Train Hard, Snail Hard: Highlights from June

Hello again, 

It’s already the second month of my traineeship which signaled the start of the school outreach programme attached to the Marvellous Mud Snails Buglife project. I’ve been on some really fun school visits in the last few weeks, plus the site visits to go out and record the current Mud Snail populations are also in the diary. I’m also hoping to get out and survey some potential sites and look for ideal places to re-locate and release the captive reared snails at the beginning of next year.

I realised that this month also marked the beginning of me noticing that the things I’m learning are sinking in. All the training opportunities – be it one day workshops or residential weekend field courses – have really been helping to improve my knowledge in areas which I previously knew nothing about. Plus it’s been so enjoyable.

In the short space of time from starting at Buglife in April, here’s a little run down of the training I’ve had so far.

Introduction to OPAL surveys one day practical course

One to one session with mollusc expert Adrian Sumner

Outdoor Games and Activities training course

Introduction to Beetles workshop and practical session

Scottish Natural Heritage Invertebrate Hunt

Introduction to Wildflower Identification

Working Outdoors with People with Autism one day training course

TCV Safeguarding Children and  Vulnerable Adults one day course

Dragonfly Identification Workshop

Introduction to Invertebrates one day course

4 day Field Studies Council Introduction to Freshwater Invertebrate Course in the Yorkshire Dales

 

All that in less than three months!

I find I have families of freshwater snails floating around in my head at all times, going to sleep and waking up repeating scientific names for all sorts of things. I’m slowly trying to build my knowledge base, from someone who about 2 and a half years ago only knew the basics, to now honing and developing skills that will hopefully make me an employable human in the field that I’ve grown to love so much.

I’m learning who feeds on what, who eats each other, who carries disease, and how invertebrates interlink with each other. Something so simple as preparing a school lesson plan which touches on what it means to be a predator in the animal world sends my brain into overdrive thinking about the more complex issues. Using a colouring in worksheet about food chains, outside of the classroom has me thinking and planning and preparing.

The Young’uns

After spending part of the previous week preparing my education packs, the middle of June saw me start the first proper education sessions for the Mud Snail project. The primary schools in the five local council areas where the population of snails are found will be looking after a tank each after the summer holidays and learning all about freshwater life.

First I took myself, and a tank of the famous mud snails along to Lennoxtown Primary for an indoor introduction to their new guests and the world of invertebrates in general before heading out to nearby  Whitefield Pond by a pond-dipping session using the OPAL Water Survey guide to log our results. We had a great hour before the rain started to come on and found that the school’s local pond is a great green space to use and houses a very healthy pond. Once back in the classroom I used some of the games and activities I’d been preparing to think about what we’d seen and learnt that day.

For the second visit it was off to Gartmorn Dam near Alloa, for an on-site activity with Deerpark Primary who will also be looking after the snails. We discovered that the vast pond was full of exciting underwater life, with a tadpole (sadly not an invertebrate) being the unfortunate star of the show. We saw the food chain in action as diving beetle larvae attempted to attack a caddisfly case leaving its occupant a little bit stressed. There were plenty of freshwater snails, beetles and leeches. We finished off with a wee quiz and drew favourite findings of the day to take home.

 

Life in a Shell// Snail Diary

‘Four of the best looking among us were chosen to visit some school kids. Apparently they thought we were interesting and they want to look after us in a few months. We continue to lay eggs like our lives depend on it, which they do. Nothing else to report.’

Highlights

Dragon Whisperer:

One of the highlights of this month was the Dragon and Damselfly Workshop  I mentioned. Ran through TCV, the British Dragonfly Society came out to Gartcosh Local Nature Reserve to see the emerging adults. It was a perfect spot with lots of varying pond habitats. I was keen to learn the difference between the seeming all blue small damselflies and can happily say I can now do so (all to do with a Honda logo…).

It was a beautiful sunny day, surrounded by swooping martens and kestrels hovering overhead we saw a huge variety of life and even managed to find an exuvia (the outer shell of the larva which Is left behind as the adult emerges). It was clinging still to a reed stalk, with the glossy new Four-Spotted Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata) adult who was drying out on the top of the vegetation. The photo below shows just how beautiful these creatures are.

Beetlejuice:

I was lucky enough to visit a great, relatively new RSPB site at Black Devon Wetlands in Alloa. As the practical side to another great field course, Introduction to Coleoptera (Beetles),  we took a wander through the open spaces, marsh and pond area. It was a brilliantly warm summer’s day and I was feeling lucky to get to work outdoors so much of the week.

There was a lot to take in, with Beetles being a huge group of animals, but each has their own defining characteristics and we managed to make some great finds out in the field, mainly ground beetles and beautifully coloured shining leaf beetles. I have to mention this female adult Wolf Spider carrying all her young on her back. The fuzzy grey spots, they are all teeny little spiders! Look out for them at this time of year being carried around by the female, I’ve spotted quite a few recently.

