Esmee Fairbairn acknowledgement

Moths and Mosses – A Natural Talent Traineeship

Hello! I’m Ross McIlwrath and I’m one of this year’s Natural Talent Trainees! Over the next year I’ll be studying Micro Moths and Peatlands. My traineeship is based in Stirling with Butterfly Conservation. I am thrilled to have been given this opportunity which will allow me to acquire specialist knowledge over this next year.

Micro moths are a group of animals that have been historically undervalued and under-recorded due to their small size. This makes them difficult to identify and many even need dissected under a microscope to be certain of their species!! However, over half of the 2500 species of the moth in the UK are micros (as micro moths are colloquially known) and therefore play an integral role in British ecosystems. Over the course of my traineeship I will be looking specifically at micros that occur on Peatlands.

One of my favourite micros, Argyresthia brockeella (Photo credit @Lorna Blackmore)

Peatlands have often been overlooked, but are now recognised as vitally important habitats. Peatlands are waterlogged areas dominated by Sphagnum Mosses. When the moss dies instead of degrading into soil they compact to form layers of peat. These layers of peat can extend metres beneath the ground surface and take thousands of years to form. Peat layers have the potential to store huge amounts of carbon; 3 inches of peat holds the same amount of carbon as the same area forested. This means Peatlands have the potential to play a vital role to combat climate change.  Over the next year I hope to show how fantastic these places are for micro moths!

So over the past month I’ve been getting to grips with so many things: Moving to a new country, learning the local colloquialisms (e.g. A bog is called a “Moss” in Scotland), getting to know the local area and most importantly getting to know my survey sites!

First day on the job I managed to find my first Micro of the traineeship!! Acleris hyemana is a very common moth on bogs which feeds on heather. They spend the summer as a caterpillar and hatch out as adults in the autumn. Some, like this individual, will hibernate over the winter and continue to lay in the Spring time!

Acleris hyemana

The beautiful patterns on the Acleris hyemana make excellent camouflage amongst the heather. Can you spot it!?! (Follow me on twitter @rossmcil, for more Spot the Moth quizzes)

Wester Moss

Wester Moss is a small bog just outside the town of Fallin in Stirlingshire. Despite being a stone’s throw from a football pitch it’s amazing for wildlife!! It goes to show that you don’t need travel far to experience the wonders of nature.

Wester Moss

Look at the beautiful Cotton-grasses in bloom! A very common sight on bogs, cotton grasses love the water logged soil.

Emperor Moth at Wester Moss.

One of my first nights trapping we managed to catch this beauty!! Emperor moths have incredible eyespots to startle predators. Some say that the moth looks like the face of an owl, definitely a scary sight in the dark!

New Fox friend!

During a day survey when I had my head down one day looking for moth caterpillars, I was surprised by a new friend! It was so curious it came right up to me and chewed my Wellington Boot!!

Dyseriocrania subpurpurella.

Already I’ve been finding new species of micro moth for Wester Moss! This gorgeous golden Dyseriocrania subpurpurella is one of the highlights

Kentish Glory

Earlier this month, I was helping to survey the very rare Kentish Glory moth in the Cairngorm National park. Despite the name these beautiful beasties are now only found in the Scottish Highlands. Butterfly Conservation and a number of moth enthusiasts, placed pheromone lures at different locations to try and see if Kentish Glory where present. The male moths use their long feathery antennae to “smell” out females and our lures mimicked the same pheromones the female secretes. Unfortunately only 5 moths were found over the weekend of surveying and more surveying will need to be completed to see how many are left.

Kentish Glory.


On the 11th of May a small team and I camped out on Inchcailloch, which is a small island in Loch Lomond. The entire island is covered in mature Oak and Birch woodland with a sea of beautiful bluebells. We placed a number of moth traps all over the island and stayed up all night recording the moths that came to our traps.

Bluebell City!

We caught an amazing 30 different species and 226 moths in one night!! Among the catch was this wonderful micro, Esperia sulphurella. This was a fantastic find as it was a new record for the island!! The caterpillar of this moth plays a very important ecological role as it feeds upon dead wood.

Esperia sulphurella.


