Esmee Fairbairn acknowledgement

Month Three as a Natural Talent Trainee

As the months go by, my time as a Natural Talent Trainee just seems to get better and better! I am continuously learning and developing, and having the best time while doing so. This month has brought some beautiful weather meaning I have spent a lot of time out in the field, which is always enjoyable in the gorgeous sunshine.

At the beginning of the month I visited the nearest TCV office at the Tree Life Centre, in Bristol. I met with Project Officer Karis who showed me around the wonderful community tree nursery. I spent some time with the volunteers, planting up some vegetables into pots, which will hopefully be sold to the public. It was a very enjoyable day, great to learn what kind of things The Conservation Volunteers get up to! I hope to get involved with some events there in the near future.

As always, a day out in the field with the very knowledgeable Liam Olds is always a great way to learn, from photography skills, to field skills..

Liam Olds carefully looking for Snail Hunting Wasps – making sure they don’t escape!

Photogenic thumb…there is a butterfly there somewhere I promise

This month I managed to get out and about a couple of times with Liam to some of his reclamation sites. These sites always show up wonderful things, such as Bee Orchids and an array of hoppers and bugs. Here are some of our finds…

Bee Orchid

Gorse Shieldbug

Dingy Skipper

Calocoris roseomaculatus adult, rosy makings on the wings

Calocoris roseomaculatus adult

Calocoris roseomaculatus nymph

Lovely little Dormouse

I am privileged to be able to get involved with a variety of different things during my traineeship. Once a month I will be assisting with a Dormouse round. Last year I spent a season working towards a Dormouse License, although I had a lot of practice scruffing Yellow-necked mice and Wood-mice, I did not see a single Dormouse. This season I have been lucky enough to assist with surveys at another site. It was my first visit this month, and after a long season last year not seeing any Dormice I was not expecting much, but you never guess what…first visit and I saw my first Dormouse, even got the chance to handle it. What a lovely little thing!


Wildflower ID Course with Gwent Wildlife Trust

I thoroughly enjoy my botany outings with my exceptionally knowledgeable mentor, Steph Tyler. This month I have done quite a lot of botanising, not only with my mentor but I also attended a Wildflower ID course held by Gwent Wildlife Trust, and a Sedges course held by SEWBReC. All go hand in hand, adding to my identification knowledge, which will come in useful when it comes to identifying host plants of Hemiptera.

Mike and I started our second project at Ffos y Fran, a huge open cast coal mine. It was a pretty impressive visit, we got to have a special tour of the site. It was amazing to see the scale of the mine and the amount of ground moved by the huge trucks. We are interested in collecting samples (Hemiptera) from three different restoration areas at the site. Each of the areas are at different stages in their restoration, and so it will be interesting to see what species are found at each of the areas and how they compare.

Ffos y Fran, open cast coal mine

I managed to recruit a keen volunteer to come and help with sampling. We headed for the beautiful Silent Valley, the site we surveyed was the stunning ancient ant hill field, which is grazed by Gwent Wildlife Trust’s ‘woolly lawnmowers’ during the winter. This type of conservation grazing has created a magnificent wildflower rich field, which was alive with hoppers and all things small and wonderful. It will be really interesting to see which species crop up in this hidden gem.

Ancient Ant Hill Field at Silent Valley Nature Reserve

This month I finally made it to The British, a post-industrial site in Abersychan. With the promise of coal tips I managed to drag Liam along to help out with a spot of surveying. Sadly, it was a very windy day and not much was on the wing, but we did spot two Bilberry Bumblebees which are always good to see. We used the suction sample to collect insects from different habitats, all ready to identify back at the museum on a rainy day.

The British

Boardwalk repair

I took a day out of surveying to get involved with some practical conservation work. I re-joined the old volunteer team at Gwent Wildlife Trust, it was good to see some familiar faces along with some new. We spent the day at the lovely little reserve, Dan y Graig, where we repaired some boardwalk before getting to some (a lot of) raking! All worth it, when you see the results in the long run. A task which may seem boring, but when surrounded by a great group of people is always enjoyable!