Plus in the newly created small ponds  there were plenty of frogs making full use of the area, and a tonne of freshwater creatures I was keen to take a look at. I’m excited as the site will be used for a Family Fun Day and BioBlitz event that I’m organising for next month Watch this space!

Hidden at Home:

I was happy to be on home turf with a visit to The Hidden Gardens in Glasgow. I went along with my Buglife colleague to be a part of a pollinator workshop session she was running. The place was absolutely perfect for bees, wasps and hoverflies, pollinator heaven! A group of volunteers who already help out at the Gardens were keen to get a better understanding of their space and how they could make it more bee (and bug) friendly. Some follow-up visits have been arranged and I’m hoping to get back over at some point to record the results of some pitfall traps with Glasgow Natural History Society and continue to record the pollinators we find in there.

Some exciting discoveries were made as new records for Glasgow were logged. A female Patchwork leafcutter bee (Megachile centuncularis) was spotted in one of the beds, very noticeable as it has an extremely furry underside. This was only the second time it had ever been recorded in Glasgow, with the last being 1962. The fork-tailed flower bee (Anthophora furcata) was also recorded, and at the time had never been spotted in Glasgow. The site is brilliant for the biodiversity of the City and I’d encourage people to go along for a visit if they’ve never been.

A Day Well Spent:

The final high point of the month was definitely the wonderful TCV training day delivered by Scottish Autism. The ethos of The Conservation Volunteers is to encourage everyone regardless of age or ability to participate and engage with the outdoors. Scottish Autism already work with a few groups holding weekly practical outdoor sessions, on all sorts of things from woodcraft to practical conservation. Part of my traineeship is to contribute to this ongoing effort, to make connections and create opportunities for different community groups. This course –‘Working Outdoors with People with Autism’ so brilliantly explained the benefits and possibly adjustments I could make to hold a successful session. I took away so much from the day, and I feel I would want to run some kind of volunteer day, or activity for a sometimes overlooked set of people in society, that would help them become more involved with all things outdoors and hopefully that would be enjoyable for us all. It’s definitely something I’m thinking about for the future.

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!

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!

Hello from Marvellous Mud Snails

I’m Kirsty, one of six new TCV Natural Talent trainees for this year. For the next 365 days I’ll be training up on all things invertebrate at Buglife Scotland.

TRAINEESHIP

This year has been the start of a new adventure for me. I moved from my job at the Zoological Society of London back home to Scotland.  While studying MSc Wildlife Biology and Conservation as a part-time distance learner at Edinburgh Napier, I set out to look for a job in a related field and gained one of The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) traineeships, working with Buglife Scotland.  I will be focusing on freshwater invertebrates and in particular their Pond Mud Snail Project – Marvellous Mud Snails. Over the course of the year I will be posting regular updates of all the things I’ll be getting up to here, and on my own personal blog.

So, who am I working for? Buglife, the leading organisation in Europe who are dedicated to the conservation of all invertebrates. That is, the ongoing conservation of all the little things most people go around trying to swap/stamp on/spray away if they come across one in their house. Working with the rarest and most diverse creatures in the country, I’ll be based at Buglife Scotland in Stirling. A huge part of this (and the main ethos of The Conservation Volunteers who run the traineeships each year) is to inspire and spread more awareness. By providing training opportunities for the trainees like myself , I’ll be able to use my new knowledge and skills to encourage others to get involved in conservation and citizen science in any way they can. There will be lots of opportunities to work on my practical conservation with a view towards putting together my own invertebrate focused project and event in the second half of the year.

MY MARVELLOUS MUD SNAILS

Who – The Pond mud snail (Omphiscola glabra) currently only found to be at 5 sites across Scotland in local council areas of North Lanarkshire, East Dumbartonshire,  West Lothian, Clackmannanshire and the Scottish Borders. Typically 12-20mm these tiny freshwater friends are often over-looked. Pond snails keep a low profile and O. glabra  are able to bury into the mud when their temporary pond habitat dries up, becoming inactive until there is water again. Like many other molluscs, the Pond mud snail is a hermaphrodite and each individual is capable of laying 10-30 eggs in February which take around 25 days to hatch. In captivity they will lay all year round, making them an excellent species to engage with the public.

 

What –  The project has three main aims: in captive breeding & release through citizen science, public awareness & active learning in schools, and to reassess the current population. This two year project will focus on the natural heritage of the mud snail, historically widespread in lowland areas of England, Wales and as far north in Scotland as Perth. However the situation appears to be under-recorded and with significant loss of habitat and lack of management, the pond mud snail has been allowed to slide. This near forgotten important freshwater invertebrate is  key to our ecosystem and in need of some help.

For captive breeding the aim is, that by the end, the current number of sites will have increased to at least 20, with citizen science and public engagement having also increased.  As a TCV Natural Talent trainee, I will be helping schools in the local council areas where the Pond mud snail is currently found. Alongside work with community and volunteer groups, and helping out with extensive surveying, I’ll be regularly visiting the schools getting the kids involved with freshwater invertebrate ID and hopefully encouraging them to get excited about sharing a space with this sought-after Scottish celebrity.

