to see a different site that is great for invertebrates and think about how they manage their site.


Fenland Invertebrates

Cjkk9GXWYAEpC_yAs I moved to Peterborough for this traineeship, I wanted to explore some of the special habitats here and expand my knowledge of the special invertebrates that they support. Around Peterborough is the Great Fen, an amazing project looking to restore large areas of fenland habitat. At the heart of this is Woodwalton Fen National Nature Reserve. I have been surveying this site to look at the invertebrates there. I have pitfall traps out in the reed beds here, which are cut at different rates. I have 4 pitfall traps in each of the 3 reed beds that have different cutting regimes. I have been identifying the ground and rove beetles from these traps and this is turning up some great fenland specialists.CiR08QaWkAAoJXv These species have been recorded on site before, but this pitfall trapping is helping to indicate abundance and therefore informing management of the reedbeds for these species. While I am on the site I have been looking at other, non beetle, species and am blown away by some of the species there such as scarce chasers (a type of dragonfly) and the silver colonel soldier fly which hadn’t been recorded on the site since 1949 until I came along and looked for it.



I have been also working on my outreach skills in the last month or so, not something that comes naturally to me by any means! I ran a Bughunt at the Green Backyard in Peterborough which was good fun. The Green Backyard is a community initiative that Ch36P0LWUAAHqLTbrings greenspace to people living in central Peterborough that may not be able to go out into the wider countryside. It was a great event and lots of children and adults searched in the pond and meadow areas for invertebrates with me. It was great to be able to show them that the invertebrates make the newts in the pond look boring! I was also invited along the ‘Experts Day’ at the Three Hagges Wood Meadow in Yorkshire. It was great to be able to see this project again, which will eventually create an amazing habitat for dead wood invertebrates in hundreds of years, from a field that was used to grow barley a few years ago. I also have an article in the next issue of Natur cymru which is rather exciting. My piece is on dead wood invertebrates, focussing on the specialists that Wales holds!

Stay tuned for next months blog post to hear about the exciting things I have been getting up to!


Don’t forget that you can follow my progress on the TCV Natural Talent Twitter account and my personal Twitter account. You can also found out more about Esmee Fairbairn who kindly fund the Natural Talent traineeships, and Buglife and Natural England who host me.

April and May: 4 C’s – conference, connections, convent and courses.


Hello again, I am now four months into my Invasive Species traineeship with TCV, CEDaR and the Department of Agriculture, Environment & Rural Affairs (DAERA). The two months since my last update have flown by as the majority of April and May have been spent out and about – 3 trips to England and Wales, 8 events, 5 training courses and numerous days exploring (and surveying) the Northern Ireland countryside. Indeed, a quick diary review revealed that I have spent 33 of the last 43 days out of the office! My exploits are therefore too numerous to describe in detail, but they can be summarised by 4 C’s – a conference, connections, a convent, and courses.

A conference

At the beginning of April I went across to Lancaster for the Young Thinkers Conference where I presented a paper on the use of Citizen Science in Conservation. Citizen Science has been heralded as a panacea for the Conservation Movement, with the potential to bring about a step-change in the resolution and quantity of biodiversity data; transform and reinvigorate how we interact with nature; and democratise access to environmental knowledge (Jepson and Ladle, 2015). However, I argued that Citizen Science, in particular Citizen Science apps, have so far failed to deliver the promised revolution and in some instances have actually hampered and diluted efforts.

The paper was very well received with many people both at the event and in the wider conservation sector agreeing that the number of different apps available, the absence of joined-up thinking, and lack of clarity about where data submitted goes, leaves no clear picture of how (or if) data is used.

The other delegates came from very diverse backgrounds (Health, Public Services and the Third Sector) and presented papers on a wide range of topics from out of body pregnancies; the ending of Kids Company; how to deal with the immigration crisis and the introduction of a carbon tax. This resulted in a very interesting and thought provoking conference. As well as providing valuable experience of public speaking, it was a privilege to meet such eloquent and principled people and engage in such intellectually stimulating conversations. I left inspired, with renewed confidence and vigor.

The other delegates and I at the Young Thinkers Conference

The other delegates and I at the Young Thinkers Conference


One of my main tasks at the moment is to research and write a position paper on the state of Invasive Species in Northern Ireland. I’m hoping to get a picture of what Invasives different conservation organisations and land owners are contending with and how they are managing these. This therefore entails going to lots of meetings and events and forming lots of contacts and connections.

At the beginning of April for example, I enjoyed accompanying Michael Topping and Greggor Fulton from the Woodland Trust to a Royal Forestry Society event they were hosting. The event was attended by many of the largest estate and woodland owners in Northern Ireland – they were given a tour of the Rademon Estate by the Estate Manager, Michael gave a talk on ancient woodland restoration, and we spoke at length about the importance of clearing Invasive Species from sites.

Woodland Trust

A talk and tour of the estate at the Woodland Trust and RFS event

I also had a really interesting and illuminating meeting with Mark Horton, the manager of the Ballinderry River Trust. As well as learning about the Trust’s work managing Invasive Species I visited their hatchery where they breed River Brown Trout, Dollaghan Trout, and Atlantic salmon. The success of their breeding programmes for the globally endangered Freshwater Pearl Mussel and the globally threatened White-clawed Crayfish is astounding – in one tank (pictured below) there were more Pearl Mussels than in the whole river system and as they can filter 20litres of water a day, they are vitally important to the health of rivers.


