Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Getting into ecology and conservation

Ask any ecologist or conservationist how they got into this line of work, and almost all will tell you about how they got stuck in with volunteering, and what awesome days they were!

Me in 2012, volunteering on a Water Vole survey with Row Baker at Arundel

Volunteering for the Sussex Wildlife Trust opened up to me a new world of local wildlife, and the passionate people who are trying to conserve it. There are many wildlife organisations out there wanting to engage with volunteers and recruit new members, and now social media makes it even easier to connect with these groups... a healthier use of Facebook and Twitter!

Myself and Laurie Jackson (who I also met through volunteering) have come up with a list of wildlife groups and recording schemes which people can get involved with, whether you're a student of biological sciences, a recent graduate, or just someone who is looking to get outdoors more and discover an endlessly rewarding new hobby...

Firstly, consider starting to keep a species list by signing up to iRecord:

Events/ short courses in wildlife identification, ecology and field skills:

Sussex Wildlife Trust
Surrey Wildlife Trust
Knepp Wildlands Safaris
Field Studies Council (FSC)

For families and kids:

Sussex Wildlife Trust family events
Surrey Wildlife Trust family events
Amateur Entomologists' Society Bug Club
Field Studies Council family activities

Specialist courses and training ecological consultants:

Bat Conservation Trust
Mammal Society
Amphibians and Reptiles Group
British Trust for Ornithology
Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) :
Acorn Ecology
Field Studies Council (FSC) environmental professionals
British Entomology & Natural History Society
Freshwater Biological Association

The best advice after going on any training course or event? Get involved with wildlife surveys or field meetings straight away, either through the organisation you've just trained with, or a wildlife group local to you. Carry on with the learning and keep those newly acquired field skills honed; we all started out somewhere! 

National recording schemes & surveys:

There are many more than I have listed here, so you could also take a look at the Biological Records Centre website:

Most these groups also have facebook pages with very active online communities, so there are always people to turn to for advice.

And for those of you more local to the Gatwick area, check out these active groups...

Wildlife groups and recording in Sussex:

Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre
Sussex Mammal Group
Sussex Amphibian and Reptile Group
Sussex Bat Group
Sussex Ornithological Society
Sussex Botanical Recording Society
Sussex Moth Group
Butterfly Conservation – Sussex Branch
British Dragonfly Society - Sussex Group
Sussex Sea Search
Forest Row Natural History Group

Sussex & Surrey:

West Weald Fungus Recording Group


Surrey Biodiversity Information Centre
Surrey Mammal group (Facebook page)
Surrey Dormouse Group
Surrey Amphibians and Reptile Group
Surrey Bat Group
Surrey Birding Club
Surrey Botanical Society
Surrey Butterfly Conservation - Surrey & SW London branch
RiverSearch & RiverFly surveys

So there you go! My apologies as if I missed any off - please comment below and I can add to the lists.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Biodiversity and the Beaver

I had an excellent opportunity last weekend to join a group of ecologists visiting the Devon Beaver Project, a trial study looking into how Eurasian Beavers (Castor fiber) adapt their surroundings, creating vital wetland habitat.

Beaver lodge and pool - the enclosure is about 2.8ha in total

Led by Mark Elliott of Devon Wildlife Trust, this fascinating project has now been running for 5 years. Beaver pools and dams provide excellent ecosystem services; holding the excess water, allowing gradual release back into rivers and streams after extreme flooding events (it turns out they might be even more effective landscape managers than us costly humans).

One of several Beaver dams - this one extends for over 20m

Their forte is creating a series of staggered pools, interconnected by small canals so that they can ferry woody materials around. They carry out all their own maintenance and repairs, needing absolutely no input from us.

Horizon pool (something I've always fancied in my garden)

These fluffy aqua-engineers have been gone from our landscapes over 400 years, hunted to extinction for their meat, fur and some weird medicinal value of their glands. Beavers are a 'keystone species', meaning their presence is important for the structure and function of a particular habitat. Remove the keystone and the habitat changes so drastically that the whole ecosystem on that site collapses.
   Beavers are nocturnal, so we didn't get a chance to see them in person, but the field signs of these massive rodents are pretty unmistakable...

Is that some Beaver hedge-laying? Tom Simpson himself would be impressed

Mark explained to us that many of these partially felled trees will continue to grow, with the fresh coppice regrowth creating Beaver 'salad bowls', on which they feed.

Not a T-Rex, but the Right hind footprint of Beaver, Europe's biggest rodent

Data are being meticulously gathered with the help of the University of Exeter. Water monitoring stations collect vital information on changes in flow and water quality on the site, all of which are improving for the better.

Of course, the thing us ecologists noticed the most after stepping rather gingerly into the site, is how Beavers create incredibly stunning, biodiverse and lush habitat! 

The act of opening up the dense scrub, allowing light to reach the network of pools and canals has resulted in a true habitat mosaic - all the work of just two adult Beavers.
   Increased amounts of frogspawn indicate a benefit to the amphibian populations...

The wet wood is no doubt a haven for aquatic invertebrates, hidden away in the cracks and crevices of the dams. Certainly the can fungi benefit from all of this fallen deadwood...

Scarlet Elf Cup (Sarcoscypha coccinea)

Blushing Bracket (Daedaleopsis confragosa)

Miniature water gardens contain many plant species, a few of which were not only new to me...

Beaver burrow

Young basal leaves of Marsh Ragwort (Senecio aquaticus)  - identified by Mark Elliott

Water Forget-me-not (Myosotis scorpioides), Water Mint (Mentha aquatica) and some type of Crowfoot

...which turned out to be Round-leaved Crowfoot (Ranunculus omiophyllus) - identified by Dave Green

Bog Pimpernel (Anagallis tenella) - identified by Mark Elliott

Lesser Spearwort (Ranunculus flammula) - identified by Mark Elliott

I can only imagine how spring and summer will bring even more burgeoning wildlife to this site. 
Thanks to Mark, Penny, Dave and David for letting me tag along, it really was a privilege. 

Find out more about the scientific benefits of Devon's Beavers in this report, and the positive effects on communities in the below video.