Esmee Fairbairn acknowledgement

So long and thanks for all the molluscs!

And so my last day as a TCV Natural Talent trainee has arrived!

What and amazing and quick year it’s been. On my final blog post I’d like to share some great moments over the past year. Here are just a few of the basic stats…

And a some photos of just a few of many great moments…

Fun surveying for freshwater molluscs in all weathers at Great Traston Meadows and Magor Marsh – Caught in April sleet this time!

..and some summer sunshine! Using the suction sampler in Pentwyn Farm’s gorgeous meadows to survey for grassland slugs and snails

Scrabbling through leaf litter searching for slugs and snails by hand at the beautiful Silent Valley

A thing I never expected to do this year: surveying for molluscs on Magor Marsh pond in a boat!

Visiting TCV in Northern Ireland to deliver some training and doing some sight seeing along the way (with Ellie & Lorna, fellow Natural Talent trainees)

On the road again! This time visiting TCV Stave Hill in London to do some family friendly bug hunting and handling with Natural Networks trainee Claire (hiding behind the camera).

Meeting all the Natural Networks & Natural Talent trainees for our first week of training in Scotland back in January 2016

Meeting up with many of them again six months later in Leeds to share skills and experiences.

Bringing mollusc activities and TCV’s feel good attitude to Bristol with TCV Natural Networks buddy Delyth. Just one of many lovely events I’ve been to this year.

With my mentor Ben Rowson (Mollusca Curator NMW)

A massive thank you to Amgueddfa Cymru – National Musuem Wales for hosting my placement, especially to all the staff in Natural Sciences who have been super supportive and made me feel so welcome. Make sure you pop into National Museum Cardiff if you are ever in the city and check out their incredible exhibitions. You can keep up with what the Natural Sciences staff are up to on Twitter: @Cardiff_Curator

Huge appreciation to Esmee Fairbairn for funding these fantastic traineeships, and for continuing to fund them for the next two years!

Applications for the next round of six traineeships are now open! There is even one at National Museum Cardiff, this time on the subject of grassland Hemiptera. It’s going to be a quick turn around, with the aim of the traineeships starting in April so make sure you apply soon! Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

As for me, I’ll be sticking around at National Museum Cardiff for a while, with something exciting in the pipeline. I might pop up again for a quick guest blog when I have the results of my projects all sorted and written up. Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter: @I_Cavadino for #MolluscMonday and more..

So long and thanks for all the molluscs!

Hwyl fawr a diolch am y molysgiaid!

Imogen Cavadino

Natural Talent Trainee: Non-Marine Molluscs

Joyful January: DNA extractions and finishing up identifications

Hello again!

At the time of writing I have only one week left of my Natural Talent placement here at Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales! The past year has gone so quickly and been amazing! I still have plenty of things to finish off which is what I’ve been concentrating on this month.

Fabulous freshwater snails

One of my most challenging mollusc projects in Gwent Wildlife Trust’s “Living Landscape” areas has been on the Gwent Levels, looking at the freshwater fauna of Magor Marsh and Great Traston Meadows. With 67 samples collected across the two wetland sites, containing many different freshwater snail species, several bivalve species, as well as land snail bycatch there has been a massive amount of material to sort through and identify to species. This has been slowed by some interesting identification challenges along the way.

From fieldwork to museum specimen: Samples are collected in the field, transferred to and stored in alcohol, the molluscs are then  picked out, identified and the data entered onto a spreadsheet. Specimens are finally stored in individual tubes for each species and location awaiting printed labels before entering the museums permanent collections and database.

Some freshwater snail species can be very variable in shell characters. One group particularly known for this in Britain are the Physidae (Bladder Snails). These are quite simple to get to genus as unusually for most freshwater snails they are left-hand whorled (sinistral). A couple of species of Physidae have been introduced to Britain from North America: Physella Acuta & Physella gyrina. luckily our native Physa fontinalis can be told apart with a bit of practice as its shells are often smaller and have a blunter spire. P.acuta & P.gyrina can have much more variable shells, so I’ve spent a lot of time checking the genitalia of specimens to make sure I’m not overlooking species.

L to R: Physella gyrina, Physella acuta, Physa fontinalis. Just one example from the AC-NMW collections

Split species

Some freshwater snail species have also recently been split into two distinct species. Lymnaea palustris is one example of this. The species was commonly recorded as a single one throughout the British isles for many years, but in 2003 the species was split with Lymnaea fusca recognised in Britain. Surveys and studies have now shown that in fact the Lymnaea fusca species is far more common in Britain and Ireland than Lymnaea palustris, which is now believed to be rare occurring only in Eastern Britain! Again the shell characters are very similar and can overlap dramatically, meaning more genital dissections to check species identifications.

