Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Not long back from the most wonderful weekend in beautiful Wales.

I booked myself into a Mammal Society course a while back and that was what the trip was all in aid of. Unbelievable good, I have immersed myself in all things mammal for one weekend and returned just full of it. It has also added to my ambition, as one day I shall run courses like them. The leaders, Kate Williamson, Chris Hall, and Sam Dyer were all so passionate and knowledgeable about their subjects that they were a joy to spend time around.

It was extremely intensive, over the weekend we worked for 22 hours, with a 14 and a half hour day the first day. Not all of the activities were compulsory, with the setting of the traps (polecat, small mammal (both Longworth and a new type of trap which is designed as a competition to the Longworth), and hedgehog footprint tunnels), and the harvest mouse survey completed by only some of us on the course. I did both, as what’s the point in not?! Though I think it’s floored me now, feeling quite rough today!

But it was fantastic, apart from the trapping and the harvest mouse surveys we also surveyed for otter spraint, fox, pine marten and mink scat. Looked at badger sett surveying and bait marking (this involved a very difficult scramble through fallen trees and brambles. Fantastic!), and viewed hair tubes designed for squirrels and for pine martens. We also did a lot of work on bats which I’ve never done before and which was so fascinating.
Firstly we checked the bat boxes, studying the bats that were found, and we also put up harp traps which are completely amazing. We also detected the bats flying about via their calls, which was completely brilliant to hear.

Finally we practised using radio tagging at night time, which was, again, brilliant to do.

I would absolutely recommend anyone interested in mammals to take a course such as this as the range of things that we looked at was just brilliant. It really opened my eyes to all the different types of surveying there are out there, and I really want to get involved now! What a fantastic weekend.

PS. I was going to add pictures but can't seem to get on. I'll put them on facebook instead! :)

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Osprey Volunteering

This morning was spent at the Osprey centre at Glentress, best known as the mountain bike centre just outside Peebles. Now, after you’ve tired yourself out on the trails you can come into the Wildwatch room and see what else uses the forests in the local area.

The star attraction is, of course, the magnificent ospreys. These wonderful birds draw huge crowds to the different visitor centres distributed around the UK, because they are just so irresistibly charismatic.
At Glentress and Kailzie Gardens we have a high definition camera set up on the nest, which means that any activity can be observed by us, the volunteers, and then explained back to you, the public. Although there were no visitors in this morning (the main draw is the chicks once the eggs have hatched) it was a fabulous morning for me.

The female that regularly nests at that nest is unringed but identified by the distinct concord shaped marking on the back of her neck. She was sitting on the nest when I got in but quickly relinquished her position to the male.

The nest that they use was artificially built by humans. There are several reasons for this though. Firstly, it allows things such as the cameras to be assembled as we know that that nest is going to be used (30% of all ospreys in Scotland use artificial nests). We can also then take measures to protect the nests from egg-collectors, that particularly vile breed of human that steals eggs from nests. It also protects the nest from being dislodged from the tree in high winds, and allows very sturdy trees to be chosen.

When the female came back she chirruped and chirruped at the male in an increasingly agitated voice, quite obviously saying “hey! It’s my turn now, shift!”. Shift he did, flying off on his huge wings and as he did so his wife started to check the egg(s) over, moving one enough so that I could see it, and o things like that do send a shiver down your spine! I say egg(s) because I only saw one, but a clutch of one is very rare. It’ll normally be two or three, rarely four.

Keep your fingers crossed that they hatch soon, I shall keep you all updated, and maybe see you along there at some point! 

So it was quite magical. I am enjoying this, and then I had a nice walk from Glentress to Peebles, making it to the bus stop just as the bus came round the corner, a lucky day indeed!

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Missing Mammals

During my master’s studies I developed my own dissertation on one of my favourite subjects: Scotland’s missing mammals.

