Summer is already here! And with it, so many exiting things!
First week: Phase 1 habitat survey training (TCV-Edinburgh)
The main focus of the course was to learn how to assess a habitat type using the Phase 1 survey methodology, to map and write this up competently and to understand how to read Phase 1 habitat maps. We spent most part of our time outdoors, learning about different habitats and tips to recognise them quickly. I totally recommend this course, I learnt a lot!
Day 1- Grassland survey
Day 2-Visiting the wild Edinburgh
Second week. Jupiter Urban Wildlife Centre
I was lucky to spend two days this week at Jupiter Urban Wildlife Centre. What is great about this place? Everything! It´ s an oasis in the middle of an industrial area, an example of how we can change grey industry land into a spot full of life! They have super fun activities, like pond dipping, trees and birds identification…
The first day, as part of a TCV meeting, we helped at the celebrations of their 100th session, where people could join in with TCV’s food growing and recycled woodwork projects. It was one of those beautiful sunny and warm days in Scotland, so we all enjoy working outside.
We were working so hard getting signs for vegetables ready
Vegetables ready for our signs!
During my second visit, I helped running a BioBlitz with TCV, the Scottish Wildlife Trust ranger and some skilled volunteers. We were unlucky with the weather during the morning, so not a lot of people joined us. Although that did´t stop us! And some of us went to check the moth trap and see what was living there! I must say that, right after we catch the first moth, I knew I will always be a moth fan!
Can it be Tyria jacobaeae? Or commonly called Cinnabar moth
After lunch, several families came, and we all had the opportunity of participating in different activities, like pond dipping, worm survey, dragonfly identification, birds, flowers, trees… super fun stuff!
Third week. A day out with TCV mid week group
If you like outdoors volunteering, TCV is definitely your group! We were at Cramond, working to conserve a coastal sand dune, that is a UKBAP Priority Habitat. We were removing an invasive non native specie, called Japanese Rose.
It was really hard work, at first it looks like a nice, wee flower, but the truth is that its roots are so long and thick that make the job very hard! It does a really good job as an invasive specie.
Working hard with TCV Edinburgh mid week group
During the second day with TCV, we started with a wee survey. Unfortunately, the tide wasn’t good enough for surveying seaweeds and coastal lichens. So we focused on the sand dune. Luckily, we found an area full of life, what made us think that the work done on this dune, for its development and conservation, is going on the right way! Super exiting!
Forth week. Oban. I have always loved the smell of seaweeds
The month couldn’t finish better! I was invited to visit Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS), one of my project’s partners. Starting with the fact that Oban is one of my favourite coastal towns in Scotland, and that I am extremely interested in seaweeds, I knew the experience was going to be a 10/10.
First day. Oban is even more beautiful that what I knew
We went out to Dunstaffnage peninsula, 5 minutes walking to the main building, where we had the first try with seaweeds, which was hilarious! I had the opportunity of going to the shore with and expert, so I learnt about donation, seaweed identification, and fun facts about the rocky shore!
Rocky shores are alive!
Crabs attacked us while we were trying to learn the main keys to identify seaweeds. Well… it happened because we put our hands where they were resting, and they were trying to defend themselves.
I learnt how to use a clinometer to measure the slope of the shoreline, what is very important in terms of exposure to the elements.
In general, a good start, learning from the very fist second, and what is very important, having fun!
Second day. A mix of experiences!
During the morning I had the opportunity of learning more about harvesting seaweeds. Uses and benefits. Seaweeds are largely used for food, cosmetic, fuel and in fisheries all around the world. That is why we must be aware of our impact in natural habitats, developing a sustainable method to grow them.
I also helped a graduate student on recording underwater life. Following what I learnt on a TCV training course, we focused on how to record a project making it very informative to the public.
I hope you can see the video!
What else? If you think there can´t be more, you’re wrong! I helped recording data for a research project, looking how natural disturbances, such us storms, may affect seaweed growth. What is, from my point of view, my dreamed research project! I felt like a little kid in a candy store!
Rocky shore. From seaweeds to lichens
Surveying the rocky shore
Third day. Seaweed samples, lab experience and a wonder under the rain
For my last day at Oban, we went out to take some samples for a CoCoast training day during that week. One thing you need to take in account when your working in a rocky shore is that they are pretty slippery! And you may try to go down walking, but at the end you will probably fall down and slip!
I also had the opportunity of using the microscope to identify some pretty interesting red seaweed.
So, new keys to identify seaweeds, new valuable knowledge, and the opportunity of meeting new people involved in exiting projects. SAMS is more than what I expected. I hope I can go back soon…
Looking forward for another trip to Oban
That´s all for now! I can´t be more grateful for this opportunity!
It’s been a very busy month for me, with lots of exciting things happening. I’ve been spending a lot of time out and about trying to get people to appreciate molluscs… not always the easiest task in the world!
“One, Two, Three…. SLOW!”