Summit of Inchcailloch.

With summer fast approaching I eagerly await lots of long days and late nights of surveying! The changing seasons bring with new moth species and I can’t wait to see what I’ll find and the identification challenges that it will bring!! I would like to thank TCV, Butterfly Conservation and Esmee Fairbairn Foundation for allowing me to embark on this incredible learning experience and can’t wait to share what I learn!!




May – Hoppers are Everywhere.

Two months into my traineeship and I feel like I have already learnt so much, at the same time I realise there is so much more to learn and I have only just scraped the surface! The month of May has brought beautiful sunshine and a few soggy days, for me it has meant a lot of ‘botanising’ and exploring the world of hoppers. I am going to share with you what I have been up to, and some of my interesting finds this month.

Hoppers are everywhere… I present to you the Sage Leafhopper Eupteryx melissae. Who knew something so tiny could be so beautifully detailed? The Sage Leafhopper is a very common hopper, yet hardly anyone knows about it. Careful identification from photographs can be made, have a look for the more or less round large spots on the vertex. However, be careful not to confuse this hopper with another, which can also be found on Sage. Eupteryx decemnotata contrasts to the common sage hopper (Eupteryx melissae), instead of three spots, it has three pairs of dark marks. Hopefully you can see this from the photograph below. So, keep a look out on sage, see what you discover!

Sage Leaf Hopper, Eupteryx Melissae

Sage Leafhopper

Common Sage Hopper, Eupteryx melissae (Left)
Eupteryx decemnotata (Right)

It was great for my botany mentor Steph Tyler to come to my local area this month, to do some botanising. The visit turned out to be quite exciting. We headed to Bryn Back Park, where Steph was extremely pleased when she came across, what it would seem is quite a rarity – Wintergreen. There were various other lovely finds, including the many orchids that were scattered around, I look forward to returning when they all start to flower, where we can make a full identification.

Green Veined White, Orchid (Top right)
Wintergreen (Bottom left)

With the arrival of the glorious weather, Mike (Hemiptera Mentor), Liam (ex Natural Talent Trainee) and I ventured out on a site visit to Pentwyn Farm. We met with Tim Green from Gwent Wildlife Trust, who manages the meadows. It will be a really interesting project as each of the fields are managed differently and have a different wildflower composition. Thus, we are going find out which fields are the best for Hemiptera, and how these results compare to how the fields are managed. Hemiptera can be a useful way of surveying a field for its quality. We also did a bit of sampling just to get an idea of the sorts things that are about. It was a great day, I love being out and about seeing what is around, it was the first time I had a go of the very powerful suction sampler. I felt like a ‘real’ entomologist with my head stuck in the net, spotting what we had caught.

Sampling at Pentwyn

I also spent some time outside the world of Hemiptera, assisting with a few Great Crested Newt surveys this month. All of which have been really interesting and also pretty successful, spotting lots of eggs and Great Crested Newts.

Great Crested Newt Survey

I had a great day out surveying and learning from the previous natural talent trainee Liam Olds, he is so knowledgeable and it was great to visit one of his land reclamation sites. Here are some of our finds:

Dingy Skipper

One of the Plant Bugs, Stenodema laevigata

Cantharis rustica, one of the Soldier Beetles

Alan Steward came to Cardiff. It was brilliant to meet hopper expert Alan Stewart from Sussex University, he came with us to Pentwyn to work out a survey protocol for when we start our project. It was amazing to see the vast numbers of hoppers, jumping through the grass as we walked – I think I have my work cut out with identification! The following day Alan came to the museum, it was a great opportunity to learn from an expert in the field. He showed me how to dissect the fresh specimens in order to identify them, along with some handy identification tips.

Meadows at Pentwyn

Gwent Wildlife Trust will soon start to manage a new site, The British. I have been asked to compile a Hemiptera species list for the post-industrial site. This month I had the opportunity to have a walk around with some of the very knowledgeable reserves team, a great opportunity to learn from them and their own expertise. The weather was glorious, views were stunning and wildlife flourishing, what a lovely day. I look forward to visiting again, to search for hoppers and all things small.

The British

Fancy a tile painted with lichens?