I look forward to seeing what July brings, until then be sure to follow me on Twitter !



Time flies when you’re hunting for snails – Month Two at Buglife

Hello again, and first of all sorry, as things might turn a bit hashtag blessed in a minute…

The last month has been about getting out and meeting people, with a big focus on my personal development in terms of what I’m learning and what skills I can see myself using in the future. Only 2 months into the TCV traineeship and I already feel it’s one of the most valuable things I’ve ever had the privilege of being involved in. Each day is exciting, genuinely in the sense that there’s a world of opportunities for me to access – workshops, talks and lectures, site visits all over the country, knowledgeable people who I can fire off an email to and we can arrange a meeting, I have the freedom to study, research and write about the areas I’m interested in, I’m supporting a truly remarkable project on one of my favourite animals which just happens to be a rare species for Scotland. Plus,  through the funding provided, I’m able to purchase any book or conservation resource which will benefit me in the future. Invertebrate handbooks, FSC guides, binoculars, pots, nets, lenses, posters, jackets, clipboards…the list goes on.

When I think back on an average week I’m always shocked at how much I’ve been able to do and take in.


On a Monday I could be out with 65 kids doing a pond dipping and bug session, using the OPAL survey sheets, so packing in some citizen science along the way. My favourite is hearing them draw their own conclusions about the animals we’re finding ‘it’s a stick with legs and I love it’, ‘Miss, that’s horrific’, ‘Miss can we keep the snail, can we name it Sue’. Being able to show them things that turn out to be ‘cool’ which they’d otherwise maybe never have known about – vicious beetle larva attacking a backswimmer went down like it was the best thing they’d ever witnessed.

Tuesday could be a Dragon and Damselfly training session, out in marshes and around pond on our hands and knees recording species and searching for the beautiful newly emerged adults, leaving behind their exuvia on a reed stem, hardening and drying out their shining wings. At a session like this I’ll take notes and write them up later, adding to the species knowledge I’m trying to build on, as well as submitting the species we did find online to iRecord.

Wednesday in the office, reading Mud Snail papers, creating a record of potential release sites, phoning primary schools to get them on board with the captive rearing, creating lesson plans by doing my own research, writing risk assessments for site visits, or maybe even popping out on my lunch break, grabbing a bumblebee guide and doing a bit of biological recording of my own – all the time trying to test my skills and see if I’m learning more each week.

Thursday, a site visit to one of locations in Scotland where the Pond Mud Snail is found, in one instance on the wettest day of the year. Head to toe in waterproofs, through ponds and ditches, over gates and under fences. Physically getting to see the animals in their natural habitat is amazing, knowing that at the end of the project at least 20 more sites will have been created out in open spaces like the one I’m standing in, and that the population will hopefully have increased to a healthy size.

Friday, I’m maybe out with a Buglife colleague who’s leading a workshop or session. All the time I’m figuring out if I was in that situation what would I be doing, how to deliver conservation messages and species information to different groups of people, then we’d be out and about at a local greenspace talking about pollinators, about beetles, or hoverflies and learning to engage with the outdoors just that bit more by understanding what we’re finding.  In the afternoon I could have time to plan what training courses I want to go on, booking on, sorting my travel and possibly find the time to write up this blog!

Life in a Shell // Snail Diary //

To tell you the truth the last few weeks have been so busy that I’ve not been able to keep track of the reproduction, which is pretty much through the roof. Conclusions to be drawn: Pond mud snails reproduce exceptionally well in captivity, and aren’t afraid to do so, I’m sure I’ll find out why.


200 years and a lot of rain: 

The Glasgow Botanic Gardens had a Bicentenary celebration event and I went along with TCV to run activities and show off the mud snails. We had a great turn out considering the gallons of rain. Pond dipping with tadpoles, water beetles, Ramshorn snails, backswimmers, cased caddisfly larva, damselfly nymph, and flatworm all to be found. A healthy pond! Behind the stall I think we managed to talk to, or engage with about 300 people at the event. There was a lot of interest in the captive rearing starting after summer with the Pond Mud Snails, which is definitely something I’m working on in the next few months. To host or to help out creating new habitat, digging ponds or if you want to attend a  talk, event or workshop to improve your identification skills or bug knowledge you can email me or keep an eye on Twitter.

