Wednesday, 7 October 2015

My ecology placement at Gatwick

Guest blogger: Elliott Lloyd


My summer has been awesome, mainly due to the part-time placement I did at Gatwick Airport assisting Rachel with her ecological work. I was joined by fellow student in my course, Mark, for the first half of my time there. Mark and I were partaking in a placement scheme run by the careers service of our university, Royal Holloway. From the career centre talks, we were under the impression that we’d basically be the tea maids, so we were pleasantly surprised to hear that we’d actually be getting stuck in with both the field and data work.

Breeding bird survey, North West Zone

 Breeding birds was the first survey we participated in, lead by Tom Forward from Gatwick Greenspace. With his amazing knowledge of bird song, we recorded the different species we could hear, walking through woods and meadows and looking for any evidence of breeding. We did another bird survey a couple of weeks later and luckily that time it didn’t chuck it down.

And they said it wouldn't rain

The following evening we conducted a bat survey with Martyn Cooke who is a bat expert, or Batman. Using bat detectors we picked up the echolocations, allowing us to identify the species that were zooming past our heads. Then it was time for moth trapping with Laurie and Jake who are moth recorders. It was great to be introduced to another hugely diverse group that the vast majority of us don’t get to fully appreciate due to their nocturnal life style.

Don't go into the light!

Later that week we were dragonfly surveying along the River Mole, for which we had to catch and handle the damselflies for identification and view dragonflies through binoculars. Next I was helping check bat boxes and whilst doing this, we identified the range of moths that had been potted and put into the fridge the night before by Rachel, which were then released on site. The next day Rachel and I were surveying for reptiles by looking under refugia and we found four Grass Snakes.

A 'nosey' Elephant Hawk-moth

On week 2, Rachel and I did a RiverSearch survey where we recorded physical aspects (man-made and natural) of the Gatwick Stream and recorded the distribution of invasive species like Himalayan balsam. Later on in the week we teamed up with Tom Simpson and volunteers from Gatwick Greenspace, destroying Himalayan balsam along the River Mole. After giving a presentation about this plant as an invasive species for my degree, I felt like I was practising what I was preaching.

A mountain of Himalayan Balsam (like its namesake)

The next week Mark and I were sent on a top-secret mission. We went to Merrists Wood College, Guildford, where we were briefed (lectured) about invasive species in Britain by agents (ecologists) Glenn and Danial from Surrey Wildlife Trust. Then we searched the large campus grounds for examples of the species we had talked about and lo and behold, we found the evil American Signal Crayfish in a stream. It was then humanely dispatched due to being invasive.

Dr. Crayfish

The next day I was feeling back to my normal self, assisting in a newt habitat quality survey. After some butterfly catching and recording we checked some Dormouse boxes and I found a Yellow-necked Mouse! From a photo I took before he wriggled free we could tell he was a male. The next day we helped out in a Bioblitz day at Chesworth Farm, Horsham, run by Kevin and Tom F from Gatwick Greenspace. The day was all about introducing a group of year 5 school pupils to recording as many species as possible. We recorded something like 113 species which broke last year’s record apparently.

Yellow-necked Mouse, woken up from his lie-in

After a break due to moving house and a trip to the Isle of Wight, I returned to join in a invertebrate survey with Rachel and Ryan Mitchell, who is an insect encyclopaedia walking on legs. We found and recorded many different insect species, my favourite by far being the scorpion fly (Panorpa communis). The next day it was just Rachel and I recording and we found a native British Cockroach (Ectobius lapponicus) underneath a reptile mat. Ryan joined us again the following day and amongst the many things we saw, we found a rose bush covered in lacewings, and some of the females were ovipositing. We took one back to the JSA compound and used a microscope and guide to identify it to species level.

Master (left) teaching padawan (right)

Chrysoperla lucasina - a lacewing we preserved in alcohol in order to identify it to species. 
It was for the greater good of conservation data-gathering

The next week started with us photographing leaf-cutter bees. Whilst Rachel and I were identifying a speedwell species in Ashley’s field, two Roe Deer came bursting out of the forest, ran straight past us and turned back again when they spotted us. We set up a camera trap near a pond (we found that rabbits and foxes were using the pond), did more butterfly surveying, collected and cleaned up bamboos for a new bee hotel and more data entry.
   Sadly, the next day was my last official placement day; we cut reeds for the bee hotel and then went to Woods Mill for a meeting with the Sussex Biodiversity Records Centre, about Gatwick's biodiversity data.

The finished bee hotel I helped collect materials for

Exploring Woods Mill Nature Reserve

And that was my placement (or, a lot of it anyway). It went so quickly and I saw so much that I haven’t even told you about. At no one point did I think I was doing a ‘work placement’ but instead doing the things I was doing because I enjoyed it and I was surrounded by friendly, enthusiastic people. I’m very fortunate to have met so many different specialists, and hopefully some of their knowledge and experience rubbed off on me. After doing a marine biology course in Scotland, I returned for a couple of days in September to help plant wildflowers, clear willow scrub, search for a stripey Grass Snake and I was even involved in finding a Hazel Dormouse in the ancient woodlands. And that’s the story so far; thanks for tuning in!

Here are my favourite species that I photographed (to see more, see my flikr account - my username is elliottlloyd45):

Fuligo septica. , a Slime Mould I found in the woodlands. I’d been wanting to find a one since doing a presentation on them in my first year of university

A Green-legged Sawfly I think... (Tenthredo mesomelas)

Blattodea (Cockroaches) - the most misunderstood insect order. 
This might be the species called Dusky Cockroach (Ectobius lapponicus)

The Emperor of dragonflies (Anax imperator)

Scorpion Fly (Panorpa germanica)- looks like a mish-mash of other invertebrates

Leaf-cutter Bee (Megachile spp.) hiding in the bee hotel - never knew an insect could be so cute

A pseudoscorpion we found in a King Alfred's Cake (which is a fungus, not a cake!)