Lockdown? Study from home!

We run a range of online self-study courses for people interested in ecology and wildlife so you can study at home! All our online self-study courses are fully operating so BOOK NOW!! Learn new skills and gain new knowledge with these carefully put together courses prepared by professional, highly qualified and experienced ecologists.

Most of the courses are weekly modules sent out automatically but in the current circumstances we can send all the module links on request so you can study faster. Courses are 1-10 modules and our NEW ones are video based giving you real experiential material!

Courses include:

**NEW** – Phase 1 Habitat mapping

**NEW** – Surveying for Protected species

Habitat management

Habitat restoration

Introduction to Ecology

Invasive species

Mammal ID

Reptile and Amphibian ID and surveying

Bats: Architectural terms for bat workers

Bats: Health and Safety for bat workers

New courses are being added regularly! Book NOW on the Online Courses section of the website.

Corona and courses don’t mix!

As I write this on 18th March 2020 the government, due to Corona virus Covid-19, are about to close schools, ban essential travel and possibly put us into lock-down! It makes sense, we all know that, but the reality won’t really hit us until it actually happens. Life will become even more restricted!!

Image result for hand washing australia

Most of our courses here at Ecology Training UK are field-based and at the moment we are probably going to have to cancel field courses in March and April with uncertainty for May and June. Hopefully by the autumn we may be able to run courses normally again. But we are looking at alternatives!

We will be gradually contacting students over the next few days and weeks to offer alternatives. At the moment we are preparing to deliver the ‘classroom’ bit of our courses via webinar with the field element happening when restrictions allow, possibly in late summer or early autumn. That way people can still start to gain skills and knowledge and would have something to do in this ‘quiet’ period.

We also have a range of online courses already available and we are constantly working on new ones coming online – so if you are in lock-down – get learning!

The webinars will be more interactive and so you can ask questions and we can share knowledge and tips with you, recommend further reading and study and suggest ways to implement your learning with practice.

Keep safe, keep washing your hands, keep isolated where possible!

One good thing about all this is that the wildlife will get some peace and quiet so they will have a great spring summer!

Image result for happy wildlife
Picture courtesy of Polhill Garden Centre

bat course, ecology training, ecology courses

Going ‘Batty’ – spring training courses for bat workers

In February Ecology Training UK is running 3 courses that might be of interest to anyone who already has some bat experience and wants to learn even more!


3rd February – How to write an EPSL for bats (your tutor Sue Searle, has written over 70 EPSLs in her career and will share some tips and take you through the process). Devon


4th February – Getting to know the planning system – every wondered how the planning system works and what the ecologist’s role is within it? Then join us for this interesting course. Devon


10th February – Surveying trees for bats – learn all the terms and techniques for surveying trees and try out your new skills with a field visit. Devon


17th February – Bats and Developments – learn about bat mitigation techniques for various species. Devon


Go to our Courses section and book your courses there. https://ecologytraining.co.uk/book-a-course/

Acorn Ecology botany grass course

2020 Courses Launched!

2020 is going to be a busy year for Ecology Training UK! Over 50 short courses are in the pipeline and many of them are online ready to be booked! New courses this year include Beaver Ecology and Surveying with a field trip to see beaver signs and a beaver watch on the River Otter, home to some of Britain’s only truly wild beavers!

Other favourites include ecology and surveying courses for great crested newts, water voles, otters, badgers, reptiles, dormice, bats and birds. ID courses include beginners botany, grass ID and tree ID as well as birds. We also have Phase 1 habitat mapping and Preliminary Ecological Appraisal on offer.

More advanced courses about mitigation and licensing include badgers, dormice, great crested newts and bats plus a one-day course on how to write an EPSL for bats and one on Getting to Know the Planning System.

And if you feel like communing with nature in a lovely woodland for a day then why not join us for Bushcraft and Forest Survival Skills! Learn how to make fire, filter water and make a basic shelter.

So as you can see there is something for everyone! Book NOW to avoid disappointment, these courses will fill FAST! It’s easy to book, just click on Courses, choose your course, pay and voila! you are booked!

Click here to see the 2020 courses list.

Congratulations!

