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.

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE MONTH

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…

-Kirsty

 

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!

Snails, Sunshine and more Snails, plus the benefits of being a Volunteer

Hello again,

Seems like time is speeding away from me, it’s now the end of week three of the traineeship and the past 10 days have been crazy. I’ve spent a lot of time out of the office, meeting different volunteer groups and visiting some amazing things like the National Museum of Scotland Collections Centre in Edinburgh, basically an archive of everything that’s currently off-show to the public including historic records dating back to the 1880’s of my beloved pond mud snail, and meeting our captive rearing counterparts at Edinburgh Zoo.

I’ve realised that much like the TCV tagline (Join in, Feel Good ), the theme of the week for me has been to definitely ‘get involved’  and a huge part of this is with community projects and citizen science so more of this later. But first up, a snail update…

Life in A Shell, Snail Diary // Week 2 & 3

Week 2

27th April  Day 4 – Before heading out with the TCV Volunteer group in the morning, I had a quick check on the snails. The middle group of youngsters are now 8 weeks old , growing  fast and eating faster. They are being fed on organic lettuce, making sure it’s free of any chemicals and definitely eat the most out of the three tanks.

28th April Day 5 – Today I was searching for new additions to the snail team, out at a historic site near Falkirk. As part of the project I will being heading out with colleagues to survey areas where the mud snail was once found, or habitat areas which are suitable to the conditions and could potentially have a population of pond mud snail. We came across many things out of the peat bog, hoverflies, lots of bumblebees, one particularly ‘bitey’ spider and a lone frog. It was too dry for snails however and the ideal pools and ditches they were once found had completely dried out. I’ll have to return after some rain!

Loanfoot Moss, surveying for the Pond Mud Snail

Instead we found frogs!

Week 3

1st May Day 1 – BANK HOLIDAY MONDAY.  Snoozing and sunshine away from the office but no rest for the snails who had been busy emerging from their egg cases as I found out on my return to work.

New egg masses forming. 8 – 10 snails in each.

2nd May  Day 2 – Another day out of the office and this time to see some amazing historic records of the pond snail from the 1980’s back to 1880’s. Today was also a chance to meet the brothers/sisters/cousins of the current captive rearing population which we are looking after. The other half of this population are currently residing in the Conservation Department at Edinburgh Zoo, but that’s a whole other blog post coming soon. Meanwhile,  it was more of the same back in Stirling, more tiny fully formed snails were emerging.

3rd May  Day 3 – Time for a clean today. The adults are never-ending egg producing machines it seems. A total of 12 new egg cases in their tank, just as all of the older ones have fully hatched out. At a quick count there at 140 (!) newly hatched babies of 2 weeks to a few days old and 43 at eight weeks old, which means in the pond mud snail life-cycle they have about 4 weeks left until they start to become fully fledged adults, capable of begining to reproduce.

Our four breeding adult Pond mud snails

5th May Day 5 – Our 4 adults (who, just for the purposes of this diary I’ve named Biggest one, Biggish one, Smaller and Smallest )  collected on 21st January , have laid a further 3 egg masses in the last two days, taking it up to 15 new lots of babies waiting to emerge.

 

Typically in their natural environment the adults would produce the masses of 10-30 in Feb, we’re finding that the warm and safe captive environment is speeding up the reproduction process of smaller masses at a more frequent rate.

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Highlights

Building New Homes

During the year I hope to be equally involved in TCV events and activities for Buglife. I went out this week, for the first time in a TCV capacity, with one of the volunteer groups to help with habitat creation at Hogganfield Loch in Glasgow. This activity runs every week as part of the Seven Lochs Wetland Park project, which aims to create Scotland’s largest urban nature park, across seven lochs (who’d have guessed) five local nature reserves, a country park and one of Glasgow’s oldest buildings at Provan Hall.

Several local groups have been helping to creating new floating islands, called Bio Havens, specifically created to attract nesting bird populations and increase wildlife visiting the area. This is a great idea which will hopefully connect the people who use the Hogganfield site with species they may not have come across before.