For some reason I have always been attracted to bringing back our missing mammals; the beaver, the boar, the wolf and the lynx. The beaver is back(ish), with the trials on-going, but hopefully once the five year trial is up they’ll find success. Speaking to an employee from Edinburgh Zoo after a talk he gave to the Lothian and Borders Mammal Group, he said that the change in the landscape would be more noticeable, had there been lower deer numbers. This is because when beaver coppices a tree it doesn’t actually kill it, but the deer grazing on the new shoots can do, or can at least severely inhibit growth. I’m heading to Knapdale in May, so I’ll be finding out more then.

Every mammal in the UK has a role to play, and most of the missing mammals had roles which were unique to themselves. This means that there are links missing in what makes a healthy habitat.

Beavers slow rivers, create ponds and coppice trees; wolves keep deer numbers under control and help to move deer herds on, so no one area is overused or overgrazed. Lynx keep smaller mammals under control, from rabbits to roe deer they’ll hunt pretty much everything in between. But they have the same role as that of the wolf, that of dispersing and moving prey and keeping the numbers down.

For deer are meant to be here, the issue is in their huge numbers. I shall write about that at a later date, but ecologists no more want to eradicate deer than we do want to cut down all the oak trees.  

Boar are a species that are very special to me as they were the actual subject of my project. I was looking at the effect they have on their habitat, in this case a bracken-covered forest floor which very few tree saplings were able to germinate in. I found throughout my survey that the boar successfully broke up the bracken cover, and created bare patched where seedlings could germinate. Although there would have been some casualties via the rooting process I did observe small saplings standing alone in recently rooted areas which will definitely be at an advantage for growth.

Deer also assist in breaking up the immense layer of dead bracken as well just by moving through it. Without disturbance this thick, dead layer can lay there for ten years and beyond.

I would one day love to bring all these species back, as it is only once we have a healthy animal guild that we can be sure that we could bring back the stability that our forests need. Many of our native forests are now being managed in a way where there is no regrowth, bringing back these different species would bring back another dimension to the story, and thus help to create a healthy, complete habitat.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

The Wonderful Weather of Spring

Just a short wee post today, just to say how absolutely wonderful this weather is. We’ve got rain showers and then sunshine. The rain is that lovely, intense, spring rain that the plants just love, especially after the recent weather which has been ridiculously dry. Weather like this, you stand outside and can practically hear the plants growing, the leaves unfurling and the xylem drinking it all in. And the sunshine just adds to that, I fully expect to stand outside to a new world, lush, green and beautiful.

That is all, this is a good day.

Thursday, 5 April 2012


I’ve just been rejected for another job, which brings the grand total to 17 rejections with the total of interviews at a grand total of zero.
Sometimes I feel like giving up, but what else would I do with my life other than what is in my heart and my soul, and that is this; this conservation of natural environments which I am absolutely crazy about. I need to find answers as to what can be done and taking advice from all the people around me I have now:

a) Volunteered. Firstly with an environmental consultancy, the owner of which I know from working with in the shop. I was great working there, the trips to camera trap sites near the Cairngorms, visits to survey rivers for otters, surveying a badger sett. And over the five months I’ve volunteered for them there have been whispers of opportunities coming up but none of which have come to fruition. Frustrating.

So now I am looking at other volunteering opportunities. I am starting volunteering at the Glentress Osprey Project on, ee jings, Monday. And a friend and I are hoping to start a forest garden at my work place. 

Another volunteering activity I’m undertaking is to raise money for Trees for Life through doing a leg of their Treelay. I’m currently trying to get this into the local newspaper. Watch this space!

So that’s volunteering.

b) Shown that I am IT literate by having started a blog (this one!) and developing a Linkedin page. Early days yet, hopefully it’ll open some doors, or even just enable people to see the real me behind the CV. 

Linkedin was recommended so as to become a part of the community, but how can you do that when people don’t know who you are?

I know that all I’m doing is growing frustrated, but when I’m hearing about people left, right and centre getting jobs it is hard. Especially when you start to question “why not me”? I’ve got the undergraduate degree, the masters, the volunteering. I’ve got the passion, the enthusiasm, the love of the outdoors, the knowledge. How can I show people this? Sometimes I’ve just about at the end of my tether for knowing which way to turn next.