Congratulations to our newest Certificate in Ecological Consultancy Graduates! The exam and graduation day yesterday was a great event and everyone passed their exam! Certificates were handed out in the afternoon to cheers and whistles! Five students gained Distinction for their marked assignments and Edward Lim was awarded Student of the Year with the highest overall marks of all the students including 99% in the exam. Well done Ed!

After 8 months of assignments, field courses, self-study courses and the exam the Certificate in Ecological Consultancy 2019 is finally completed! It has been hard work for everyone but they have all gained a huge amount of new skills, knowledge and confidence. Well done everyone!

reptile survey

Reptile Surveys – A Brief Guide

In the UK there are 6 different species of reptile; three snakes and three lizards. These animals play an important role in proper ecosystem functioning through controlling insect and rodent population numbers. Reptiles are also a source of food for many animals including hedgehogs, badgers and birds, but unfortunately all populations in the UK are in decline to some degree. Reptiles are protected under the UK judiciary system and it is an offence to intentionally or recklessly kill or injure each of the species.  The sand lizard and smooth snake, which are very rare, are further protected and require a licence when carrying out a survey in an area with known populations of each species.

The Ecology Training UK reptile course is designed to provide you with all the information to carry out a survey. There are also field visits and a chance to handle reptiles. You can find out more HERE.

Carrying out a survey

Initial Preparation

When preparing for a survey the first thing which needs to be determined is the type of investigation you wish to carry out. There are three types: presence/absence, population numbers, and monitoring.  This guide will focus on presence/absence surveys, which as the name suggests aims to determine whether reptiles are present on the site. Once the survey type is established, permission must be obtained from the land owner or manager of the site. It is a good idea before visiting the site to carry out a desk based study of reptile populations in the local area. This may have been undertaken at the preliminary Ecological Appraisal stage. The local records centre holds records and there will also be records on resources such as MAGIC map.  Preparing a map of the site and a survey form, in which sightings can be recorded (dates, species, number, location etc.) is also essential before carrying out the survey.

Survey Procedure

Surveying for reptiles is challenging because they are highly secretive and often camouflaged, with relatively low population densities. The time of year and day are restricted when carrying out surveys, as activity levels in the winter and hot months of the summer are low, making reptiles difficult to detect. It is a good idea before carrying out a survey to familiarise yourself with the basic behavioural ecology of each of the 6 UK reptile species, as this will make finding and identifying them much easier.

Reptiles are active from March to October. May, April and September the best times of the year to spot them, and during this time lizards bask in the morning from around 8.30 – 11.00 am, then from 5.00 – 6.30 pm (depending on the weather).

There are two methods for carrying out a presence/absence survey and these are designed to work in conjunction with one another– Direct Observation and Establishing Refuges.

Direct Observation

Direct Observation is the process of searching for reptiles on site. Reptiles can be found in a wide range of habitats from grass and heather heathland to suburban wasteland, but following some general rules can increase your chance of identification. Reptiles are ectotherms, this means that they require energy from the sun to warm them up in order carry out their general activity. They bask in the mornings and evenings; identifying these ‘Basking Spots’ is key to finding reptiles on a site.

‘Basking Spots’ are generally covered in short vegetation and are close to places of refuge where reptiles can hide, such as hedges or banks. When searching for reptiles tread lightly and slowly, ideally with the sun in front of you (shadows falling on lizards can scare them away immediately), and listen out for any rustling sounds. Binoculars which are able to focus in a close range can be very useful for species identification.

Establishing Refuges

Creating artificial basking refuges is a method used to increase the chance of determining the presence of reptiles on a site. These provide suntraps so to allow the reptile to warm up, therefore need to be made from materials with good conductivity such as tin or black bitumen sheets. The recommended size of a refuge is 0.5m2; these should be placed on potential ‘Basking Spots’. The number of refuges set up will depend on the size of the site under investigation. When carrying out a presence/absence survey 5-10 refuges per hectare is considered adequate. It is often more for consultancy, and depends on the project.  Seven visits are the minimum number required to determine with reasonable confidence the presence or absence of lizards, and can also indicate the size of the population (low-high). Visits should be carried out when the weather is most conducive to spotting basking reptiles. The weather should be warm and dry with little wind, ranging in temperature from 9-18ᵒC, long periods of cold followed by warm weather are ideal. To check the refuge lift one side up vertically, wearing gloves if adders are likely present, be sure to be sure to place the refuge back in the same spot. Peek underneath and record what you see.

