My first day of the work placement and I am feeling apprehensive but mostly excited to get started. I knocked on the door and was greeted by …… a chorus of barking where I was warmly welcomed by the canine team members, Alfie, Winnie and Dolly. When I turned up I wanted to make a good impression and show I am eager to learn, but this was near impossible due to the blazing heat, the energy-sapping and soup-like air meant the sitting down resulted in sweat running down my face.
Later that day we had a dusk survey in Guildford, which was very active with pips wizzing around everywhere and I heard a barbastelle on the detector which was a first for me so a successful evening!
Second day, it’s still roasting and the air is still soup-like but today is road trip day! The six of us, Nick Sarah, the doggies and myself all loaded ourselves into Nicks car and we headed to Gerrards Cross to do a PEA and a PBS both of which I have never done before so this was exciting.
The property was an abandoned nursing home, Nick and myself went into the building to assess it to see if bats are using this building. We found some butterfly wings in the fire place so bats had been here and are eating here. Afterwards, we joined Sarah outside to map the habitat and record all the species and there is a clear weakness in my knowledge, I look at all these plants and I have no idea what they are so some swatting up is badly needed.
Third day, it’s 38°C and I’m sweating in places I didn’t know you could sweat. Today Nick and Sarah introduced me to Analook, a program that analyses bat data from the detectors we had used previously on the surveys. It is the first time I have ever used this program and it’s really cool! You can see all the different patterns that each species produces and at what frequency they are calling at.
Later that day we had another dusk survey and this time Nick and myself were joined by John and Kathryn in Portsmouth and I had some colourful locals assisting me in looking for bats!
Fourth day and I was responsible for typing up the species list for Gerrards Cross, putting the habitats that we recorded into the order that is seen in the Phase 1 Handbook and then listing all the species in each habitat in alphabetical order along with their species names. It sounds a lot more complicated than it is.
In the evening we did another dusk survey. This time Nick and myself were joined by Sarah, John and Laura in Peasmarsh. We didn’t find anything here though.
First week done, so far there has been a lot of new things, a lot of information but a lot of fun. I have been shown how to do a PEA, what makes a building have potential for bats and the different locations in which a bat survey is undertaken. I have also learnt that the UK can get extremely hot — who knew?!
Week 2: What day is it?
For this week we did three dawn surveys in a row and trying to remember what happened on what day is difficult so I am just going to break it up into how many sleeps I had in between each activity!
First day of week two and we had a PEA and PBS to do at a really fancy looking council office and a local park in Staines which isn’t too far from my old university, Royal Holloway, so I knew a lot of the journey already which was handy.
This is me trying to figure out the name of a plant that I had apparently seen before and they definitely told me the name of. Turns out it was white bryony, I thought it was grape!
Staring into the abyss! It was really hot in there too. But it was good going into a loft and instead of looking at it as a place to store your junk, Nick and Sarah were teaching me how to look at this as a habitat for bats.
My first dawn survey of the work placement, it is in Gerrards Cross where we went last week. We met at 2:45am and it takes me over an hour to get there so a very early start! Nick and myself were joined by Adrian and Kathryn but sadly we didn’t see anything.
2 sleeps later…
Having been to the office one sleep ago it was time for another dawn survey, this time we were in Windlesham. Nick and myself were joined by Charlie, Kathryn, John and Adrian at this very rich house. You know it’s a rich house when they have automatic electric gates and on their driveway they have a roundabout! Sadly no bats but there was a cute mouse scurrying around and it climbed on top of the static bat detector!
2 sleeps later…
Dawn survey number three and at this point in the week I have absolutely no idea what time I’m getting up, where I am or who I am but nevertheless we were doing a survey in Cobham and Nick had assured me that this place was a good place to see bats. Last time he did a survey there he saw loads of brown long-eared bats along with everything else. So I was really excited to do this survey despite being tired because I have never seen or heard a brown long-eared bats before. We did the survey and we saw… nothing!
1 sleep later…
Nick and myself went to Croydon to do a PEA at a house. However, when we got there the site was a construction site and the house was already gutted out and half finished. The builders appeared to be living there too because they were drying their laundry in the garden and the garden was littered with building material and junk. This PEA didn’t take long!
We go to all the beautiful sites in Surrey with this job!
Ok I know it’s definitely Friday because the next day was Saturday. Nick and myself went to Gerrards Cross again but this time to do a reptile survey which I have never done before so I was excited to see what it entailed. We looked under all fifty mats but we didn’t find any unfortunately. Next we travelled to Croydon where we met up with Sarah and the pooches to do a PEA. It absolutely amazed me how much nicer and bigger this property was to the one we went to yesterday considering they are only ten minutes away from each other. This site was neighbouring ancient woodland, had a lot of trees and log piles so definitely had stag beetle and bat potential.
We went back to the office for our mandatory beer-o’clock and we established that dormice do not in fact lay eggs — in my defence it had been a long week and my brain was mush!
Week 3: Botany and more dawns!
First day of week three and it was time to do some botany. This was at the Witley Centre, Godalming and the entrance was where it said, “Deliveries only, no public access” — obviously! Sue was running the course and she made us make a book full of samples and label them with their name and identifying features which is the one thing I’ve been meaning to do for a while but just never got round to doing it so there are no excuses now!