Hello! Are you enjoying the warm weather? Fancy a walk along the beach? 🙂

So today I´m going to talk about a project part of my traineeship.

What do you think about man-made structures on our shoreline?

Do you think is there any way to make them more environmental friendly?

Over time, we have been building unstoppable next to the coast, using it for houses, industry or paths. We have built sea walls, rock armour revetments or groynes.  By doing so, we are reducing the available habitat for coastal species. I say ecosystem restoration is the key.

So, is there anything we can do to reduce the impact of these structures and increase habitat availability? OF COURSE IT IS! New and innovative techniques have been developed in the last few years to increase biodiversity in cities and towns. Therefore, we can make our ecosystems more sustainable, resilient and healthy.


Rock armour-Granton Beach

So, let’s talk about our project.

Where? Edinburgh. The city has 27 km of coast, from South Qeensferry to Joppa. Our first attempt (yes, I wrote attempt) was in Cramond.

Path to Cramond Island

Who was involved? The project was founded by NERC. We have the support of Edinburgh Living Landscape, RBGE, The University of Edinburgh and the local College, among others.

What is the idea? We aim to create new suitable habitats for coastal species, increasing the local biodiversity, empowering communities to get involved. For example, lichens are very sensitive to pH and high. So maybe the sea wall built on your closest beach hasn’t got the right components for lichens to grow.

Getting lichens ready: we collected samples at southeast Lothian for some of the main lichen species in the area. The idea is to “paint” them on the tiles. Let me explain this better!

So first, I weighted every specie, dried, to know the exactly amount of each we had.

First step-lichen weight

Second, for each lichen, I grinded it using a lab mortar. Some of them were very hard to grind! Lichens fighting back!

Third , I put them in a wee lab jar, with a label.

Finally, we needed to find the way to stick them on a tile, and someone very very wise suggested to use SNAIL SLIM! I apologise for the picture, not the best quality. On the left, we have all the snails we caught at the Botanic Garden. It was one of the most exiting hunts ever! Exactly what I used to do when I for 6 yo. And, who said snails are slow? A few minutes without checking the box and they were already half way out of the box or somewhere on the wall!

Have you already figured out how we got the slim? We “MILK” the snails! It was more like tickling them!!! BEST DAY EVER!

What about the tiles? Several concrete tiles were made for creating suitable habitats. Students from Granton College and The University of Edinburgh worked hard to have everything ready on time. We have different shapes depending on the objective, plus a control tile, painted with the same products used on hard structures.

As I said before, lichens are very affected by high. Because of that, we placed their tiles on the upper zone, out of the tidal area.

(There´s an amazing picture of us getting on with it, I will get it ASAP)

Sad moments: two days after. SURPRISE! Someone, probably more than one, removed all of them! We don´t know who, or why. But I went to check two days after the installation, and that´s what I found. It is very sad, in my opinion, that someone had decided to do something like this without knowing what was it.

On the bottom left, tiles on a pile. The wall is naked!

Our lovely tiles, left on the floor

Survivors, at least, half of them.

So, if you know someone with a ladder, a hammer, chisels and all sort of tools, don´t let them destroy someone else tiles!

Luckily, we are optimistic and we think we will be able to repeat the experiment. FINGERS CROSSED!

That’s all for today.

Enjoy the heatwave!


First month as a TCV trainee :)

Hello! My name is Aroa Sampedro and I’m happy to be a TCV Natural Talent trainee, studying lichens and seaweeds on the Edinburgh shoreline. My office is in the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh,  amazing right?

First day at the RBGE

During the first few weeks, I have been learning a lot about lichens! I promise I will be talking about seaweeds later on, but right now, let´s talk about lichens.

What is a lichen?

A lichen is a symbiotic association between a fungus and algae and/or cyanobacteria.

The lichen symbiosis is a mutualism, where the fungi are “heterotrophic” and need an external source for getting food. The algae and/or cyanobacteria are photosynthetic, and provide the simple sugars to their fungal partners.

The fungi build the structure of the lichen thallus, within which they provide conditions for a long term, stable association with their photobionts, the basis of the lichen symbiosis. What can I say? They are like nice flatmates helping each other!