What To Record

Record the location of each reptile sighting on your map, the species, number of each species, and the amount of time spent searching. You also need to record the life stage (adult/juvenile) and the sex, to establish if there is a breeding population on site. Determining absence of reptiles on a site is very difficult, the term ‘likely absence’ is therefore commonly used instead.

We run a reptile surveying course at Ecology Training UK that will teach you how to carry out a survey, as described above. You will also learn how to identify each of our reptile species and how to age and sex them. The Exeter course includes snake handling too! Take a look to find out more.

GOOD LUCK!

Preliminary Ecological Appraisal PEA Acorn Ecology

What is a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal (PEA)?

A Preliminary Ecological Appraisal, or PEA, is the initial scoping assessment of an area of land, for its potential to support protected species, based on the habitats it supports and signs of protected species.  PEA’s are required to inform what further surveys for protected species are required, as part of the planning process.  The aim of a PEA is to gather as much information about the site and the surrounding area, so that the potential impacts of the proposed development on designated sites for nature conservation, protected species and habitats can be assessed.  This is achieved through a two-part process: a desk study and a Phase 1 habitat survey.  

A desk study involves obtaining historical ecological records, so that, as an ecologist, you can assess the likelihood of protected species being present on site and the impacts of the development on ecologically important sites and habitats in the surrounding area.  By contacting the local biodiversity records centre, records can be obtained (usually no more than 10 years old) within at least 1 km radius of the site.  The data search will provide you with a list of statutory and non-statutory designated sites and a list of protected, notable and invasive species, with a 4 or 6 figure grid reference. 

JNCC Handbook What is a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal

The next step is to visit the site and conduct a Phase 1 habitat survey.  It is important that prior to visiting any site that you have permission from the land owner to be on site and you have a full risk assessment in place.  A Phase 1 habitat survey provides a ‘snapshot’ of the current conditions of the site and is a technique used by ecologists to map habitats and record species as a baseline for further survey work, in accordance with Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) guidelines ‘Handbook for Phase 1 Habitat Survey’.  These guidelines list the different habitats, which can be found in the UK and a definition for each habitat.  Ecologist can use these guidelines to effectively identify which habitats are present on site.  Once identified, the habitats need to be outlined in a map to provide a visual representation of the site. 

Phase 1 map What is a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal
JNCC PHase 1 codes What is a preliminary ecological appraisal PEA

The JNCC handbook also provides a key for each habitat type with their own colour coding, making mapping the habitats transparent and consistent.  The objective of a Phase 1 habitat survey is to also record the dominant flora and signs of protected species present on site.  The ecologist can then assess the site for its potential to support protected species.  For instance, kidney vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria) could be recorded on a calcareous semi-improved grassland which could attract breeding small blue butterflies (Cupido minimus) which are a species of principal importance.  Even though the small blue butterfly may not be recorded during the survey, the site itself has potential to support them.  Similarly, it is important to record any features, which could support protected species such as log piles or woodpecker holes in a tree.  These should be noted as a target note on the map.  Further information on what a Phase 1 habitat survey is can be found on our website.     

Blue butterfly Acorn Ecology

The final step in the process is to present your findings to the client in a report and inform them of any further survey work, recommendations and mitigation, that are required.  If the site has potential to support protected species, then further protected species surveys are required to fully establish if protected species are present and whether they will be impacted on by the proposed development.  The results of these further surveys and subsequent assessment are required to inform the planning application.  Further information on protected species ecology and survey courses can be found on our website.  

CIEEM Guidelines what is a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal PEA

A PEA is an essential scoping survey that ecologists undertake regularly and is the first step in understanding the sites nature conservation value.  Further information on the CIEEM guidelines for PEA’s can be found on their website.  Here at Ecology Training UK, all of our ecologists are experienced in carrying out PEA’s and offer introductory courses at each of our branches for anybody who wishes to learn how to carry out a PEA. You can find them, along with our full range of courses on our website.  