Bringing mollusc madness and TCV’s feel good attitude to Kingswood Park
Last month I met up with my Natural Networks buddy, Delyth Hurley from TCV Tree Life Centre in Bristol.We decided to bring the joys of slugs and snails to Kingswood Park family fun day, and introduce them to the sport of snail racing. Despite the terrible weather, the live snails proved a hit, with kids enjoying holding them and watching them “race” across the table. Unfortunately we didn’t beat the world records of 2mins 20secs across a 14inch course… maybe next time?!
One of the winners crossing the finish line
Mid may saw the Hay Literary Festival happening in Hay-On-Wye, where my mentor Dr Ben Rowson gave a fascinating talk on “The Ghost Slug and Molluscs Ancient and Modern” at Hay Castle. My project even got a cheeky mention, along with a few photos!
Well, what talk would be complete without photos of me sampling ditches!? 😉
At the end of May I got to take part in my first bioblitz as an ‘expert’ at Magor Marsh… eek! This was particularly nerve wracking for me as I still feel I’m getting to grips with terrestrial molluscs, and we’d just had a long spell of hot dry weather! This meant that most slugs and snails would be hiding from the sunshine, trying to stay moist and not venturing out during the day. Despite this, several visitors managed to bring me some snails to look at, including a lovely little hairy juvenile. Thanks to a handy wooden bench, I even managed to find a small range of slug species to show adults and children, many who had a great time letting them crawl over their hands! I was also joined by Barbara Brown of OPAL, who was leading bug hunts, and somehow managed to teach me a little about bees (I usually try to avoid the cute and fuzzy). She even caught and identified a Shrill Carder Bee (Bombus sylvarum), considered the rarest species of Bumblebee in the UK! The species has been recorded at Magor Marsh before, but it just goes to show what a unique and amazing landscape the Gwent Levels is to be able to support such rare invertebrates.
Materials at the ready, it’s bioblitz time!
“Hang on… so some snails have hairy shells!?”
Yep! Several species of snail in the UK have hairs on their shells, though in some these can wear off before they become adults. The hairs can reach up to 3mm long, but often just make the shell look a bit fuzzy unless you look closely. They are part of the periostracum – a thin layer of protein covering the calcium rich shell snail shell.
“But why have hairy shells?!”
Good question… and one that intrigued some scientists so much they wrote a paper on it. Interestingly some of the species with hairy shells are in completely different family groups, suggesting that they evolved independently, at different times and from different lineages. Hairy shells are found on species that live in moist microhabitats, like wet fallen leaves, damp grassland etc. Originally the theory was that hairy shells would allow the snails to be more streamlined when moving over wet surfaces, allowing them to move faster, but the study in 2005 found that actually it made the snails stick to wet surfaces more! This indicates that the hairs may help the snails to stick or hang on to slippery, wet plants. This helps prevent them from falling off and having to crawl up the plant again; a tiring journey for a snail.
Gallivanting in Gwent
At the beginning of June I headed off for the day to visit a couple of Gwent Wildlife Trust smaller reserves. I decided to have a look round Coed Meyric Moel near Cwmbran, and Branches Fork Meadows near Pontypool. From a mollusc point of view Coed Meyric Moel was not the most exciting place, particularly as I visited during a really hot and dry week! However, I absolutely loved Branches Fork Meadows, both for its varied mollusc fauna but also the lovely mixture of habitats.
Some of the beautiful wildlife found at the reserve
The reserve is reached by walking along a national cycle route, so despite being close to Pontypool itself it felt like you were truly in the countryside. The reserve was an interesting mosaic of young woodland, a few veteran trees, scrub and wet heathy grassland, complete with a small grassy pond. I was intrigued to find a young golden toffee coloured slug with an obvious keel, which I struggled to identify at first. After consulting my guide I discovered it was a juvenile Limax cinereoniger (Ash-Black Slug), the adults of which usually have grey and black striped patterned tails with a dark unmarked mantle. The species is also an indicator of ancient woodland, but is known to persist at sites after trees have been cleared. This was interesting, as the area of the reserve I found the slugs in had some trees recently felled, suggesting that the Wildlife Trust were thinking of managing the reserve more for grassland than woodland. Fear not, the site immediately above the reserve is privately owned old plantation woodland, and may prove to be suitable habitat for the woodland specialist slug. I was really struck by this small reserve and the range of wildlife, and would definitely recommend a visit!
Juvenile of an Arion species found at Branches Fork Meadows
The best laid plans….
On the way home disaster struck, with my car breaking down spectacularly! Luckily the breakdown recovery people were excellent, and quickly sent someone on their way to pick myself, slugs and my stricken car up (apparently slugs don’t count as pets you need to inform them about). The fallout from this was frustrating as I had to cancel helping Barbara at an event, as I had no transport to get there with while my car was in the garage. This reminded me what an essential skill driving and access to a car is for working in the conservation or ecological sector, as it is practically impossible to get to and from sites otherwise, particularly in a rural area.
Type specimens and new species!