Where – In nutrient poor water in marshes, ditches, and pools with few other aquatic animals. Decline in the population is due to these temporary habitats being lost or degraded through infilling. Many sites have been improved visually for landscape purposes, are affected by scrub encroachment and agricultural run off or are simply under-recorded. Surveys in 2005-6 indicated a high decline of at least 64% for historical sites in Scotland and so the reassessment is vitally needed.

Why – Its presence at a site is important and indicates water and habitat quality. The small, temporary and nutrient poor pools that Pond mud snails prefer are rarely protected and are seen as inferior habitats that are difficult to manage. These  support other scarce species such as the Oxbow diving beetle (Hydroporus rufifrons) that, like the Pond mud snail are specially adapted to survive periodic drought by burying into the mud.

How you can get involved – Keep an eye out over the year for  lots of upcoming events across local council areas. If you want to volunteer to be a part of the project, whether helping with captive breeding or as a practical conservation volunteer to create new homes for our Pond mud snails then get in touch – 01786 447504.

 

ANYTHING YOU CAN DO I CAN DO BETTER…

All molluscs are pretty amazing. In particular though I’ve been finding out a lot more about the Pond mud snail, and there’s definitely some cool things you should know.

  • Walk on water: I could spend hours  watching these guys clinging to the underside of the water surface, breathing with a mucus band and essentially appearing to walk on water.  As (lung breathing) gastropods, the pond mud snail is able to take in air at the surface, holding on to the underside by way of surface tension,  breathing the oxygen while doing so.  While they’re at it they’re even able to eat pond matter and algae.
  • Hermaphrodites:  Like all pond snails, O glabra, will either assume the role of male or female for reproduction, and are capable of self-reproduction in the case of having to quickly repopulate a new area, such as a new pond
  • Eye eye: Do I belong on land or water? There’s a quick way to tell the difference – one pair or two.  Aquatic snails, like the Pond mud snail have only one pair of tentacles that are not retractable and at the base of which the eyes are placed. This group is know as Basommatophora or base-eye snails. The largest group of land snails are known Stylommatophora, literally the stalk-eye snails whose eyes are visible  right at the tip of a second, longer, pair of tentacles, all of which can be withdrawn.

Microscop Snails Week 1

1 week old O. glabra under the microscope, you can just see the  black dots of their eyes. Juvenile snails are much more translucent for the first months of their life than the adults until the shell takes on its dark brown colour.

 

LIFE IN A SHELL, SNAIL DIARY // HIGHLIGHTS WEEK 1  & 2

Week 1

17th April, Day 1 – A good way to start in a quiet office on Easter Monday, I got to meet the snails which were located from one of the 5 known sites in Scotland for the captive breeding programme beginning later this year. Together with my manager Suzi, we cleaned them out, giving fresh tasty lettuce and separated the 4 adults from the 5 week old and 1 week old little ones. There were lots of egg cases waiting to hatch which looked well on their way, I hope to monitor their progress to get an estimate of the time taken to hatch in captivity. Today was a great day to meet them team as we went on a lunchtime walk up to Stirling Castle and then it was back to the office for me to do some background reading.

Buglife Stirling View

View on our walk up to Stirling Castle

18th April, Day 2 – In the morning the department met with Ben Harrower, Conservation Programme Manager at RZSS, who are keen to help out with the breeding programme and can offer brilliant support looking at the genetics of the mud snails. The afternoon was taken up with ‘kid in a candy store’ style browsing of all the amazing training courses I’m able to book on to as part of the traineeship, my calendar is quickly filling up!

20th April, Day 4 –  Introduction to Pond Dipping this morning, as hopefully throughout the course of the year I’ll be helping and leading my own at various events. Out in the sunshine, by dipping into the office garden pond I managed to take a look at some Ramshorn snails, whirligig beetles, flatworm, hog louse, water beetles.

Back indoors it was time to get to grips with the microscope for the first time, looking at specimens – damselfly nymph, pond skater, water beetle larvae, and of course my own mud snails under the scope.  At around 1 week old, this was a chance to see them moving and being much more active than I ever had before. For the babies I was looking at them feasting on some lettuce, and being able to watch them eat was fantastic, magnified I could take a look  at their different body parts at the juvenile stage,  and got pretty excited about spotting their dot-like microscopic eyes. For the adults, a chance to see the intricate markings and details of the elongated shell close up and to take a better look at anatomy.

Microscope ID Week 1

 

Week 2

25th April, Day 2 – TODAY THE EGG CASES HATCHED! More teeny tiny snails to look after. I’m finding I’m becoming so protective and attached to the growing snail family. It was time for a clean today and for new food to be provided, with all the new additions I had to be careful none of the little ones made an escape down the sink. You can see in the photos where the old cases have burst open, and the tiny brown dots all along the edge of the tub which are our newly hatched snails.

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 Fairbairn 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!