otter, ecology courses

Otters – “Otterly Great!”

Otters have had a troubled time over the last few decades but have seen an increase in numbers in recent years. If you are doing any surveys near a riverside environment, it is essential that you know how to identify the signs that an otter is present in the area.Otter course testimonial

Signs may come in the form of spraints or footprints on a river bank, as well as a number of other clues otters leave behind. We run an Otter Ecology and Surveying course in Exeter (see details) where you can learn all about these signs. The course is run by an ecologist who is experienced in all manner of riparian surveys.

The course will cover otter ecology in the training room and then a field trip out to the river to find signs of otter. A student last year described the day as “otterly great!”

About Otters

Acorn Ecology swimming otterOtters (Lutra lutra) are an elusive semi-aquatic species which were once widespread in Great Britain and Europe.  In the 1950s and 1960s the populations of otters declined rapidly and drastically.  It is thought that the use of pesticides such as DDT and Dieldrin, and pollutants such as PCBs, was very common at this time and this resulted in the population declines.

Thankfully the otter population has increased over the last 25 years and their range has expanded across much of England.  Today it is estimated that the population in Great Britain as a whole is 10,300 (Scotland 7,950; England, 1,600; Wales; 750)*.  It is thought that otter population recovery has been most successful in the South West and along the Welsh borders where they had a stronghold during the decline years.

Otters and the Law

Otters are fully protected in the UK by Schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) as well as the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 (which makes it a European Protected Species). They are protected against killing, injuring, disturbance and their habitat and resting places are also protected. Due to this protection, it is highly important that land owners and developers are aware of the presence of otters, particularly where rivers are present.  If otters are thought to be present on your site or in any surrounding areas then surveys need to be carried out by someone who has training and experience.

Otter surveys

Acorn Ecology otter on bankSurveys for otters can be carried out all year round, but they are most successful in the spring when evidence is usually easier to see as water levels tend to be lower and wet mud is exposed, therefore signs such as tracks may be visible.  Spraints (dung) are also definitive evidence of presence and they are usually deposited on prominent places such as rocks and fallen trees in order to mark their territory.  A number of other indicators are used as well including feeding remains, otter slides (into the water), holts (underground dens) and couches (above ground sites where otters rest during the day ).

*Data from PTES.

Book onto our Otter Course today!

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acorn ecology badger course

Career guidance: Specialising and how to do it

Have you just started out on your ecology path? Perhaps you already have a job as a Trainee Ecologist or Assistant Ecologist, or a couple of seasons of experience under your belt. It is always a good idea to assess your progress at least annually and see what gaps you have in your knowledge.

great crested newt, ecology coursesIt might be a few years down the line until you are a specialist, but it’s worth considering it now, at this early stage in your career, so you can get the groundwork in.  Eventually you will find yourself becoming an expert in a certain area or several areas anyway, driven by your own interests or the major workload of your consultancy. Most teams have a range of specialists in their ranks. So how do you choose one and work towards it?

A good starting point for developing a specialism is to ask yourself ‘what am I really interested in?’ The next question should be ‘is that specialism good for my career? The bulk of consultancy work is with mammals, reptiles, plants, birds, or more specifically bats, badgers, dormice and great crested newts. Specialising in a protected species, or protected group of species, is going to be most beneficial for your career.

In this blog we’ve taken another extract from Sue Searle’s book – How to Become an Ecological Consultant. There is a whole chapter on specialising. Here’s the introduction:

Chapter 10 – Specialising

Although you will probably need to have a go at a bit of everything when you first start, eventually one wildlife subject will catch your interest and you will want to take it further. Many ecological consultants develop a specialism that is the focus of much of their career.

How to become an ecological consultant, by Susan M Searle BSc PGDip MCIEEM (paperback book)Developing a specialism might be a bit beyond the scope of this book, but, as we have just been thinking about goal setting, it makes sense to start thinking about specialising at the beginning of your career. This will help ensure that you will achieve everything you aim for. As long as you are aiming for it, planning it and consistently taking small steps towards it, you can eventually achieve anything you desire.