More Pearl Mussels in this one tank than in the whole Ballinderry river system

A convent (it wasn’t actually a convent but a priory but convent worked better for alliteration!)

Other events are more focused on raising awareness and increasing community engagement. One such event occurred at the beginning of May when the team from CEDaR helped out at the Benburb BioBlitz. Benburb Priory and Castle is a beautiful estate full of history which was greatly enhanced by the glorious sunshine we were lucky enough to have. The aim was to record as many species on site as possible. The 24 hours were therefore packed with lots of activities for both recorders and the local community from moth trapping, bat transects and butterfly hunts to a murder mystery trail for children. We were kept busy inputting data, with 322 species recorded and 528 records submitted so far.

A beautiful backdrop for the BioBlitz

A beautiful backdrop for the Benburb BioBlitz


Finally, a substantial amount of time over the last two months has been spent attending various training courses. One-day courses have included: Bumblebee ID; an introduction to different habitat classifications in Northern Ireland; writing management plans that are fit for purpose; and how to conduct JNCC Phase 1 habitat surveys. I also went on two longer 3-day courses. The first was in the safe use of pesticides. This course was back in Devon, so it was lovely to see my family and the beautiful weather enabled us to do a lot of the training outside so it felt rather like a mini holiday. I have also just returned from Wales where I attended a three day Field Studies Council course on Invasive Species Identification and Control.

What next?

June looks set to be as busy as its predecessors with lots of events, surveys and Invasive Species clearance events planned, so stayed tuned for more updates from me.


April: plants and conferences


Hi again, that’s me slowly catching up on my blog entries. You’ll see why I’ve been so busy recently! So this might be a little longer than my previous ones.

Firstly, I’d like to chat about a little idea I have to do with pollination of wildflowers. It turns out that the World Museum, here in Liverpool, has a lovely little meadow oasis right next to the entrance. It’s great to have a little biodiverse green space right in the heart of the city. And I’m keen to take some wild flowers from this meadow to illustrate interesting pollination facts using common wild species. And in doing so, get to learn how to dissect and press plant specimens! Thought is would be a good way to get across how interesting the pollination ecology is to the public. The first flower that I’ve chosen to do is the Primrose.

Primrose flower cross-section - dissected to show anthers below the stigma

Primrose flower cross-section: dissected to show anthers below the stigma (pin-eyed form)dissecting flowers

Turns out this flower has two flower types – were the male (pollen and anthers) and female (stigma) organs of the plant are in opposite positions from each other.

  • The ‘pin-eyed’ form – female section at the top of the flower
  • The ‘thrum-eyed’ form – male section at the top of the flower
Right: Pin-eyed form. Left: Thrum-eyed form.

Pin-eyed form          Thrum-eyed form

Botanists were aware of these forms for decades but had no explanation for it. Darwin was the first to notice the significance of these as they act to encourage cross-pollination. The process were only pollen from another plant of the same species can fertilise a flower – leading to greater fertility and stronger (more genetically diverse) offspring.

A long tongued insect would feed and get pollen onto its tongue. Then move onto the other flower type and be perfectly positioned to deposit the pollen on the corresponding stigma of a plant with the opposite flower form.

So working with the botany and technician team at the World Museum we put together a handheld ‘sturdy’ display of this plant. Excited to draw up the plans and then get to have it ‘in the flesh’. Pretty cool!

From concept

From concept…

to reality

…to reality

I’ve also been trying my hand at pollen samples. Practicing making up slides of different types of pollen and learning the different features under the microscope.

This is lily pollen. This net like structure around the pollen is apparently unique to this group of plants!

This is lily pollen. This net like structure around the pollen is apparently unique to this group of plants!

Normally when you make up slides they are better dyed so that you can better see the features on the pollen. This primrose (which I had to include of course) has little lines all the way around each grain.

Normally when you make up pollen slides they are dyed so that you can better see the features on the pollen. This primrose pollen (which I had to include of course) has little lines all the way around each grain. Which you can see because of the purple dye.

I’ve also been to a few interesting conferences this month. The first one I went to was the Royal Entomological Society’s conference on Pollinators and Sustainable Agriculture. It was really interesting hearing about all the different research that’s going on across the country. A whole host of subjects were covered. Anything from how to quantify pollination services, how pesticides affect the development of bee larvae and even identifying the DNA of pollen that was washed off of hoverflies to see how they feed. Some really interesting research.

PhD student talking about her research about the Red Mason bee and how it may be affected by pesticides

PhD student talking about her research on the Red Mason bee and how it may be affected by pesticides

I then went to another conference about how museums can connect people to nature. Some really thought provoking stuff about how we can reach people from all walks of life. Introducing nature, which is all around us, to give it meaning and purpose. Help to make nature accessible. Also got to meet Cathy, my Natural Talent predecessor at the World Museum. She worked with Hymenoptera in the entomology department too. It was great to meet her and hear about what she got up to during her time as a trainee.

Meeting Cathy

Me meeting Cathy a previous natural trainee at the NatSCA conference

Also been doing some events to engage the public here at the museum and at the National Wildflower Centre. For National Gardening week I ran stalls and kids activities to promote wildlife gardening for butterflies, bees and hoverflies. And even got to show folk how to fold their own origami butterflies. Which both adults and children seemed to enjoy!


Me showcasing our pollinator stall

Not to mention all the planning for future events. So all in all a busy month. Thanks for reading!