Second day of botany course and the main thing that Sue taught us when trying to identify a plant was to start by figuring out what family it was in then go from there.
Back with the Guildford team and it was time for another dawn survey. This time we were back in Guildford which was the place where I heard a barbastelle. Nick and myself were joined by John and Adrian, again this was a successful survey as we saw lots of pips.
I was also given the responsibility to write the PEA report for one of the Croydon sites which was a little daunting considering I have never done one before but it would be good practice for Assignment 2. Sarah helped me a lot with this, she wrote out a template that was super easy to follow so I felt as though I didn’t need to ask too many questions and Sarah did a lot of the complicated stuff that was a bit beyond me. This was really useful to learn.
One sleep later…
The entire gang headed down together to Send to do a PEA and a PBS. This property had a really nice garden that had a lot of bat potential. Then Sarah and myself went into the house to assess the loft for bat roosting potential. Sarah went up there alone because it was too small and when she came down afterwards she was absolutely smothered in cobwebs and she was convinced she saw spiders that were big enough to eat a human. Glad I didn’t go up there!
Sarah made me crop her out of this photo but I assure you this was her idea and she was wearing the shoe-thingy on her head too, I’m not crazy!
This day started with a dawn at Peasmarsh and it was an interesting one. I was sitting in a chair here.
Then I heard fluttering and felt something on my head so naturally I moved and then whatever it was that was on my head flew over to the bramble next to me. It was a wren! Which looked back at me in horror because it realised I was not a fence post I was in fact a person and flew off!
Then I saw something move out of the corner of my eye and it was a little bunny having his breakfast next to me. He didn’t even notice me and was there for literally ten minutes. Then a mute swan flew over me which was quite a site to see. Didn’t see any bats by the way.
Big day today, I was responsible for doing a reptile survey by myself at Gerrards Cross which was cool but a lot of responsibility. I did the survey and found nothing.
Week 4: Last week already?!
The last week of my work placement already, time has absolutely flown by. I was again given the responsibility to do a reptile survey on my own in Gerrards Cross but this time I had to collect all the reptile mats as this was the last survey. I did not find any reptiles so I think we can safely say there are no reptiles here. I was then joined by Kathryn, John, Sarah and the pooches for a dusk survey at Gerrards Cross. We saw a few pips flying around but not much.
Arrived at the office to do some paperwork then I was tasked with meeting John in Croydon to do a bat transect survey which I have never done before so I was looking forward to doing one. John and myself arrived at the site and it was absolutely pouring. We went ahead with the survey anyway because John wanted to show me how to do one and we needed to at least try and find some bats even though the weather conditions were not ideal. About an hour into the survey John and myself were soaked and the rain was only getting harder and we hadn’t seen anything, we turned to each other and said, “what are we doing? We are just standing in someone’s back garden getting wet”, so we decided to call it a night. Just at that moment, a pip flew past! He must have heard what we said or he was as crazy as we were being out in the rain!
I arrived at the office and someone took my parking space, unbelievable!
Later that day, Nick and myself went and did a bat transect survey in Send but this time it was not pouring with rain! I was in charge of the detectors so if I heard anything I had to tell Nick what it was and what the time was. I really enjoyed this, it was the first time I had used a bat scanner and I think I prefer them to the Magenta 5 bat detector that I had because it picks up the bats on all frequencies so you don’t miss anything.
This was the first bat survey we have done for the site and it was bats galore! It felt like I was calling out bats to Nick every ten seconds. We saw pips flying around chasing each other, which Nick said were mostly likely a mother and an offspring who hasn’t had much flying experience. We also saw a serotine flying past which was pretty cool because I have only seen them once before.
Another road trip! This time we all squeezed into Sarah’s car with Dolly on our laps on the backseat and we headed to Chislehurst for a PEA and PBS. This place was in a beautiful location, it had fields on one side and an amazing woodland the other side and it was in the middle of a local nature reserve, Scadbury Park, but the property itself was abandoned and completely overgrown.
Later that day Nick, John, Kathryn and myself headed to a site in Cobham, the place that apparently had a lot of brown long-ears but I didn’t see anything, to do a dusk survey. This is the first time I had been to this location in the daylight so I could actually pay attention to where I was. Remember how I was saying you know people are rich when they have gates in front of their houses? Well these houses had gates in front of their house and their street! The size of their houses too made my three bedroom terraced house seem like a place they store their lawnmowers!
With that being said, we set up in front of this house, sorry mansion, and Nick was right there were loads of bats including brown long-eared bats so I was really pleased because I have never seen a brown long-eared before. Another cool thing that happened on this survey was that I actually saw a bat emerge from under the eaves on the roof. So a very successful survey!
Can’t believe it is my last day, the four weeks have absolutely flown by. We spent the day doing office work and reflecting on the month.
I have really enjoyed this whole experience, it has been valuable to get an insight into the day-to-day workings of being an ecological consultant and to find out what exactly the work entails. The thing I found most difficult was probably the disturbed sleep pattern as a result of doing dawn surveys but overall I have loved it and I want to say a huge thank you to Sarah and Nick for all their help and guidance.