The summer has just continued to get better and better! I was thrilled to be invited back to the Countess of Chester Country Park as their “guest of honour”, in order to open the new ranger hut on site in early August. Last year, I spent a fantastic 12 months as the TCV Natural Networks trainee there, working alongside Senior Project Officers Neil McMahon and Alistair Cook, helping to develop the Green Gym, supporting the Health for Life project and setting up the Friends group. This year, the Friends organised the second “Picnic in the Park” themselves…..and what a wonderful success! Following the official opening by the VIP, we had a bat walk and set mammal traps with Tony Parker of Liverpool World Museum. The next day, we emptied the traps, and were joined by the local RSPB group, Chester Zoo, RECORD, the hospital fund raising team, Friends of the Earth, the local council recycling team, Travellers Through Time (Viking re-enactment), and some good old TCV pond dipping, nature walking, Nordic walking, bird feeder making and junk drumming! We had fantastic weather and had hundreds of visitors….a really grand day out! We made it into the Land Trust news and the Chester Chronicle:
Moving onto the spider theme, I have been able to assist Rich Burkmar with a Spider workshop for a Duke of Edinburgh group staying in Preston Montford, as well as attend an excellent training course in spider i.d. using a microscope, run by Rich and Nigel Cane-Honeysett. More recently, I’ve had training in Harvestmen with Paul Richards, and am pleased to know that the FSC pull out guide has all the UK harvestmen species pictured (more manageable than 650 spider species?!!). It is so satisfying to be starting to get to grips with the subject. Recently, Annan and Ross (fellow Natural Talent trainees) came to visit Whixall Moss with me. We found a number of interesting spiders and dragonflies throughout the day (as well as having a really good catch up), but it was only after really working on the id skills that it was confirmed that we had seen the nationally scarce Raft Spider (Dolomedes fimbriatis)…so a very worthwhile day on all counts!
The TomBio team have a great system of arranging designated open lab days, in which the team and all interested others come to Preston Montford and spend the day keying out/ observing chosen species under the microscope. It’s very relaxed, and help is always readily available for tricky id problems. I think it’s brilliant not only that the resources are made available to the public, but also that the TomBio team value this as an important part of their daily work.
The Entomology group continue to welcome me to any of their weekly forays into darkest Shropshire, and we had a really good visit to a site near Church Stretton recently, which certainly screamed “the season is changing”, with its abundance of fruit and autumn song of robins.
I had the great opportunity to help to represent the FSC at Birdfair in Rutland Water. I’ve never been before, and was astounded at the size and sheer numbers of people who attended. Rob Absolon (FSC marketing team) and I set up on the Thursday evening and then worked together on the Friday. We were just one of 40 stalls in our marquee, and there were 8 similar marquees, 3 speaker’s marquees, an art marquee, and of course an optics marquee. It was billed as “the Glastonbury of the birding world”, and I can quite see why (even the mud). There were many overseas exhibitors, primarily selling bird watching holidays, but also many stalls of wildlife charities and a whole plethora of interesting wildlife/ bird related / lesser known organisations. We ran a very interactive stall, and so didn’t have much time to mingle on the Friday, but we had some great chats with conservationists from around the world in the beer and food tent the night before. (I think I secured a trip to the Gambia….)! In fact even the train trip back to Shrewsbury was interesting, as I shared it with the head of wildlife crime from the RSPB!
I’ve kept up with the moth trapping, both at the centre, and on occasion at home, when I’ve been able to enthuse visiting friends with the diversity and beauty of these hidden creatures of the night.
Sticking with the theme of birds for a moment; I was asked whether I would I be interested in assisting in the production of a new FSC pull out chart (the very familiar face of the FSC….if you haven’t ever been on a course, you have probably seen the charts). Anyway, what an opportunity! Of course, I said “yes” and have been doing some background research into winter coastal birds. I had the first meeting with Rebecca Farley-Brown and Simon Norman from the Publications team in Telford, and it was really exciting to see how quickly things could be pulled together from idea. I’ve got quite a bit of work to do, but am looking forward to this as it will help me improve my own knowledge. Hopefully, the final product will be ready by the end of my traineeship.
Finally, I’ve had two wonderful opportunities to deliver teaching sessions to students attending Preston Montford. The first was to the “Growing Confidence” group (students aged between 11 and 25 who have a particular interest in the natural world), as part of their course “Water water everywhere”. We learnt about flood mitigation in urban and rural settings, and then I delivered a session on mosses and sphagnums on Whixall Moss. This was followed, last Saturday, by a session to a group of post graduate students from Birkbeck College, in which I presented the National Butterfly monitoring Scheme, and then showed the students how to carry out a butterfly transect in the centre’s grounds. It’s always a good way of measuring your own progress, once you can pass something on to others!
As always, my grateful thanks to TCV, FSC and the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation for all these amazing opportunities.