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Trainee Blogs - June 2016

8th July 2016

Tamsin:The promise of summer in June was a bit half hearted but not so the Devon Discovery Day – experts in many fields shared their knowledge and enthusiasm with the public young and old. Insects were swept out of the grass and shaken out of trees, small mammals obligingly entered traps and then slept and ate until they could be identified and released, aquatic invertebrates were netted and put under the microscope while herons flew overhead and more static displays from the Devon Greater Horseshoe Bats project and the Devon Association, amongst others, educated and entertained; not to mention the cream teas..... roll on next year’s celebration of Devon’s natural environment!

We continued with botanical surveys, Conrad continued to find new plants for us to identify and we were let out on our own to survey a site..... SLOWLY, with a lot of checking in the books! The end of the month brought a two day workshop on badger ecology with Adrian Bayley and how much we learned: snuffle holes, paths, setts, paw prints, dung and couches all found and examined. We positioned camera traps, put out bait and were rewarded with some good video of badgers (and some cheeky woodmice who also liked peanuts). We clambered and scrambled through woods and bracken looking for signs of our stripy-faced subjects, examined skins and skulls and became a bit obsessed with dung and badger hair but who could blame us when badgers are so fascinating and so appealing. I’ve been practising my new skills looking locally to my home and so far found dung pits and snuffle holes – still looking for the sett....

   Fiona:It’s been a busy and enjoyable month as a trainee. We’ve carried out lots of National Vegetation Classification surveys across the Blackdown Hills. Sites have included a village hall playground, a community meadow, a campsite, a Woodland Trust site and farms looking to enter Natural England’s farm stewardship schemes. We’ve heard a cuckoo, seen plenty of orchids and corky-fruited water-dropwort, found newly emerged dragonflies and their exuvia, got confused by sedges, discovered that pine needles smell like a mix of beeswax, gin and paint, that water figwort smells like peanuts and common figwort has a musty curry smell.

We took sniffing things to extremes during two fascinating days of badger ecology training with mammal expert Adrian Bayley. Smelling various faeces revealed that badger dung has a rather musky smell, quite different from that of fox, dog or sheep. Aside from dung pits we found other signs of badgers in the woods such as couches, snuffle holes, claw marks, setts, clay balls (a by-product of sett making) and pathways. In the breeding season it is possible to map the home range of badgers by feeding them a bait of bread, golden syrup, oat and peanuts with a special ingredient of coloured pellets. The coloured pellets will go straight through the badgers and can be found in dung pits at the edge of their range. We got some great footage of a male badger eating the bait outside his sett.

June also included a moth identification session, butterfly training with Butterfly Conservation, learning to scruff mice, finding some incredibly cute dormice, a field trip to the Somerset Levels, helping with the Wildlife Discovery Day near Honiton, river dipping at the AONB’s 25th birthday celebrations and helping with a session on birds at a primary school. I was also fortunate to attend a calcareous grassland management training day in Dorset with Liz Biron of Natural England. It was interesting to learn about the different types of calcareous grassland and the difficulties involved in their management. A highlight was catching a glimpse of the rare Lulworth Skipper. Plant of the Month: Crested Dog’s Tail (Cynosurus cristatus)- Indicator species of richer neutral grasslands and its scientific name sounds like a dinosaur!

   Max: Myself, Tamsin and Fiona all helped out with the wildlife discovery day event by undertaking some mammal trapping, pond dipping and moth trapping at the beginning of June. Having undertaken a vast number of NVC’s already, we thought it might be a nice change to do go to Westhay Moor and Catcott reserve where we spotted loads of dragonflies, damselflies and butterflies. 

Conrad took some time off and left Tamsin and myself at the helm to do an NVC. After making sure we were in the right place, finding ourselves on a map, getting harassed by some cows and of course producing a list of all botanical species, we left back home feeling very accomplished! We also spent some time helping out with a school and getting the kids involved in some outdoor activities like bug hotel building, bird box making and some hunting for insects. It has been a very eventful month for us with mammals as we saw our very first, second, third and fourth dormice of the season and also took part in some fascinating badger ecology training where we caught some great footage of badgers in a sett. I’m really looking forward to getting involved in white-clawed crayfish ecology this coming month.

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