Thursday, 28 June 2012

I've recently received funding from the charity People's Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) to carry out research into whether eels are a declining prey for otters in Scotland. I'll explain the background to the project here and also what I'll be doing to fulfil my new role.

The reasoning behind the project is that fisheries across Scotland are reporting a decline in eel numbers, an issue which could have an effect on otters, as eels are a very important prey item due to their high calorific levels. What I aim to find out is whether eels actually are declining as prey, and if they are then whether otters are taking alternative high energy prey such as salmonids (salmon and trout), or whether they're being forced into taking low energy prey.

I have a paper (Jenkins and Harper 1980) which studied otter diets in the late 1970's, when eel populations were stable. So I will be able to gain an accurate view of whether otter diets have changed in the last three decades.

I shall be following Jenkins and Harper to decide my River Dee route, which involves 53km of survey. As I'm still working my notice at my previous job I only have four days (monday to thursday) to do this survey...four days which include travelling to my other survey site (which is thankfully only 14km) on Loch Shiel, surveying there, travelling over the Cairngorms to the River Dee, surveying and then driving home. I'm gonna be hard pushed to do this!

Anyone here who has carried out otter spraint surveys knows that it's not just a stroll along the side of the loch, it's an intensive clamber to make sure no part of the shore, and no tiny patch of spraint, is missed. It's like doing an obstacle course through brambles, bogs and sometimes in a loch, but you know what? It's going to be a-maze-ing!

And what do I do with the spraint once I've found them? I'll be bringing them home before identifying all the bones and remains that are in them, and through this I'll gain my dietary analysis.

I've got 6 monthly surveys which will be carried out between now and the end of November, and in between those times I'll be working at a local ecological consultancy carrying out various surveys for them, and then the paper is due in in December.

As the land that I'm working on is mostly private estates et al., I'm phoning round asking for permissions from everyone and anyone. Most people are very VERY interested and most are asking for updates and to see the report once it's finished. It's very exciting, becoming bigger than I imagined it would and is also rather scary! Wish me luck!!!!

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

What can I do that makes me stand out from the crowd? I volunteer a lot, I work where I can, and I have just been offered consultancy work on a contractual basis. But what’s that thing that could just make me stand out? That’s something that I’ve been thinking about a lot recently, and I do feel that in this I need to follow my heart and let it take me to places that my head may stop me going to.

In a battle between head and heart everyone says you must follow your head; not lose money, don’t quit a job before you’ve got another one, don’t do this, that, anything. But I am definitely feeling that following my head so far has done me wrong, and that maybe my heart sings the true song.

So now I just need to learn how to hear its message. Anyone who’s ever read The Alchemist will know here what I’m talking about. That book is my bible. But if only it was as easy to follow it’s teachings as it is to read its pages. I think, right now, that this contract work is not really the answer, but is it daft to look a gift horse in the mouth? You tell me. All I know is that I have a lot to offer, and I just need to figure out the best way of showing that and carrying it out. Wish me luck :) 

A friend and I went to visit the beavers at Knapdale last week. It was a fantastic wee road trip, but mainly I'd like to explain about the beavers, why they're here, and what they do that we want. 

Beavers were an important part of the European ecosystem until their land and fortunes were changed by humans. Our ancestors discovered that the fur is deliciously soft, and that an excretion from their scent glands, castoreum, was suitable for use in perfumes and medicines. At that time (the 1500’s) the landscape was also changing hugely and it is probable that this lack of habitat had a huge effect on population stability as well. 
And so Britain has been devoid of Beavers for around 500 years, and now the trial is underway to decide whether they should be brought back.

We went as part of a guided tour led by SWT (Scottish Wildlife Trust) in order to educate and inform people of the beavers. Led to a pool which is now five times the size it was originally, we were immensely impressed with the changes that they have put upon their landscape.

This family originally were released onto the large loch on the other side of the banking, but it apparently wasn’t long before they nipped over and made a new home in the pond, and started the laborious process of building a dam and making it more suitable to their use.

The area that’s now flooded is alive with arthropods, amphibians and others. Otters have been spotted on the pond, and we ourselves saw a duck family using it as well. The trees that were flooded will die, but by doing so create dead-wood habitat which is essential in a healthy habitat. The trees round the edge are showing fantastic coppicing activity. Broadleaved trees have evolved to cope with being cut down by beavers; they are the original coppicers. And so it comes to show how the landscape used to be.

There were a couple of very nice stories about archaeologists having found strangely marked sticks, and evidence of weird flooded areas, neither of which they could ever put an explanation to. And the answer to both is beavers: the markings on the sticks are left by their teeth after they’ve fed on the nutritious bark, and the flooded areas are the remains of the area that I just talked of. They shaped our landscape, and now hopefully they’ll remain forever to continue shaping it in their own way, bringing the health of the landscape back to the place that it should be again.