Some consultants specialise in a certain group of species, such as bats, and can make a comfortable living. However, to work in more diverse environments with a wider range of clients, and even to have a more interesting working life, I think it is good to have general expertise in many fields as well as an in-depth specialism in one thing in particular. In a team it works particularly well to have different specialist areas represented. I advise you avoid specialising too soon though – for instance I know a bat worker who knows no plants. She has always worked only on bats. This concerns me as she may not be able to recognise if she is in an ancient woodland (she cannot identify ancient woodland indicator plants), or even what species of trees are present, and this could be relevant for considering which species of bat may be present and describing the woodland itself for a report. For this reason I think getting a good general grounding to start with is essential. Become an ecologist with experience across species groups when you start out and specialise later.

Book available HERE

It’s difficult to be a really good ecologist if you only know about one thing. So, as a junior you should work on having a good base knowledge of plants, mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. With this grounding your specialism may naturally emerge. You might already be passionate about a species or species group, if so, great! Keep learning and gaining experience and in no time you will become an expert.

How can you do this?

Courses are a great way to kick start a new passion or gain skills and knowledge fast so that should be your starting point. Also attend talks, field trips, conferences and seminars, and join local groups – bats, birds, mammals, herps etc. Take an interest in everything ecological and immerse yourself! Wildlife is a lifelong fascination and passion.

Once the spark of a passion is ignited you will progress fast because you are interested, fascinated, motivated and moved to know more.

Here are a few of the courses we think are really important for specialising:

Surveying Trees for Bats – Bristol – 29th March 2019

Badger Ecology and Surveying – Guildford – Date TBC

Dormouse Ecology and Surveying – Exeter – 3rd May 2019

Otter Ecology and Surveying – Exeter – 23rd April 2019

Reptile Surveying and Handling – Exeter – 29th April 2019

You can find details of all these courses HERE.

If you have any questions about our courses, please get in touch with our team, who are happy to answer your questions. Call us today on 01392366512.

Phase 1 exeter

What is a Phase 1 habitat survey?

A Phase 1 habitat survey is a system of mapping habitats as a baseline to further survey work and is the industry standard used by ecologists throughout the UK.

The Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) has written guidance to the classification of each habitat type. This often refers to the landscape structure (e.g. pH of the soil) and the vegetation present. Each habitat type has a standard definition, an alpha-numeric code and a standardised colour scheme for the map. Target notes are used to provide additional information, or where there is a feature that can’t be mapped.

The JNCC handbook for Phase 1 habitat surveys, which explains all the codes, can be downloaded for free HERE.

What is a Phase 1 Habitat Survey used for?

Phase 1 habitat survey mapThe Phase 1 survey is incredibly useful to identify the habitats on site. In consultancy, we usually carry out an extended Phase 1, as part of a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal*. An extended Phase 1 doesn’t just map the habitat types, but includes additional information such as more detail on hedgerows, the potential for protected species to be on site, or a species list of the plants on site.

(*A Preliminary Ecological Appraisal or PEA is a survey that records and maps the baseline ecological conditions of a site and identifies any constraints to a development, such as the presence of protected species. From this, further survey can be recommended where necessary.)

How are they carried out?

The survey consists of a walkover survey. The site is covered by the surveyor, identifying the species on site and assigning the standard codes. The survey needs to be thorough for an extended Phase 1, with anything that may require further survey identified.

Equipment needed for the survey is minimal. An accurate map of the site and a pencil is a good start. A camera, a pair of binoculars and a compass are also invaluable. Many ecologists (including at Acorn Ecology) have taken to using digital recording devices (tablets) and apps to quickly map habitat on site.

Phase 1s are best carried out in the period April-September. This means you will be able to pick up more species, as many plants will have died back over the winter and a true species composition is harder to see.

Experience always helps with these surveys, as with all ecological surveys! Good ID skills are required. You need to know if a plant is rare/common/invasive. If you see animal tracks, do you know what they are? What are the birds on sight, and did you see them or just hear them call?

Why do I need to know this?Phase 1 exeter

A Phase 1 survey, as part of a PEA, should be the first survey on every development site. It will identify the current ecological conditions, before any development occurs, and also flag up any potential impacts the development may have on the wildlife present on the site. It is the base on which all further surveys are built. That makes it pretty important in consultancy! Knowing how to carry out a Phase 1 Habitat Survey, and being able to understand the techniques and maps is a must for any budding ecologist. It helps to have some botany ID, but you can learn the Phase 1 technique while you build your ID skills.