Dumbreck Marsh, Wildlife Explorers 

The second community event for the Mud Snail project and this time it was the first in the local council areas where the wee beasts are actually found. The site in Kilsyth, North Lanarkshire isn’t too far from Dumbreck Marsh Nature Reserve and I joined at the Ranger led Wildlife Explorer Day to chat to the public about the mud snails and run some pond dipping sessions. Although not overly busy, it was a great chance to explore a new area, and even get myself on camera. I made a short film about the things we were finding as I pulled them out the pond, trying to make wee water creatures exciting and chatting a bit about the Mud Snails found in the area. I went for a wander up steam in a shallow burn on site and found what looked remarkably similar to the Pond Mud Snail, after taking the specimen home and having some microscope time it turned out to be the New Zealand Mud Snail (Potamopyrgus antipodarum) or Jenkin’s Spire Snail. So although not turning out to be what I thought was a new site to add to the project, it did get me using ID guides and doing a bit of detective work.

Snail Training Day

Following on from my discovery, it was time to really get into the technical snail stuff with a fantastic training day with mollusc expert Adrian Sumner. We headed out to Edinburgh’s Duddingston Loch in Holyrood Park, a beautiful setting with lots on offer in the water. Despite squaring up to a family of swans it was a successful day overall. I have definitely increased my freshwater ID skills, and feel lucky that I had the opportunity, so easily arranged to have a one to one session with someone like Adrian who is frighteningly knowledgeable. It makes me want to read and study even more to have an in-depth understanding of the freshwater life that is out there. Plus, snails have always been my soft spot, most people see slime with a shell but I’m very fond of them so spending a whole day looking, recording and getting to notice their subtle differences was fantastic.

Some of the Planorbids (Ramshorn Snails) and a few others we found

Bavelaw Marsh Discovery

Some amazing news came with one of the historic sites for Omphiscola glabra which we had been keeping an eye on proving to still hold a population of mud snails. This was a great discovery for the East and Lothian areas and strengthens our work with partners RZSS on the project. This was the first time a site visit had been successful for me, so the first time I’ve witnessed Pond Mud Snails in their natural habitat. It was a very unassuming location, and the rain never stopped all day. Immediately just about soaked to the skin, and armed with our pond nets we ventured out off the boardwalk path across fields and fences til finally reaching the marshy area where the snails were to be found. Clive Walton who made the discovery was kind enough to let me be the first to have a dig around and pull the first out of the pond, it was a brilliant feeling and I’m keen to visit all the sites in the next few months. It really felt like accessing a secret, one that many people don’t know (or at this stage I’m assuming particular care) about,  yet for me it was special, and over the project I know we’ll pull even more people on board.


Pin the Shell on the Snail

So this month I’ve had technical training, practical site surveys skills put into practice, community engagement and lots of opportunities to meet and speak to like-minded people. The only thing that was missing was the school element of my project which I have been busy preparing for. Education packs will form a central part of the Mud Snail project and the lucky primary schools that’ll be captive rearing will be provided with information, games, activity sheets,  and of course all the equipment they need. I was hard at work, bringing out my creative side to come up with a few classroom activities. Essentially I want to create a whole project package that could be given to the teachers to form lesson plans for the year around the Mud Snail project, which also touches on vitally important areas in animal biology, food webs, conservation and life cycles. At the heart of it all I think it’s important for the children (and teachers/adult helpers who some of the time can shrink back at the mention of bugs) to stop and appreciate it why it is that we should care for the environment and the animals within, even if they are ‘just a brown snail’.

Until next time…



Be sure to follow what I’m up to on Twitter, and check out TCV Natural Talent for an update on my fellow trainees.

Thanks to the Esmée Fairbarin Foundation for funding this brilliant programme. Find out more about them here

Also to Buglife Scotland for hosting my placement. Keep up with all the amazing work they are doing and support the small things!