Learning lab work

At the beginning of the month I got to put on a white coat and gloves to spend some time in a proper laboratory! Here Ben taught me how to extract DNA from tissue so that we could send these off to be sequenced. It was a painstakingly accurate and time consuming process, but very exciting to learn! Seeing the bands on the gel light up under UV light was incredibly exciting as it showed that most of our extractions had worked!

Agrose gel under UV light showing expressed DNA – the glowing bands show the ones that are successful. The biggest glowing band at the bottom middle is a positive control, to the left of it is a negative control. (40 samples incl. controls)

Rocking a lab coat. A long way from the usual waterproofs and wellies!
















Deceptive DNA?

There was very few surprises in the results: what we thought species were matched the genetic sequences on the database for the same species. However, there were a couple of cases where the DNA sequences matched equally close to the two species we were trying to differentiate between, not making things instantaneously clearer. For me this reminds me to approach identifying species by DNA alone with caution, as it depends on being able to match sequences to existing sequence data. If species are incorrectly identified on the database in the first place and/or there isn’t a range of genetic data for a species it can cause more confusion. While it is a useful tool, using it alongside other traditional methods, like examining morphology to me appears a more accurate approach.

I’m hoping to make the genetic codes we sequenced available to the public, as the museum will keep the voucher specimens in their mollusc collection meaning that if species identifications or splits are questioned in the future the physical material is still there to be examined.

What a record!

On the 21st January I had one of my last events as a Natural Talent trainee, delivering a presentation about my mollusc projects at the Gwent-Glamorgan Recorders Forum organised by local records centre SEWBReC. The forum was very busy, with a record 80 attendees! It was great to hear from and meet so many enthusiastic and like-minded biological recorders, covering a vast range of different plant and animal groups.

For my last week I have data to compile, reports to write and an identification sheet to produce for the Freshwater Molluscs at Magor Marsh for Gwent Wildlife Trust.. phew! Time has slipped past far too quickly, but I’ve loved every minute.

Until next time!

Hwyl fawr am nawr!

Imogen Cavadino

Natural Talent Trainee: Non-Marine Molluscs

Don’t forget you can keep up to date with my daily antics on Twitter here or here.

A massive thank you to the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation for funding this amazing programme. Find out more about them here.

Also to Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales for hosting my placement. Be sure to drop in for a visit to the public collections when you’re in Cardiff!

A Fond Farewell

How time flies! I am now at the end of my traineeship with Natural England and Buglife. It has been a whirlwind of a year and I have really enjoyed it. My taxonomic skills and knowledge has increased a huge amount. But more importantly for me, my outreach skills and confidence skills have increased. Huge thank yous must go to John McFarland, Amy Styles and Rebecca Strofton for running things from the TCV end. Thanks also go to Buglife and Natural England for hosting me this year last, with a special thanks to Jon Webb and Sarah Henshall for mentoring me. All this couldn’t have been done without funding from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation so I am very very grateful for that.

At the end of the month I start a new job with Northamptonshire Biological Records Centre as ‘WILDside Project Coordinator’  This will involve engaging with the public and existing recorders, supporting and encouraging them to submit biological records. It will also involve arranging and running training courses, biobitzes etc and survey work on a number of different sites. I couldn’t have got this job without this traineeship and am really excited about it.


In the last month I have been continuing to identify beetles which were collected in traps in Windsor Park in 1993. This has helped refine my identification skills. I also spent a lovely few days with Stuart Roberts, an expert on bees and wasps. Stuart identified some bees that I couldn’t which means that I have now recorded over 100 bee species in Britain! I also spent two days in Windsor carrying out DNA sampling of wood mould to try detect the presence of a very rare dead wood beetle known as the violet click beetle.

My work at Blenheim Palace is due to be published in March in ‘The Coleopterist’ journal and will be my first piece in a peer reviewed journal. I also spoke about my Blenheim survey work at the annual coleopterist’s day which was an honour.

Speaking at the coleopterist’s day


Identifying bees in Stuart’s kitchen

Thank you once again to everyone that has made this traineeship so great. Follow me on Twitter @RyanClarkNature to see what I get up to next!