Phase 1 habitat surveys, preliminary ecological appraisal and report writing all form a substantial part of the core week of our Certificate in Ecological Consultancy. They are that important, and form part of the ‘core’ knowledge you will need in consultancy.

Course: Phase 1 Habitat Survey

Courses in Exeter, Bristol and Guildford in 2019

This introductory level course will greatly enhance your understanding of Phase 1 habitat surveys and give you confidence in carrying them out. The field experience gained will be relevant to both consultancy and conservation. Please note, this course usually runs in Bristol, Exeter and Guildford each year and the classroom based part of the course will be the same at all venues.

Course: Preliminary Ecological Appraisal and Report Writing

Courses in Exeter, Bristol and Guildford in 2019

Why not also do the Preliminary Ecological Appraisal Course? This will build on your Phase 1 habitat survey technique and teach you how to turn your survey findings into a comprehensive and professional report.

See what else you could learn with one of our ecology courses.

Pipstrelle bat sound analysis

Bat Sound Analysis

What is bat sound analysis?

On every bat survey a detector is used that will record the calls of passing bats. This can be during an emergence survey, to confirm the species of the emerging bat, or during an activity survey, or very often as a static detector, which will record all bat passes over a number of nights. The data is not stored as sound files, such as you might hear through a heterodyne detector, but in a way that produce sonograms. A sonogram is a representation of a sound on a graph.

Each species produces different sounds and all look different when on a graph. Sometimes these differences are extreme, sometimes very subtle. Bat Sound Analysis is the process of looking through these data and seeing what species are on site.

Here at Acorn Ecology we use the software Analook. This is software that is used by many consultancies.

Why learn bat sound analysis?

Much of your time as a Trainee or Assistant Ecologist (and beyond) will be spent analysing sonograms of bats from your survey sites. There can be as many as 3000+ sound files recorded in one night, by one static detector. Multiply this up so that you have two or three detectors on site, for five nights at a time. Then put these out on site on a monthly basis throughout the summer and you suddenly have a LOT of sound files – and that’s just one site! Having the skill to analyse them is a real advantage in what is a very competitive job market.

What do these files look like?

Pipstrelle bat sound analysisHere’s a couple of examples: Pipistrelles at the top, and greater horseshoe below.

GHS bat sound analysis

So if you want to be able to tell your Myotis from your barbastelles, and your horseshoes from your noctules, come on the Acorn Ecology Introduction to Sound Analysis Course!

This course will teach you how to get started with Analook, one of the most common pieces of software. (The fundamentals of the course are easily transferrable to other software packages too).

The course covers:

  • How bats use sound
  • An introduction to using Analook
  • Recognising typical UK bat species sonograms
  • Produce statistics for your report
  • Practice sessions on your own laptop

Much of the course is a practical workshop. We want you to go away feeling confident in your identification skills!

We have expanded this course and we now run a second day, Bat Survey Data: Analysis and Presentation. This course will teach you how to present your data in reports and analyse how bats are using your site. It usually runs the following day from the bat sound analysis course.

Give us a call on 01392 366512 or visit www.ecologytraining.co.uk today for more information.

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New grey long-eard bat roost record

Did you hear our news?Acorn Ecology Logo

As you may have read in our previous blog post on our website, we found a grey long-eared bat in a roost in East Devon and confirmed the species with DNA analysis. We are pleased that yet another record, some miles away, has been found.

There are thought to be only between 1000 – 3000 grey long-eared bats in the UK. This species is rarely recorded, giving it a very rough population estimate. There is little data about their range, but records show that they are confined to coastal areas in the extreme south of the UK, with a couple of records from South Wales.

Conducting DNA analysis of droppings at long-eared bat roosts is important for discovering more about this rare species. Grey long-eared bats (Plecotus austriacus) and brown long-eared bats (Plecotus auritus) are very similar in many ways and can be difficult to distinguish from one another under normal survey conditions.

Read the full article HERE.