In these cold and dreary days we are looking forward to summer coming again, and the survey season starting. We will also be welcoming our Certificate 2018 students to our branches. Our PLUS course students spend 4 weeks working alongside experienced ecologists in our branches. Looking back to last year, here’s Ian’s experiences in the Bristol office:
My placement began at a site in Bristol. We were to oversee a destructive search of a plot of land being prepared for a construction project. Slow worms were suspected as possibly present, so we were all on the lookout. A digger operator slowly scraped back the top layer of vegetation with more dexterity than I possesses in any of my own limbs. By the time the entire site had been worked over, we had uncovered two slow worms and around eighty frogs(!), all of which were released at another site just down the road.
The rest of the week was largely spent getting up to speed with bat surveys. I read about survey methodology and started to learn species identification by sonograms; I learned how to operate EM3 and iPad touch detectors and how to download and analyse data in Analook. I created diagrams depicting the results of previous surveys, and I even got some survey experience of my own…
My first time out, a dusk emergence survey in Swansea, I sat alongside Jo [Bristol Ecologist]. She showed me how she went about the survey, how she recorded the data and used the equipment. We picked up mostly common and soprano pipistrelles that evening, spotting bats as they foraged or commuted across the site, sometimes alone and sometimes in pairs.
Next time out, it was my turn to complete the survey. Jo supervised to make sure I knew what I was doing. I struggled drawing a sketch map of the survey area. With a few pencil lines and seemingly minimal effort, Jo could render out a simple yet accurate and eminently useful representation of her surroundings; I, with maximum concentration, produced something that was not a simple, yet accurate and eminently useful representation of my surroundings. Something to practice.
I put some time into creating a Bat ID guide for future placement students. In doing so, I learned a lot myself! I tried to include information on how to visually ID bats, both close up and at a distance, how to ID their calls using various methods, and other information, including preferred habitats, roosting and foraging behaviour etc. Perhaps if you do a placement at the Bristol office at some point, you will have a chance to look through my work. Hopefully, you will find it useful. At this point, I would like to mention that I accept Pay-pal.
The next week, I attended a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal and bat scoping survey of a residential property. It was fairly uncomplicated in terms of the habitats present, just some scattered trees and scrub and a bit of amenity grassland. But my growing interest in botany made looking for and listing the plant species present very enjoyable – plus I managed to pick up a few ID tips from Jo and Hannah [Bristol Assistant Ecologist]. During the bat scoping portion of the survey, we looked over a dilapidated outbuilding. We surveyed both inside and outside of the structure, looking for any signs of bats or any features they might use. I had previously read about what features to look out for, but first-hand experience with experienced ecologists was incredibly useful.
During the week, Jo and Hannah initiated me into some of the workings of the Bristol office: how quotes are calculated, how data searches are made, the physical and electronic filing systems… My own personal filing system at home consists of a hessian bag that I shove documents and things in when I’m not ready or willing to throw them away yet, so the office organisation was both eye-opening and inspirational.
On Wednesday, it was time for another dusk emergence survey. This time I was on my own. I made a sketch map that would have irrevocably insulted the property owners had they seen it, and settled down with my EM3 detector. There wasn’t a lot of bat activity that night, which was perfect for my first solo effort. I recorded some pipisrelles, noctules and some Myotis species. I enjoyed myself and by the end of the survey, I was feeling much more confident!
To finish up the week, we travelled over to Swansea again, this time to survey some trees for bat roost potential. There were a lot of trees to cover and a formidable amount of bramble through which we had to go to cover them. We found a number of features suitable for bats. Once again, this experience was invaluable. I’d done some reading prior to going out, but nothing beats real life experience with professional ecologists for guidance. At the end, Jo indicated a barn owl roost. It was high up on the church wall, white stains from droppings along its lower edge. On the ground below, we found owl pellets full of pieces of rodent skeleton. I feel weird using the word ‘cool’ to describe an owl pellet, but it was. It was cool.
The following week saw more office activity, further effort put into bat sonogram ID, and a long road trip to Grimsby for another PEA. On-site we soon discovered multiple signs that badgers were using the site. We found mammal runs through tall grass and scrub, day nests, snuffle marks, and some fine examples of badger poo. The poo comprised largely of blackberry seeds, meaning there are most likely a bunch of badgers running around Grimsby with red-purple snouts, which to me is a pleasant image.
My final week was quiet in terms of survey work, but there was plenty of office work to be getting on with! I got more practice using publisher to make diagrams and I tried my hand at some report writing. During a final bat survey (this time at dawn), I saw and recorded what was likely to be a Natterer’s bat, a first for me!
I really enjoyed my placement. Everyone at the Bristol office was very welcoming, patient and happy to answer any questions I had. The work was varied and interesting; I definitely learned a lot and gained what I consider to be invaluable experience that will not only (hopefully) look good on my CV, but furnish me with much more confidence in my abilities as I pursue consultancy jobs in future.
Ian graduated from the Certificate Course in autumn last year. His experiences show the diversity of projects and situations you can be a part of during a placement. Our work placements are a part of the PLUS option of the Certificate in Ecological Consultancy course. Take a look!
If you feel inspired, but can’t commit to a lengthy course? Why not have a look at our short courses? We run 1 and 2-day introductory courses, plus advanced courses for those looking to build on their knowledge.
Take a look today, and see what you could achieve in 2018!