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!

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.

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

Acorn Ecology Online Course

Online Ecology Courses

Winter is here and the field courses are over for another year. That doesn’t mean you have to stop learning! Winter is a great time to tackle your background and baseline knowledge of ecology. Get yourself ready for next survey season with some of these titles.

Acorn Ecology Online CourseWhy do an online course?

Online courses are all the rage at the moment. You can study from the comfort of your own home, at your own speed. Sounds good! But with so many courses out there, you need to be sure you are getting a good one.

Why chose an Ecology Training UK Online Course?

Our courses are written by professional ecologists who have been working in the field of ecology and can draw on their experiences. Their experiences provide the quality course content you expect from Ecology Training UK and it all aims to help you with your field work.

About our coursesecology online courses

We have a range of online courses, which are great if you are starting a career in ecological consultancy or conservation, or if you just need to brush up on a few topics. Each course has a number of modules and a quiz to help you consolidate what you have learned. Complete the quiz and send it back for marking and your certificate. It’s as easy at that.

So, stave off the winter blues by learning to tell Japanese knotweed from Himalayan balsam; how to manage woodland; the basics of population ecology or even why stoats are “stoataly different” from weasels! Treat yourself to an Ecology Training UK Online Course today!

Our course titles are:

Habitat Management (6 modules)

Habitat Restoration (6 modules)

Introduction to Ecology (10 modules)

Invasive Species (9 modules)

Mammal ID (3 modules)

Reptile and Amphibian ID (3 modules)

Click on the links above to get more information about each course.

We’re working on some new courses. Sign up to our newsletter to hear about them as soon as they are available!

Some testimonials from our online courses:

“I absolutely loved this course and am looking forward to doing some further courses!”

“Very good introductory course to learn general ecology ready for Certificate course”

“The course content was excellent and the topics covered were very informative. Anyone wishing to gain a better understanding of ecology would benefit immensely from taking this course. I would highly recommend it!”

“A thought provoking and enjoyable course.”

“I found this course a great introduction to habitat management; the skills needed and the numerous organisations involved in conservation”

I really enjoyed this course. Good value for money. After studying Module 2 I had the confidence to volunteer for three different flora/fauna surveys which is good experience and an opportunity to contribute.”

“This course has given me a good grounding in the theory of practical habitat management. It has allowed me to build on what I already knew and has encouraged me to continue learning about the topic”

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.

botany course

Time to Review

How to Become an Ecological ConsultantAt the start of this season we posted a blog about setting your goals for 2017. In fact, it’s such an important subject, we wrote two! The first blog gave you suggestions on what you could do over a summer to improve your skills. The second encouraged you to set your goals, both short term and long term, with an extract from Sue’s book – How to Become an Ecological Consultant.

But here’s the thing. Setting goals isn’t difficult. Reviewing them and measuring progress is a lot harder. So now that we’re well into November and the survey season is feeling like a distant memory, it’s time to review your goals.

 

Dig out that “to do” list. How did you get on with your short-term goals? Did you attend the training courses? Did you join those groups? Can you ID your target number of plant species?

If you did, then well done! If not, then don’t despair, you won’t be alone in this. Either way, you still need to review your plan.

Here’s how to review:

  1. Work out what did and didn’t happen on your list. Add anything you achieved that wasn’t on there (an extra training session you attended, or a last-minute conference).
  2. Look at what’s left on your list of goals and check they are still relevant. You need to be flexible. Maybe you discovered a passion for bats and you now want to become a bat specialist! Keep the central points of your plan the same, but don’t be afraid to change the details.
  3. How hard were these goals to achieve? A bit easy? Make next year more challenging. Too hard and you only managed half of them? Don’t get dispirited, make next year more achievable.
  4. What did you cover? Have you become an expert in dormice, but only learnt a dozen new plants all year? Spend some time working out why and what you can do to fix this imbalance next year. Even dormouse experts need botany!

Write up your goals for 2018. Learn from your achievements this year and go forward. Stick with the SMART method of goal setting.

S – Specificdormouse, ecology training

M – Measurable

A – Attainable

R – Relevant

T – Time-bound

Remember to set goals that are enjoyable! Have fun, keep learning and remember to review regularly to stay on track.

Sue Searle Acorn EcologyWhat could you do differently next year? Boost those skills with an Acorn Ecology course. We have introductory courses on a wide range of ecological topic, advanced courses on protected species and development and online courses too!

If you’re not sure what course is right for you, get in touch with our friendly staff on training@acornecology.co.uk, or give our Exeter office a call on 01392 366512 for some advice.

 

Diary of a Guildford placement – Kathryn

Kathryn has just finished her 4 week Certificate course work placement in the Guildford office … as you will see, she had a very busy four weeks, but finished smiling, having confirmed that this is what she wants to do! Continue reading “Diary of a Guildford placement – Kathryn”

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.