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Trainee Blogs - August 2016

2nd September 2016

Tamsin:August was the summer and it was hot! Beautiful sunny days in which to continue botanical surveys, and while Conrad was away learning even more botany we, the trainees, put the skills he has taught us in to good use on the Burnworthy Estate’s different habitats. We recorded in woods, plantation, around streams and a pond and in meadows; our map reading was put to the test and a lot of time was spent in discussion about management options – we just to put it all into the report we will be writing next month!

John Poland of the vegetative key fame kindly came and spent two days with us, answering questions, making some things we struggled with seem easy and showing us new plants on the calcareous grassland of Collard Hill in Somerset. I recommend a visit: a myriad of jewel-like plants, breathtaking views and, if you go a little earlier in the year, an abundance of Large Blue butterflies which have been successfully reintroduced there.

We ended the month with a very early morning at Wambrook church to look for bats returning to roost. A few Pipistrelles were seen and heard but it was inside the church that the evidence was clear – a multitude of droppings from more than one bat species, butterfly wings (bats only eat the juicy bits of butterflies) littering the steps of the bell tower and a single Serotine secreted above the children’s play area. I can sense another early start coming on..... bat detectors in hand we will investigate further ...... 

 Fiona: August has flown by and now we’ve just one month left till the end of the traineeship. This month we’ve carried out more NVC surveys. But we’ve also searched for signs of otters, received some celebrity (well in the world of plants) botany tutelage, made some headway with the mammoth task of converting our surveys into reports, dipped a toe into the world of bryophytes and I’ve accidentally dipped a lot more than a toe into the boggy waters of the Blackdown Hills!

Our unsuccessful search for otter evidence at Coldharbour Mill  saw us battling through undergrowth and scouring the riverbank for footprints, slides, spraint (faeces) and feeding remains. Throughout their range otters mark their presence by leaving spraint in a prominent position, often on top of a rock. On muddy and sandy areas we found only squirrel, rat and bird footprints.

The two days of training with John Poland, author of The Vegetative Key, took us to the Somerset Wildlife Trust’s Ringdown Reserve and further afield to the National Trust’s beautiful calcareous grassland- Collard Hill, near Street. The sessions made some of the things that we’ve been puzzling over for the last few months seem rather simple. Sharp-flowered Rush (Juncus acutiflorus) is taller and more erect than the very similar Jointed Rush (Juncus articulatus). Sheep’s Fescue (Festuca ovina) is rough to touch, whereas Red fescue (Festuca rubra) is smooth. The forked hairs of Lesser Hawkbit (Leontodon saxatilis) are sparsely arranged on the leaf edge, while those of Rough Hawkbit (Leontodon hispidus) are much denser. However, other things like telling eyebright species apart will remain a mystery, even it seems to most botanists!

Plant of the month: Strawberry Clover (Trifolium fragiferum)- A clover with a fruit looks a bit like a raspberry. 

 Max:August was somewhat short for me as I took some time off, but nonetheless I still managed to learn a few new plants and visit some beautiful sites. Fiona and myself headed back to Folly farm to continue the NVC but only managed to finish off one large field because of the vast number of individual habitat stands present! We did manage to see some silver washed fritillaries up close for the first time, which was quite difficult to do considering how fast and far they can fly.

We visited a beautiful SSSI, which had some amazing plants including a few different species of sundew. Conrad and me finished another NVC for a small plot of land, where we also caught a glimpse of a kingfisher on a bridge of the pond. I spent much of my lunch slowly creeping towards a male common darter dragonfly and managed to get a number of decent shots without him moving away. Finally, we finished off the month with a very early morning start for a bat survey at Wambrook church and some nice views of the morning fog from the roof. Next month, I’m particularly excited do some work with butterfly conservation and to get some experience in how to identify water vole habitats.

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