Acorn Ecology book

Ecology Book Reviews

As an ecologist you are going to need some reference books. But with SO MANY books out there, how do you know where to spend your money and get the most out of it?

Number one on our recommendation list is How to Become an Ecological Consultant by Sue Searle. It’s full of tips and advice on how to make it in this competitive business, with plenty of career advice too.

Free downloads

Here’s some good news – you don’t need to break the bank or have an endless book budget (although that WOULD be fantastic, wouldn’t it?!). You can get digital copies of lots of useful reference material for FREE! It includes some of the most important, such as the Bat Surveys: Good Practice Guidelines, produced by the Bat Conservation Trust, The Dormouse Conservation Handbook, The Great Crested Newt Conservation Handbook and the Phase 1 Habitat Survey Handbook, amongst others. So that’s a good start! Follow the links to download them.

ID books

Botany books are all a bit different, and most people tend to prefer one over another.  Here are some of our favourites:

Collins Pocket Guide – Wild Flowers, by Fitter, Fitter and Blamey. Very easy to use, with a good introduction to flower shape and colour. This is usually our first port of call if there’s something we don’t recognise.

The Wild Flower Key, by Francis Rose. This book offers a key at each section to help you identify the plant with beautiful illustrations. His book on Grasses, Sedges, Rushes and Ferns is also good, for when you’re ready to advance a level.

There are plenty of ID books on trees out there, but the Collins guide hasn’t failed me yet!

The Beginner’s Botany course (run in Exeter and Hampshire) can give you a good grounding in plant ID as well as training you in the best way to use your ID book. Learn the families and recognise their characteristics so you can go straight to the right section in your book, rather than flicking through all of it.

The RSPB have published a number of books. Go for one that suits your level of knowledge and tells you what you need to know. As with many of these books, as you get better, you may want to replace your basic ID book with something a bit more technical.

There are so many books on bats. There are a few very good ones. We would recommend what may seem like a simple starting point – the FSC chart. It gives you loads of information on the back and when you come to ID, it does the job and it simple to use.

A good tracks and signs book can be very useful. There’s an FSC chart, which covers most eventualities! Explore tracks and signs on our Survey Techniques for Protected Species course in Exeter.

We have a range of the FSC charts in our training room in Exeter, so you can pick them up while on a course with us.

Reference

If you think you may end up doing a significant bit of sound analysis, a worthy investment is Bat Calls by John Russ. It is in almost constant use here during the summer when the students are learning sound analysis! It’s what we recommend during our Introduction to Bat Sound Analysis course.

Amphibian and Reptile Habitat Management books are available, again, as you’ll be glad to hear, as free downloads. These are published by Amphibian and Reptile Conservation. They give information about the species you will find, and information on how to create and manage habitats to support them. For field visits to sites, have a look at our Ecology and Surveying courses for reptiles or great crested newts.

Remember, an ID book in your pocket is a great start, but unless you know how to use it, it can only help you so far. Get a helping hand from an expert ecologist on an Acorn Ecology Training Course. See our range of courses HERE.

Acorn Ecology certificate course 2019

Certificate Core Week 2019

I can’t believe it’s over already! This week has flown by. We have a super group of students. They all have skills to bring to the week and it’s been great getting to know everyone. They are an inquisitive lot, always asking questions, which is fantastic. That is what Core Week (and the whole course) is about. Learning!

They’ve come a long way in 5 days. On Monday they learned what a Phase 1 habitat survey was, and this morning they have been out to a site to do a full Preliminary Ecological Appraisal, finding and correctly identifying a whole range of field signs and plant species.

As I write this, they are all back in the training room, starting to put their survey findings into a report.

Over the week we have been out looking for dormice and reptiles. We’ve surveyed a main badger sett and left camera traps up for a couple of nights (no luck this time). Last night, after a meal at the pub, we sat in wait for bats to leave the roost. We saw five bats emerge and fly around the building. The detector we left out revealed 3 species were in the area overnight. On our field trips we have found a variety of bird pellets, lots of tracks and signs and had lots of fun sniffing poo!

Acorn Ecology certificate course 2019 PEA
Having fun during the Preliminary Ecological Appraisal!

I can say on behalf of all the staff and tutors that we have really enjoyed this week, and we hope that all our 2019 students have too.

