A month in the life of an Acorn ecologist

Lucy spent a month with our Guildford office in July/August and had a very full four weeks! Bats, dogs, pubs and a rabbit, she had a very busy month!

WEEK 1 – Mon 17th July

I arrive at the office (early I might add!) before Nick and I head off shortly after  to collect some bat faeces from a loft space to be sent off for DNA analysis.  This proved rather difficult as there were also a lot of mouse droppings in the same area! With Nick satisfied he’s collected some bat faeces; we head off to two further sites to place down an Express static bat detector at each.  This was new for me, so Nick taught me how to use them and the correct orientation to place them in the tree for the best results.  Hopefully we’ll get some good calls to analyse at a later date!  Back at the office, Sarah asks me to review a bat survey report.  This was my first look at an Acorn bat report and was great to see how Acorn writes their reports.  This particular report had a summer roost of brown long-eared bats, so it was interesting to see what recommendations Sarah advised for mitigation purposes.

Tues 18th July
Today was all office based, so a great opportunity to soak up some knowledge! As most of the work at the moment is bat based, Sarah had me read some of the BCT Bat Survey Guidelines to prepare me for our survey tomorrow.  I also had a look through the presentation on Anabat calls to help me learn what the different species calls look like.  Late morning Nick went through the main bat survey presentation with me, which had some very useful clips showing each common species call and a video showing how they emerge, as well as information about the behaviour of different species. Just before lunch Sarah had me and Nick try out some grass identification (MUCH harder than it sounds) with some common species such as Yorkshire Fog, Cock’s Foot, Creeping Vent & Upright Brome.  We scored top marks!!  The rest of the afternoon was spent carrying out my first data search.  This site is located close to some important SSSIs, therefore this was a bigger undertaking than I had imagined!

Wed 19th July

We had a late start today as we were due to carry out a dusk bat survey that evening.  Shortly after arrival at the office we head out to carry out a Preliminary Bat Survey (PBS) on a barn at a lovely country house. Nick let me takes all the notes/make diagrams, as I’m told I’ll be the one writing up the report! Excitingly, we find over 200 bat droppings inside the barn; Sarah and Nick suspect these are from several different species including pipistrelles, brown long eared and Serotine bats.

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Nick & Sarah on the hunt for droppings

Thursday 20th July
Slightly later start again today as there is a dusk bat survey this evening (unfortunately I can’t make this one).  So another office day today, with the welcome addition of another certificate student, Martin, who has starting working one day a week for the Guildford office.  I finish the data search, and then shadow Martin who is analysing some bat calls in Analook.  This is my first time analysing calls; most are Pipistrelles, with a couple of Noctules and Mytosis species thrown in.  I soon learn that distinguishing between different Mytosis species is very difficult! Martin shows me the next steps after analysing the data and how it is all collated into an Excel spreadsheet.  We then work together on mapping the results of the survey onto the aerial photograph, showing the bat passes and marking where bats are heard but not seen.  Later on Sarah shows me how to write up a PBS and how to make the figures in Publisher.

Fri 21st July
Most of the day I work on the PBS report.

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Around 1230 me and Nick  set off for a PEA in Haslemere, at a lovely house with not one, but two streams running through it! Very jealous. The owner wants to add a swimming pool near to the stream; a pretty simple development.  We carry out the PEA together, Nick dictating the species list (writing Latin names quickly is NOT fun) and me noting everything down and drawing a rough map. We also had a canine pal escort us around the whole site!

Mon 24th July

Today is a late start, as we have a dusk activity survey.  I continue on with the PBS report, with a break where I help Nick collate the bat data for a previous survey. He thinks one of the calls might be a Nathusius Pipistrelle, and I learn just how difficult it is to distinguish the call from the other Pip species! In the end we leave it as a Pip species, as Nick can’t say for sure that it is a Nathusius pip.  I then finish the PBS report (a day early) for Sarah to read through.  We set off at around 6pm for our transect survey. At the survey we saw and heard lots of bats; mostly Pip’s with a Noctule & Serotine thrown in.

Tues 25th July

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Serotine calls, peaking at around 29.5kHz

Today is a day of bat call analysis from two different sites.  Statics were placed at both for a week, so there is plenty of data to sift through.  I learned to identify a Serotine call, and also that Pip calls can look ‘Myotisy’ if they’re calling in a cluttered environment.

This takes up most of the day, with a bat map for another site thrown in. Sarah has finished reviewing my PBS report (she tells me I did very well for my first attempt!) and I review it for her before she sends it off to the client.