One completed Bio Haven being towed to the middle of the Loch

Some of the earlier completed islands already have Grebes nesting on them, and over the course of the day, lots of people stopped by to ask about what we were doing, what animals we’ll provide homes for, and generally sounded incredibly supportive.

Lots of conservation projects benefit both the species they’re designed to help but also us human beings too. The day was a lot of fun, with great laughs and lots of hard work. A work-out, sun tan plus helping the environment in one day. It’s aimed at all levels and all are welcome, I would HIGHLY recommend getting involved once a week/ fortnight to a local volunteer programme, and it doesn’t have to be in the conservation sector. Whatever you choose, it’s a huge boost to the charities involved, and I can guarantee you’ll feel much better in yourself for giving up some free time for a cause. The satisfaction of seeing the results of a days work make it all worthwhile. For Seven Lochs get in touch here, and TCV here.

Getting on with some planting!

It was also an introduction to aquatic plants for me, most of which has been dug up at various Glasgow locations and transported to Hogganfield. On the huge rafts, topped with hessian, holes had been pre-cut: it was a case of ripping through the covering, reaching right in and locating the holes to pot the plants in their new home. It was a bit like birthing a cow to start with… but a lot of fun.

So if you ever find yourself with a large pond, no bird life and the desire to create a floating island, here’s what to begin with:

 

Marsh Willow, Bottle Sedge (a favourite of nesting Grebes) Water Mint, Marsh Marigold, Brooklime and Buttercup plus various Rushes and Grasses for coverage.

 

A huge amount of volunteer time has gone into the creation of these habitats, if you’re ever over at the park, which is also a Nature Reserve, keep your eyes peeled in the centre of the pond for the new floating homes.

 

Boggin’

I was back in snail mode, complete with red wellies and waterproofs on what turned on to be an unusually hot day. I went with one of my Buglife colleagues Scott to survey a historic site near Bonnybridge where the Pond Mud Snail was last recorded exactly 100 years ago, November 1917. Unfortunately we didn’t find any snails out on the quaking bog site at Loanfoot Moss, BUT the temporary pools and ditch habitat that we did find near the recorded area looked perfect.

Surveying with pond nets for the mud snail (and being unsuccessful!) Digging in just below the surface where the quaking bog was holding its water.

It was a warm day and the areas had been hot and dry for some time, the pools had completely dried out making it impossible to search for the snails, who could be up to 6cm down, buried in the mud keeping inactive until the water comes. However, for me it was a great introduction to surveying specific habitats, in this case, a peat bog and its related plant and animal species, all surviving in low nutrient, high moisture environments

A dried out pool made a perfect playground for a common frog, a heath rustic caterpillar fed on heather, lots of bog specialist hoverflies were around, plus white-tailed and buff-tailed bumblebees along the edge of the bog and into Drum Wood. While dipping for the pond mud snail a common lizard was spotted hiding away among the undergrowth plus a Pirate Wolf Spider (Pirata piraticus) with identifiable white spots on the abdomen. Wolf spiders don’t build webs for hunting but instead chase down their prey. When courting, the males signal to their potential female using a form of semaphore from afar. This prior warning is needed otherwise the female would probably go for the attack.

Loanfoot Moss, just by the tree on the left we spotted the lizard.

Bog navigation –  If, like me, you aren’t too sure how to plan your route look for the plants and trees that favour drier land. Common heather (Culluna vulgaris) likes to keep its roots nice and dry, so patches where heather is showing tend to be the safest to walk along. A quick ‘on-the-go’ snack might be available in the form of wild growing cranberry, lots of which we found at Loanfoot, but the rich berries like lots of moisture. Although the damp, acidic soil makes perfect growing conditions, cranberry heavy areas could be a bit more watery underfoot!

Lots of beautiful cranberry favouring the conditions of the bog

Looking out across the bog, tightly packed sphagnum and tell-tale tufts of sedge will also indicate an wetter area as both thrive on the damp conditions. Sphagnum can store water,  so this soft carpet tends to sink underfoot pretty quickly.

 

I’m looking forward to the next few months, where I’ll be visiting schools in local authority areas with my snails in tow, and running some pond-dipping and interactive sessions with the pupils.

 

Until next time…

-Kirsty

 

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!