A second month of nature and events!

Another busy month with several important events to organize and celebrate!

Encountering the unexpected

This project is a recent development set up to engage people aged 60 and over, with nature that they can find local to them, as part of Nature on your Doorstep.

The project is delivered in sessions and I was part of the Seaside themed second session. This was a huge success, everyone really enjoyed it and learnt a lot. I could show my beach finds, gathered from surveying, and listen to others share their memories of the beach.

Conchology specialist Ian Wallace gave a talk on shells, both ones you could find on our beaches and many from the Indian Ocean. Something that fascinated me was a shell that had been carved. I had no idea that Cameos are made in this way, chiselling away the outer layers of shell.

30 Days Wild

Throughout June I have been completing the 30 Days Wild challenge, set by The Wildlife Trust, on my twitter account. The aim is to engage in some sort of ‘wild’ activity each day. This can be as simple as photographing an animal, to wearing animal themed clothes, or something bigger such as running an event. The idea is to get people more involved and more appreciating of nature.









World Oceans Day

At the Liverpool World Museum, we celebrated World Oceans Day over three days and the whole event was a huge success. On Thursday 8th June, we ran a stall alongside The RSPB, Surfers Against Sewage and Veolia. We interacted with over 300 people, informing them about species in our oceans and the dangers they face. Our plastic pollution display case fit in well with this event and having Veolia there to inform people how to recycle plastics was very useful.



On Saturday 10th June, Veolia returned to do storytelling based on a jellyfish and a plastic bag. This was a busy day with just under 300 people joining in. On Sunday 11th June I and Kate West ran a jellyfish making craft session to round off World Oceans Day. We interacted with 316 people, making around 100 jellyfish from paper bowls and assorted materials.








After the three days the interaction figures neared 1,000 people. That is 1,000 people better informed and more interested in our oceans. Whether it is through recycling, beach cleans or simply reading and passing on information to others, these people could make a huge difference.

Over at The Wildlife Trust

After high winds the Tern nesting rafts, which have been put out in the middle of the water at Seaforth, had unfortunately blown nearer to shore. This puts the chicks and eggs at risk as terrestrial predators such as foxes can then climb on board. I was part of the cavalry, armed with waders and a rubber dinghy, sent out to pull them back out to be anchored. We were able to count chick and egg numbers and unfortunately found some dead chicks.

Another amazing job I was tasked with was the feeding of some Red Squirrel kits. This little family had been displaced from their drey when the tree holding them was felled. The Wildlife Trust have an excellent set up for Red Squirrels like this, Rachel Miller does an incredible job of nursing the young until they are big enough to be placed in a pen. This pen allows them to adjust to the outside world before they are then released back into the wild.







Thanks for reading! Keep up with me daily by following my Twitter account!

Thank you as always to The Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, my mentors and TCV.

Bye for now, Annan.


Watch out World!…..

It’s only a couple of weeks since my first blog…but just like when going invertebrate hunting, my perception of time goes awry! The sun just keeps on shining in Shropshire and the rains seems to come mainly whenever I’m camping! The 5am dawn chorus has been my alarm call, and the days are full of wild life from dawn til dusk.

Rich, Charlie and I spent a blissful day on Haughmond Hill, carrying out a National Plant Monitoring Scheme (NPMS) survey. This scheme allocates volunteers a specific patch, within which 5 representative square or linear plots are chosen and surveyed a few times each year. The surveys can be carried out on one of three levels (depending on the experience of the surveyor) and a species list is supplied dependent on the habitat description. After recording all plant species within the plot, the percentage cover for each species is estimated and recorded, as is the overall percentage coverage in ranges of height. Surveys should be carried out several times of the year by the same person….for as long as they can sustain breath! It’s a real commitment, but an excellent way of providing continuity and valuable records of changing habitat and species diversity over time.