Highlights of my first weeks

So far I have been meeting everyone at my department and getting my head around this new step in my life! I´m loving every second I spend working on this project!

So, why is this project so exiting?
Edinburgh shoreline was an important settlement during World War I and II and is forgotten nowadays, becoming a place for heavy industry, retail and sewage. All this industrial and military history is telling us a story about local habitat development, on a clearly unknown coast for the nearby human communities.

So it is in our hands to give Edinburgh the coast that it deserves!

  • Lichen trail RBGE

Lichen Safari at the RBGE

Lichens on a branch at the RBGE – Aren’t they beautiful?

What an amazing idea! It´s open to everyone and I totally recommend it. I personally enjoyed it a lot, I visited it on my second day and it opened my eyes to a new world! The lichen safari gives you an excellent opportunity to look closer and see how astonishing, colourful and different lichens can be.

Let´s go to the beach!


  • South Queensferry

First contact with rocky shore lichens and my beginner photograph skills. And it was the first time I was under The Forth Bridge, it leaves you breathless.

South Queensferry -The Forth Bridge (opened on March 1890!)

I had the opportunity to walk around, and understand better what can I expect to find in an area like Edinburgh. I could spend hours looking for lichens, but tides don’t let me do it! Honestly, South Queensferry worths a visit. Lovely walk along the coast, ending in a beautiful small woodland near Dalmeny Estate.

Rocky shore lichens

Interesting facts about the bridge: it was one of the first cantilever bridges in Britain, and Britain’s first all-steel bridge. It´s a Victorian engineering icon and it sees 200 train movements daily!

  • Cramond

I must say I found a gem in the Edinburgh coast! People in Edinburgh TAKE THE BIKE/BUS/CAR AND GO TO THE BEACH!

Sunny day at Cramond

The potential of this area is huge, walking from the main beach heading to Granton, you can find nice rock pools for seaweeds and lichens everywhere!
On the other hand, we have Cramond Island. It is a tidal island in the Firth of Forth reached at low tide.

Rocky shore at Cramond Island

This wee island was used to graze sheep by the 1800s. Although its recent history is a bit more violent.

Walking towards Cramond Island

During the World War I the War Department took over the northern part of the island, as part of the defences of the Firth of Forth.

During the World War II, several military defences where placed in this island. The most obvious one is visible when you approach to Cramond Island; it is an emplacement for guarding the gap between the island on the south shore.

Actually, the imposing concrete teeth alongside the causeway were intended to ensure that U-Boats could not pass south of the island at high tide. It´s amazing, isn’t it?

Fun fact about Cramond Beach: it is that close to the airport that planes fly over your head!

  • Visit to South East Lothian

This was my first visit with a lichenologist. Sally Eaton is the Scottish Plant Conservation Officer at the RBGE and one of my mentors. She showed me what a rocky shore zonation looks like.

Lichen zonation on a rocky shore

Can you see there are three different colours? Let me explain you a little bit about zonation.

A simplified way to explain zonation -only where I will be working-and yeah… I’m the artist behind this!

Littoral fringe (Black zone): occasionally submerged by the tides. Subject to heavy spray and waves. The main lichen here is called Verrucaria maura, and it looks like oil! So please, look closer, it is not pollution!

Submesic- Mesic zone (Orange zone): the amount os spray declines, and new species can survive here! Crustose Caloplaca and the first foliose species, such as Xanthoria.

Xeric zone (Grey zone): only light spray. This area gets wet and dry with tides.

That´s all for now!

Next…”Greening the grey” project and first days in the lab!

Follow me on twitter Twitter for all my adventures with lichens and seaweeds and visit our TCV Natural Traineeship.

Thank you to the Royal Botanic Garden EdinburghEdinburgh Living Landscape and Esmee Fairbairn Foundation for this amazing opportunity!



My first month in Mudflat Madness

Hello I’m Annan, a Zoology graduate, and I am completing one of the TCV traineeships based in Liverpool. My traineeship explores the flora and fauna found on a Mudflat, I am working with Liverpool World Museum and Lancashire Wildlife Trust to do this.