The next week was a busy one, seeing National Museum Wales hosting training for curators from other museums with mollusc collections, helping them learn how to identify potential type specimens in their collections. Type specimens are very important, as they act as an objective international standard reference of scientific animal names. The holotype is the single specimen that originally describes and bears the species name. Even if a better specimen is later found, the holotype cannot be replaced with another. Many other different ‘Types’ exist, with very precise rules and descriptions for them. While this training was going on, we also hosted a visit from Robert Cameron, a very lovely and extremely knowledgeable author of the FSC key to Land Snails in the British Isles.
Robert Cameron’s key: One of the helpful books I turn to for guidance!
He came to look at specimens held in the Museum’s shell collection from Madeira, to compare them with fossilised shells he had found that he believed could be new species! He was also joined by Willy De Mattia, who had come all the way from Italy to see the museum’s Madeiran shell collection to see if he could find any other examples of a new species he had discovered recently that may have been misidentified. He also very kindly donated the types of the species he had described to National Museum Wales, saying that the collection here was excellent and would be a fitting place for them to be. This was an amazing opportunity for me to chat with and witness two knowledgeable and friendly experts work. I also realised how much I had learnt in just a few months, being able to follow conversations that would have previously baffled me, and showing Robert Cameron how to use the photographic equipment.
Learning to love colliery spoil and moth night madness
Later that week I headed to Dare Valley Country Park, where Liam Olds of Colliery Spoil Biodiversity Initiative (previous Natural Talent trainee) introduced me to the beauty of the tips. While these acidic habitats aren’t great for molluscs, they are fantastic for a range of other wildlife, and I was pleasantly surprised at how lovely they were! After pitching our tents for an overnight stay, we headed off up the tips to set up some moth traps as part of National Moth Night and then off around the site with torches to see what slugs and snails could be found in the dark.
Setting up the moth trap
The next morning we were joined by a small but enthusiastic group of young amateur entomologists from AES Bug Club. We had a really fun day hunting insects, also showing them the moths and slugs we had caught the night before. They were a really enthusiastic, knowledgeable and interested bunch, and I look forward to meeting up with them again in July!
There’s a familiar face! Liam Olds and some enthusiastic children looking at insects found by sweep netting
That evening we headed off to Gellideg, near Merthyr Tydfil to join SEWBReC and the Friends of Gellideg Fields in a biological recording and BBQ event. This was well attended by residents of the local housing estate, and I had great fun helping Barbara Brown of OPAL by supervising pond dipping. For many of the children it was their first time, and they were absolutely fascinated, particularly by the many freshwater shrimps in the stream! I was also delighted to come across my first live River Limpet (Ancylus fluviatilis), one of three species of freshwater limpets found in the UK.
River Limpet (Ancylus fluviatilis)
Finally arriving home, I decided to continue my own celebration of national moth night in my garden and was rewarded the next morning with a beautiful Poplar Hawkmoth! Ok… when I said I avoided the cute and fuzzy that was a slight mistruth as I do have a fondness for moths, with my MSc project last year being on the Scarce Hook-Tip moth (Sabra harpagula)…. I still think slugs are cooler though!
Poplar Hawk Moth trapped in my garden on National Moth Night
Me and my shadow
On Monday, Dr Ben Rowson and myself headed over to SEWBReC for a tour of their offices, to meet the staff and their LEMUR+ trainee Laura Parry. Laura and I are arranging to shadow each other for a few days, so that we can get an idea of each other’s traineeships, learn and share some new skills. She’ll be joining me in early July, when I look forward to teaching her about freshwater molluscs.
The beautiful Silent Valley
A couple of days ago I headed off with Ben to visit Silent Valley, a nature reserve tucked away close to Ebbw Vale. On the way back we dropped in on the Gwent Wildlife Trust offices in Ebbw Vale and met some more of the staff and their trainees.
Looking at snails with GWT staff and trainees
We gave them a quick whirlwind introduction to slugs and snails at their adjoining new nature reserve. We look forward to some of them joining us in the field someday soon at Silent Valley…
To be continued!
The 18th June saw the Biodiversity Information Service celebrating 15 years, and I was lucky enough to attend an event with a range of organisations. This was a great opportunity to meet other biological recorders, some expert county recorders, and interest members of the public in recording molluscs.
My display promoting recording molluscs
Common Garden Snail and juvenile found in my garden. (Check out the vibrant yellow poo from eating Yellow Flag flowers!)
The evening also saw a fascinating range of talks about nature and biological recording, including the launch of Aderyn, a new website system that allows people to view biological records in Wales. This is a really useful tool to see where species have been recorded in Wales, and shows just how under recorded some things are.
For example, the Common Garden Snail (Cornu aspersum), as the name suggests is a very common species in the UK, yet at the time of writing, this database shows very few records as people aren’t recording it.This means that if the population of the species starts decline or their range changes, we won’t have the historic data to compare it to and it will look like the species was always rare! This is one reason why I think it is worth recording even the most common species when out surveying, as the data can still be incredibly useful.
Phew! Well that just about brings you up to July. As you can see, it’s been a busy month with lots of time out and about meeting people. Hopefully I’ve managed to enthuse more people with a passion for molluscs!
Until next time…
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 National Museum Wales for hosting my placement. Be sure to drop in for a visit to the public collections when you’re in Cardiff!
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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.