Wed 26th July – Thurs 27th July

Two days of bat madness, with late starts and evening emergence surveys both nights. An afternoon of bat call analysis, bat survey maps and bat report writing.  I feel like I’m getting pretty good now at creating the bat survey maps, showing the directions of passes by bats.

Friday 28th July

Today I was reviewing a PEA and PBS report; checking the data search results and habitat survey results.  This is harder than it sounds and takes a lot of time! Everything has to be cross checked to make sure the data is correct.  This takes up the majority of my afternoon.

Mon 31st July

Normal start time today.  In the morning I finish off the PEA/PBS report, including checking and reviewing the species list, adding the site photos into the Appendix, writing the summary and doing a final review/proof read.

Tues 1st August

Today I learn about BREEAM surveys and reports, as we have a survey to carry out at the end of the week.  Sarah has me read through a previous BREEAM report and amend the details for the site me and Nick will be surveying.  I then review a report for Sarah; we have to use another company’s format for this and it really shows how good Acorns/Sarah’s report templates are! That evening we have a dusk emergence survey, where I hear my first Serotines, and I make a new friend in the form of a young rabbit that has no clue I’m there!

Wed 2nd August

Short day in the office today as we have a dawn survey tomorrow morning (my first one!).  Most of the day is spent analysing the data from the survey the night before, and mapping the results.

Thurs 3rd August

My first dawn survey! Weirdly I feel more awake, although I wouldn’t fancy doing 3 in a row as Martin did! The site is quite far away and takes me around an hour to get there.  We don’t find anything particularly exciting, then its home for a nap before heading back into the office.  I stop off at a site in Croydon on my way to collect a static bat detector, as it’s closest to me.  Back in the office me and Martin analyse the data from the Croydon site, then help Nick with the data from the dawn survey site.

Friday 4th August

OK the dawn survey yesterday is starting to catch up to me now!

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I meet Nick onsite at 11am at a school to carry out a PEA and PBS for a BREEAM survey.  BREEAM assessments require an ecologist to survey the site and assess where the company can gain credits for positive effects on the ecological aspects of the site. After that we head to a site in Guildford to collect some bat droppings to send off for DNA analysis, then it’s back to the office.  For the rest of the day I start on the Phase 1 habitat map; I have to make two – the first that shows how the site was before construction began and the second to show how it is when we surveyed (ie a construction site).

Mon 7th August

Late morning start as we have an evening survey.  I carry on with the BREEAM report, doing the PBS maps and then starting the report.  We classed the building as having low potential for bats, as they had some possible roosting features.  I get a bit confused by the calculations, so decide to wait for Sarah to do those.  We have some interesting calls at the transect survey.

Tues 8th August

Another late start as we have another evening survey, this time an emergence survey.  I carry on with the BREEAM report and finish this.  Nick thinks we may have picked up a Brandt’s and Bechstein at the transect survey the previous night, however it’s very hard to confirm this as Myotis calls are so similar!

I’m particularly looking forward to the survey tonight as the site was surrounded by very ‘batty habitat’ and we found over 200 droppings inside the building! Fingers crossed for some Brown Long Eared bats, and maybe some Horseshoes!! (I can dream).

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The quote says it all really.  If you can’t see there are lots of mushrooms on the ceiling!

Wed 9th August

A couple of emergences at the survey last night, sadly no BLE or Horseshoe bats! I’m not in the office at all today; we have a PBS at an old pub in Chertsey in the afternoon.  Sadly the pub is in a poor state, with broken ceilings and flooded areas.  A good lesson in health and safety!! We don’t enter a couple of areas as they don’t look safe.  There are lots of potential bat roosting features, but due to the location of the site in the middle of a town the building is categorised as having moderate potential.  Later that evening Martin and I carry out a transect survey at a site in Croydon.  We don’t get a single bat due to the terrible weather!  We did find (nearly tread on) a huge Roman snail, which is a protected species.

Thurs 10th August – Fri 11th August

The last two days unfortunately go very quickly.  Most of the office time is spent doing more bat analysis and maps. We have another emergence survey on the Thursday night; there is one emergence, but I didn’t see as it was on the other side of the building.  The analysis again proved tricky as we have a suspect call that both Nick and Sarah say could be a brown long-eared bat, but in the end we decide it’s a pipistrelle social call.  Bats don’t read the guidelines so calls can look very different to what is known as a typical call!

I’d like to thank Nick and Sarah for a wonderful experience; I’ve had an amazing time and learnt such a lot.  I look forward to putting my new skills to the test in the future!

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