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 !



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

My First Month as a Natural Talent Trainee

I’m Phoebe, a new Natural Talent Trainee alongside five others across the UK, each with our own specialist area to discover. This is the first of many blogs, where you can read all about what I get up to throughout my traineeship.

My Research Area

During my year as a Natural Talent Trainee, I will be based at the National Museum Wales, Cardiff. It is here I will be studying Hemiptera as indicators of grassland quality and management.

Collection at the Museum

Hemiptera is a diverse order of insects, many of which can look very different. However, they all share the common characteristic of a piercing and sucking mouthpart. Many members of the group feed on plant fluids and require the use of this mouthpart to penetrate plant tissues. Hemiptera are among the most common species found in grasslands, yet they are extremely under recorded. The aim of the Natural Talent Traineeship is to increase the number of specialists in the sector with knowledge of lesser known, overlooked subjects. Hopefully throughout my traineeship I can encourage people to record, be more aware of, and grow to love these little creatures.

Projects lined up

So far I have two projects lined up, that I will be starting very soon. Much to my delight, I will be back at Gwent Wildlife Trust for the first project. My mentor and I will be heading to the beautiful wildflower meadows at Pentwyn Farm. Our first site visit is this week, where we will be scouting out which fields we would like to collect some samples from. I am looking forward to seeing what we will find there!

The second area we will be exploring is Ffos y Fran, a huge open cast coal mine in Merthyr Tydfil. Near to the mine are areas of vegetation at different stages of growth, we are interested in collecting samples from each of the different areas to see how species abundance and species diversity compares at each of the sites.

I will keep you informed with the progress of these projects!

So far at the museum…

So far during my traineeship I have been trying to get my head around a lot of things! The first couple of weeks were mainly spent settling in, meeting new people and learning how to get around the maze that is the Museum. I have spent a lot of time trying to get to grips with my new research group – Hemiptera.

  • Museum collections are essential to study and ultimately conserve species. I have spent time looking through the museum’s Hemiptera collection, in an attempt to familiarise myself with species, ready for the field work.
  • During my first week I went on a short trip to a nearby park, to sweep net and use the aspirator to collect some beautifully, bright green leafhoppers – later identified as Empoasca decipiens.
  • I have had some practice of carefully mounting and labelling specimens – it is a very fiddly process!

Mounted specimens

  • My mentor, Mike Wilson, showed me how to ‘boil up’ some old specimens, to then dissect to view the genitalia – as some species can only be identified in this way!

Examining genitalia

  • Mike has challenged me to identify and sort through some old specimens that have not yet been identified or labelled. It has beed a good way to get used to working through the identification key.

My tools for identification!

  • As a part of the traineeship, I have the opportunity to attend various training courses. This month saw my first course with Gwent Wildlife Trust. It was an Adder Survey day led by the very knowledgeable Mark Barber from the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust, we checked under trays and put out new ones in ideal locations ready for regular Adder surveys.

No Adders found, but we did spot a Slow worm!

Adder survey day

  • As well as my time at the Museum, I have been allocated a Botany Mentor as part of SEWBReC’s Mary Gillham Archive project. I have been fortunate enough to spend days out with the Botany experts in order to increase my Botany identification.

Beautiful views on Botany walks

Purple carpet of Bluebells

What next?

As the survey season arrives I will be getting out and about to carry out lots of field work. We have a site visit to Pentwyn planned ready to get the project started. Alan Stewart an expert in the field, from Sussex University is coming to Cardiff to help with some sampling – and hopefully some tips on identification! I have many more Botany walks planned, and lots more to learn about Hemiptera, but hopefully no more getting lost in the museum!


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