It was the first day of my placement, and to say I was nervous was an understatement. I was meeting Martin at a site in Rickmansworth for a badger presence/absence survey at 10am, but knowing that I had a bit of a drive in front of me, plus wanting to make a good first impression, I set off early to avoid rush hour traffic. Unfortunately, that rush hour traffic never appeared, and I ended up on site with 2 hours to kill. At least I showed I was eager!
The site wasn’t too big, so we had plenty of time to have a good look round and map out any signs of badgers. Not only did we find a sett entrance, but there were lots of snuffle holes and paw prints to let us know that badgers were using the site. Once we got all the evidence we needed, we headed back to the Guildford office to transfer all our data into a report. You always feel welcomed when entering the Guildford office, as there is normally a pack of pooches barking at you as you walk in – Alfie, Dolly, Winnie and Poppy. It was lovely meeting the dogs and Sarah!
Day 2 started with a trip to Croydon, where the team were monitoring some badger sett entrances to see if they were active. We had to record all activity at the site for a whole month, so I knew I’d be spending quite a bit of time there. There were 21 different entrances in total, and each one had a fur trap and sand to catch any paw prints; there were also 2 camera traps that were set up on different entrances each week so that were could actually see if the badgers were using the entrances. We took down any recordings that we found and headed back to the office.
I watched as Martin updated the badger site map with all the signs that we had found that morning, and then Sarah got me started on creating a table describing any activity that was caught on the camera traps. The rest of the day was spent going through the videos, making sure even the tiniest of movements was logged.
Day 3 was another early start, as for the rest of the week Martin and I were to be doing some Ecological Clerk of Works, overseeing the removal of some trees at a building site that had a badger sett entrance on it. Due to their legal protection, the entrance couldn’t simply be closed off and blocked, and we had to make sure that it wasn’t disturbed. There were a couple of log piles and a rubble pile that had to be removed, so we made sure there wasn’t anything hiding amongst the debris that would get hurt – we did end up finding some frogs and small newts!
Once the arborists were done for the day, we headed to a park in Staines where we were doing some bat activity monitoring. This was quite easy as we only had to set up a couple of static bat detectors and then let them do their job.
Thursday and Friday went by quite fast. We were back at our building site watching the trees come down for both days. We had some rain so it wasn’t too fun watching the arborists, but Martin had a camping chair with him and we took turns having a sit down to brighten our moods.
Week 2 went by quickly as I was in Exeter for the Acorn Ecology Bat Ecology and Surveying course on Monday and Tuesday which was great fun. Wednesday, I was back in Croydon with Martin to check on our badger entrances; we could see that some of them had definitely been used. Back in the office I carried on through the camera trap videos; there were several hundred from just one entrance so I knew I’d be there a while. We had an early finish as we had a dusk bat survey that night, which meant I could put everything I’d learned in Exeter into practice!
We were joined by John for the survey; we took one side of the building whilst Martin and Sarah took the other. Sadly my side wasn’t very active, and I only caught sight of one little pipistrelle as it flew past me. However Martin and Sarah were having fun as there were Noctules coming from all directions over them.
We were back in Croydon to check on our badger sett entrances on Thursday morning, then we headed into the office for the day. Martin showed me how to analyse the data from the dusk survey last night using Analook; this was my first time using the program so it was really cool to be able to actually see the different patterns each species made. I was then shown how to create an excel spreadsheet using the information from Analook so we could input all the results into a final report.
Last day of the week went by quickly, we stopped by our badger site to collect the camera trap videos and to see if there had been any changes overnight, and then headed to the office. I spent the day going through our badger videos and recording any activity. We caught a video of some juvenile badgers which was amazing to see – they’re very cute!
Week 3 had come around so quickly, and it went by in a flash. It was a bank holiday weekend, and then I spent Tuesday and Wednesday in Dorset on the Acorn GCN Ecology and Surveying Course. This was really fun and would definitely recommend it. Thursday was a special treat for me as I was included on a bat handling course that both Martin and Sarah were doing. I assumed I wouldn’t get to hold any bats as I haven’t yet had my rabies injection, but I would still be able to learn all about how to handle them and to get up close with some bats.
We started the day of by going through key identifying points of each species, such as whether they have a horseshoe nose leaf, whether they have ears sitting close together and whether they have contrasting coloured skin and fur. We then put our stills to the test with identifying different bat skins. After lunch we had our chance to test our handling skills; it also turned out that the tutor had some bats that had been confirmed not to be carrying rabies, so I would still get a chance to hold them. The tutor made it look so easy as the bat sat happily in her hand, but as soon as she passed it to me the wriggling started and I realised holding a bat is easier said than done. We learned how to correctly position them so that they were comfortable, how to turn them over in our hand so that we could look at their stomach and then how to correctly open the wing. It’s a tough skill to master as they’re small and delicate, you are constantly worried you will hurt them.
Friday we were back at the badger site, and then at the office to continue going through the camera trap videos.
It was the first day of my final week and I didn’t want my placement to end. Monday we went back to our badger monitoring site to collect our records, and then headed into the office, where I would carry on through the videos. Considering that on one entrance alone we got over 350 videos, I wasn’t surprised it was taking a while. We had a bat transect survey that evening, which measures activity in a specific area. We headed to our site in Staines where we had previously set up the static detectors as this is where our transect was taking place.
Tuesday started much like Monday, we headed to our badger sight and then back to the office. We had another bat survey that evening, this time a dusk emergence survey, which was fantastic as we had lots of activity and I was only feet away from some feeding bats.
Wednesday I had my first Preliminary Bat Survey (PBS). We had to climb into a loft to look for signs of bats; having 3 people in a small loft was quite a challenge, so Sarah headed outside to take some photos whilst myself and Martin looked for evidence. Martin looked in all the nooks and crannies whilst I watched from the hatch opening, and found some nests and small chick skeletons, but no bat evidence, however that doesn’t mean they weren’t there.
Thursday began much like our other days, first our badger site and then to the office. My office work went a little differently as I was tasked with entering results from a data search for a school in Kingston in the preliminary report. This consisted of summarising information regarding nearby conservation sites and the species found there. We worked through till dinner so that we could head to a pub for dinner before our bat survey. Luckily our survey was right next door so we weren’t going to need to go far. Unfortunately this survey wasn’t very active, with only a couple of pipistrelles feeding nearby.
Friday and my last day in Guildford was finally here, it was also our last day in Croydon with the badger monitoring. Back in the office I finally finished logging all our sett activity, so I started analysing the data from one of the static bat detectors we had set up in Staines. I had gotten used to the way that Analook worked and so managed to get through everything on one of the detectors before the day was over.
I really appreciate all the time and training Sarah and Martin put in during my placement. I had an amazing time and would love to do it all over again!
Wow! Charlotte has done loads during her 4 week placement in the Guildford office. If you are interested in our Certificate Course, let us know. Find out more about our courses by signing up to our popular quarterly newsletter.