What are mudflats and why are they so important?

Mudflats are areas found on beaches that are more of a wet and muddy consistency than sandy. Areas of mudflat can actually move, and do so regularly at one of my survey sites Crosby, this movement is dependent on the tide and currents.

Although they may look barren, mudflats are teaming with life and are very nutrient rich. They reduce erosion by absorbing wave energy, soak in pollution from the sea and provided habitat for many species particularly wading birds.

Highlights of my first month;

On my first day I met my two mentors Geraldine, from Liverpool World Museum, and Sally from the Lancashire Wildlife Trust. I had tours around the Botany, Zoology, Entomology, Geology and Conchology departments in the museum. Over at Seaforth I met the Wildlife Trust team and had a tour around the reserve. This reserve is home to extensive wading birds and coastal wildlife but is buried in the corner of Liverpool’s busy port.


In my second week I and my mentors began scouting the Sefton coastline for potential survey sites. The first was Crosby beach, home to the Iron Men created by Anthony Gormley. Some of these men stand in the middle of mudflat area and are great for discovering fauna. Common Barnacles, Australasian Barnacles and Mussels covered this statue. The height at which the species grew also gave a good indication of the zone that it inhabited. In the pool surrounding the statue we used sieve sampling and caught small shrimp species and flat fish.

Evidence of burrowing species could be seen all across the surface of the mudflat, and after investigating with a shovel we unearthed White Catworms and Lugworms

‘Another Place’ Iron Men

Flat Fish


A second survey site I have been exploring is Southport beach. Southport had a much more muddy composition but also contains grass banks, threatening to naturally create a salt marsh habitat. There is a noticeable difference in species across these two sites because of this, which could be an interesting project topic!

Evidence of burrowing was also clear here but the species doing so varied. Digging below these unusual siphon prints we discovered a Peppery Furrow Shell. The inhalant and exhalant siphon tracks visible are used for feeding and waste removal, siphoning food from the surface of the mudflat is what creates these unique patterns. Once exposed the shell tried to burrow further by using its foot, this is the white appendage coming out beneath the shell.

Siphon tracks on mudflat surface

Buried Peppery Furrow Shell


These site surveys and collecting flora and fauna samples proved very useful in expanding my mudflat knowledge. When back in the lab I spent time identifying the species in order to learn more about them. My favourite finds include a thorn from the back or tail of a Thornback Ray, and a male and female Masked Crab.









Beach Clean

In my third week I was out and about a lot more with the Wildlife Trust, I was lucky enough to take part in a couple of sea and muddy shore training sessions. These sessions were part of the ‘Our Irish Sea Project’ and were with the Marine Champion volunteers. As well as learning with the volunteers I aided in a corporate group beach clean on Crosby beach. The clean was very fruitful; bags of rubbish and thousands of nurdles were collected. Nurdles are very small plastic pellets that pollute our seas and beaches, killing many wading birds and marine animals.









Museum Display

Learning about these nurdles coincided well with the museums latest display window on plastics in the ocean. Myself and Kate West were in charge of collecting specimens, text and other objects to highlight the plastics issue.

I was able to make use of my nurdles in the display, using them to show how similar to fish eggs they are, causing sea birds to eat them. My very first museum display was a success and very exciting to do!









Fascination of Plants Family Fun Day

To celebrate International Plant Day, Liverpool World Museum held a Fascination of Plants event day. This was a huge success, along with Ness Gardens and the Wildlife Trust, we enthused people and got them talking about plants. I used the microscope and all different specimens to engage with people and we attracted over 850 visitors throughout the one day!









Out with TCV Merseyside

At the end of my first month I ventured out with my local TCV group. This was a great day constructing and filling raised flower beds for a church garden. I am looking forward to many more fulfilling days out with a great group of volunteers.


Thanks for reading about my busy and exciting first month!

You can follow me on Twitter for all things mudflat related, and check our TCV Natural Talent website to explore all 6 traineeships.

Thank you to Liverpool World Museum and Lancashire Wildlife Trust for making me feel so welcome in my first month.

And a big thank you to Esmee Fairbairn Foundation for making these traineeships possible.