We are really excited to see how this group get on this summer. I am sure they will go a long way!

Jess

You can see what our placement students get up to this summer by checking reading their blog posts which we will post over the summer.

Acorn Ecology certificate course 2019 PEA
Hmm, what’s this?
Acorn Ecology certificate course 2019 PEA
Just checking our maps are right!
Acorn ecology certificate course 2019 reptiles
Found a juvenile slow worm!
Acorn ecology certificate course 2019 dormice
What made this nest?
Great Crested Newt Acorn Ecology

How do you get a Great Crested Newt Licence?

Getting a great crested newt survey or research class licence level 1 (CL08) is an important qualification for an ecologist as it enables you to work closely with one of the UK’s rarest amphibians without any legal implications.  Here’s some advice from Martin Roche, a previous Certificate student.

Photo 1 – Are GCN present?

Although great crested newts (GCNs) are widespread throughout most of England, Scotland and Wales their population numbers have declined dramatically in the latter half of the 20th century.  GCNs, their eggs, breeding sites and resting places are, as a result, fully protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) and the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 (as amended).  This makes it illegal to kill, injure or disturb GCNs as well as damage, destroy or obstruct their habitat or eggs.  GCNs are also a species of principal importance as they are listed under Schedule 41 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act 2006. 

Photo 2 – GCN egg

GCN presence/absence surveys are performed by an ecologist to determine whether a pond, that has potential to support GCNs, supports GCNs (Photo 1).  These surveys involve using high powered torches, nets, bottle traps and searching for eggs to find for signs of GCNs in a pond (Photo 2).  The surveys may also involve handling GCNs to examine them.  GCN eDNA surveys can also be performed by ecologists to determine GCN presence/absence which involves analysing water samples in a lab to find GCN DNA (Photo 3).  Without a GCN survey or research class licence these survey techniques would be illegal. When applying for a GCN licence there are two key aspects that Natural England are looking for: knowledge and experience. 
 

Photo 3 – eDNA testing!

Natural England need to be provided evidence that the applicant can correctly and confidently identify a GCN and the difference between GCNs and the other amphibians that are native and invasive to the UK.  The applicant also needs to show they have been educated on GCN biology, ecology and habitat preference and therefore understand the conservation threats and legislation surrounding GCNs.  The GCN Conservation Handbook, produced by Froglife, provides information about their ecology, mitigation and survey techniques.  The Amphibian Habitat Management Handbook, produced by Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, provides information about amphibian habitat management, diseases and translocation (Photo 4).  Here at Acorn Ecology we offer a GCN Ecology and Survey course which provides the information you need for your licence. There is an option to also receive a reference from the course tutor for your licence (after a test at a small additional fee and at the tutor’s discretion).  

Photo 4 – Useful reading!

Natural England also need to be provided evidence that the applicant has had hands on experience surveying GCNs and know how to correctly survey them using each of the following survey techniques: torching, netting, egg searches, bottle trapping and eDNA (Photo 5).  We recommend contacting consultancies and volunteer to help them with their GCN surveys and let them know that you are trying to obtain your licence. 

We also recommend creating a logbook in Microsoft Excel or Apple Numbers that details every training course you have attended as well as every hands-on experience you have gathered.  Then this logbook can be provided to Natural England as part of the application for your licence. 

Photo 5 – Results from trapping

The most challenging task in applying for a GCN licence can be finding two people who are willing to provide you with a reference for your application form.  These referees must have a valid GCN licence and have direct knowledge of your work with GCNs.  More information on reference can be found on the gov.uk website: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/reference-to-support-a-protected-species-licence/protected-species-licences-guidance-on-getting-references-to-support-applications.  At Acorn Ecology we have ecologists in all our offices who possess GCN licences and welcome anyone to join us on GCN surveys to gain hands-on survey experience and may be willing to provide a reference for a GCN licence (please note, however, that GCN are quite rare in Devon).  

For any ecologist looking to start their career in ecology, obtaining a GCN licence is an impressive qualification to have on you CV and will therefore greatly increase your chances of employment.  To apply for your GCN survey or research class licence level 1 (CL08) click to following link to find the application form: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/great-crested-newts-survey-or-research-licence-level-1