I’m Holly, I am the 2018 TCV Natural Talent Trainee based with the Field Studies Council (FSC) in their head office at Preston Montford, near Shrewsbury. During my year here I will focus on studying Arachnids (spiders, harvestmen and pseudoscorpions), so my aim is to learn absolutely everything I can about them, improve my ID and survey skills, whilst also trying to convince people that they aren’t these horrible creepy crawlies that everyone seems to think they are. I’ve already lost count of the number of times people have given me strange looks when I tell them that I’ve chosen to spend a year studying arachnids but I’ve loved every minute of it so far. I spent my first week with TCV and the other trainees in snowy Stirling (see pic below) and I’ve spent the rest of my time with the FSC biodiversity team (big thanks to everyone I’ve met so far for being so lovely and helpful!).
I feel very lucky because I am in an office full of knowledge, working with Sue Townsend, Charlie Bell, Rich Burkmar, Keiron Brown and Sue Loughran, who have all made me feel very welcome. I started at the FSC at just the right time because they have just launched their new BioLinks project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. This aims to increase the volume and quality of biological recording for various invertebrate groups by providing structured training courses for underrepresented and hard to identify species (these include earthworms, spiders, beetles, true bugs, snails, true flies, ants and wasps). They are basically running loads of 1 day ecology and identification courses at various skill levels to teach you everything you need to know to become an expert biological recorder, whether you’re a complete beginner or if you want to brush up your skills. The idea is that you could join in on one of the beginner courses now, then work your way up to become expert level over the next few years. Have a look on here if you’re interested in the sound of these courses http://www.fscbiodiversity.uk/?q=blog
I think it’s a great idea, especially to help recent graduates like myself to gain some useful practical skills, so I’m really excited to be part of it! I will be learning about lots of new things (I have just spent this weekend on an earthworm ID course) and I will be helping to teach on some of the spider courses too.
However, before doing that, I need to up my spider game so in my second week I was introduced to Shropshire’s very own Spiderman aka Spider Nigel, our local spider expert who has very kindly taken me under his wing to help me get to grips with spider ID. Although you can find spiders around the place throughout the year, this time of the year isn’t great because there aren’t many adults about and juveniles are quite hard to identify. Although, I did give it a go and visited Cannock Chase a couple of weeks ago to collect some spiders along with Nigel and the rest of the Joy of Wildlife group (a group of volunteer biological recorders who meet every Wednesday to visit local reserves and record everything they find, I’m sure Sue L will have mentioned them a few times in previous blog posts – they’re all very knowledgeable and highly entertaining!). It wasn’t a productive day in terms of collecting specimens but it was a great laugh – we ended up in the middle of what must be the only blizzard to ever have hit Cannock Chase (I planned to include a photo here but they all turned out in a blurry mess because of all the snow!).
As I only managed to collect a few spiders from there I have since started working on a box of specimens Nigel collected a while ago. He’s already been through and identified them so I’ve been having a look at these under the microscope and working my way through identification keys and field guides in order to identify them to species level before checking Nigel’s lists to find out if I’m right or not. So this is how my desk currently looks…
It’s been going well so far. Although, my mind was blown when I found out about all of the tiny features you have to become familiar with in order to fully identify spiders, for example, I had no idea they have tiny fluffy claws on the ends of their legs. I will go a bit more into detail on the spider and arachnid side of things in later posts and I will try to take some photos of these tiny spider claws to show you all.
There’s always plenty of other things going on here, so when I haven’t been looking down a microscope, I’ve been getting involved with all sorts of different things:
- I got to visit the FSC publications team to see where/find out about how all the FSC’s AIDGAP books and fold-out charts are made.
- I went to Shropshire Entomology Day where I met lots of interesting and like-minded people.
- I took a trip to Brunel microscopes to test out some new microscopes for the BioLinks project.
- I’ve started to become involved with the FSC’s Growing Confidence project (which runs wildlife conservation workshops for young people), last week we were learning all about solitary bees & wasps and then gave the Preston Montford bee hotel a much needed spring clean.
- I’ve been learning how to use QGIS.
- I went up to Edinburgh for the TCV showcase event (where all the past trainees talked about what they had been up to).
- I’ve also been on a trip up to Liverpool to meet the TCV Pex Hill team to find out about how I can become involved with some of their projects.
I could keep rambling on about everything I’ve been up to so far but I feel like it’s time to stop now. If you want to know anymore, please head over to my twitter @HollyLDillon (I’m a bit rubbish with social media but I promise I will try my best to tweet regularly!).
Before I finish I would just like to say a massive THANK YOU and Goodbye to Sue L, last year’s trainee that was based here. She has had a very busy year and has accomplished a lot, I feel like I’ve got a lot to live up to but I’m definitely up for the challenge! I’m really glad there was a cross-over between me starting and her finishing because she has been so helpful, plus she’s just a great person to be around so I’m really going to miss working with her.
That’s all folks!