My eyes were opened to the amazing world of springtails, when TomBio (FSC Tomorrow’s Biodiversity Project) set up the lab in Preston Montford as an open day for local enthusiasts. This is a regular occurance and provides a relaxed but well-informed setting in which to learn more/ compare notes/ practice keying out/ develop skills and learn from each other. I am very touched by the genuinely warm welcome that everyone extends in the world of entomology. Don’t be put off by thinking that you don’t know anything…just come along to these events, and people will happily give you great encouragement. As I have spent more time with local entomologists, I have realised just how under-represented invertebrate recording has been. It has been largely due to the successful running of projects from the Biodiversity office in FSC, that local enthusiasts have become experts and county recorders, which is a wonderful testament to the foresight and support provided through these projects.

Oooh…more good news! I was accepted into the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management last week, so am proud to be a “Grad CIEEM”. It will be a great way of ensuring I keep my skills up to date through CPD, and involvement in local groups. If that wasn’t exciting enough, I also passed the assessments to drive the head office car and the Preston Montford people carrier. Watch out world!!

I returned to Conwy for a wonderful day with the local recording group COFNOD, where we surveyed Cymryd, a beautiful area near the river Conwy which included salt marsh, open meadow, broad leaved woodland and hedge banks. Richard Gallon led us and shared much arachnid id knowledge, and I had the opportunity to spend some time with Lucia Ruffino on bryophytes and Julie Rose on vascular plants. Time flew, and before we realised it was 6pm. A particular highlight for me, was spotting a fox cub in the bluebell woodland. We had a good view in the dappled sunlight and then the cub silently slipped away.

Back at Preston Montford, I am working with Sami Key and we are developing our id skills together. Whenever possible, we set the moth trap and then get really excited when we correctly identify some of the moths. It’s a very satisfying way of improving your observational skills. The traps are also set at Head Office, and form a fascinating early morning diversion from the desk work, when lots of people come out to the courtyard to look and wonder at what we will find. We had a bit of drama when a nesting sparrow flew off with one of our recently released Poplar Hawk Moths (we think it was one of Dave’s relatives…follow me on Twitter for more explanation!) It wasn’t what we wanted to see…but that’s nature in the raw! Sami and I are also starting regular bee and butterfly transects around Preston Montford grounds, and our preliminary afternoon certainly made us realise which questions we need to ask in order to become really proficient at recording accurately.

Thanks to Sara Lanyon from Head Office in giving me an impromptu lesson in damsel and dragonfly id. (I am working diligently on my homework, and look forward to part 2 Sara!) I have been putting my new knowledge to immediate use, as the damsel and dragon season is now well under way. This was particularly useful over the last three days, when I have been with Pete Boardman and Kirsty Davies of Shropshire Wildlife Trust, surveying a pristine bog site (Clare Pool Moss), Crosemere and Colemere for invertebrates. The Shropshire entomology group attended the first two days, providing their usual high level of knowledge and great humour, and the third day was for volunteers who wished to improve their survey and id skills. A great success all round, and I certainly started to feel more familiar with some species.

Thanks to “Spider Nig”, Rich and Charlie for a great “Learn to Love Spiders” course in Preston Montford…loads of information, plus the fun of making and using our very own Spi pots. It was interesting that several participants admitted to a previous fear of spiders, but had found that learning more about these fascinating creatures had actually helped them to rationalise and overcome this fear. They left their audience begging for more…good job that there are a few more spider courses on offer!

The temp recorded 34 degrees in my car on the day I decided to visit my nearest heathland, The Cliffe! A hot dusty walk with magnificent views across the county. I did some plant recording, but was wilting fairly quickly. Probably too hot and sunny for amphibians too. I’ll certainly return on a cooler day!

I can’t believe how much I’ve packed in over the last few weeks. As always, my very grateful thanks to the wonderful Biodiversity team of Sue, Charlie and Rich and to all the fantastically enthusiastic ologists out there who are helping to make me feel so welcome!

Sue Loughran, TCV Natural Talent Trainee (Invertebrates and Lower Plants of Heaths and Mires).

With thanks to Field Sudies Council for hosting my placement and to the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation for funding my traineeship.