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Trainee Blogs - May 2016

8th June 2016

Tamsin: May in the Blackdown Hills AONB began cold and wet, too cold and wet for surveying for newts but there was plenty of other work to do so we were not idle. Botanical surveys filled most of our time with an introduction to bat ecology and surveying to provide variety. Our visit to Wambrook church gave us an opportunity to put theory into practice looking for signs of bats inside the building as well as identifying possible entry points. What did we find? Butterfly wings and droppings, the latter sparkling and crumbling into dust – a surefire way to separate bats’ droppings from rodents’! The night proved too cold for a great deal of bat activity but we plan to return for further surveys so watch this space....

Wet woodlands (under foot that is) were a prominent feature of this month’s plant work and I have fallen in love with them. Wild and species rich they never fail to surprise – near Trickey Warren we found Greater Tussock Sedge (Carex paniculata) almost 2 metres tall and possibly hundreds of years old; it’s not always the trees that are ancient.
Dormouse box checks continued and SUCCESS: a torpid male dormouse. As the weather warms up we are hopeful for more, although some boxes are already occupied by nesting tits who have stolen a march on the sleepy mice.  June promises to be warm, and now we all have raincoats, dry; all favourable for dormice, bats and of course plants galore.

 Fiona: This month we’ve found beauty in a ‘wasteland’ during a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal, stood in the dark in a churchyard and recorded bats, been eaten alive by midges and sniffed many a plant. We’ve surveyed some lovely woodlands and marvelled at tussock sedge. You could easily be forgiven for thinking you’re in the Everglades when amongst its tussocks. I’ve also discovered a talent for falling into bogs- not a skill I’m keen to develop.  

May has heralded the arrival of the ticks. We’ve found grasses crawling with ticks, accidentally taken a few home with us and even sent some off to Public Health England. I’ve learnt that if you put a tick on a piece of paper and draw a circle round it, it doesn’t know how to escape. The same applies to ants. We’ve made lots of species lists and considered habitat management. Gavin Saunders gave us a good introduction to woodland management at Young Wood. The Neroche Woodlanders have a plan in place should temperatures reach 27 degrees for more than ten consecutive days. These are the conditions that allow rare lime trees to set seed.  

I’ve realised the importance of not always looking at the ground after walking into a tree whilst searching for orchids in my garden. On one of our survey days we surprised ourselves by taking 6.5 hours to cover 2 miles of footpaths and lanes in Chardstock. My dog is not impressed by the new pace I’ve now adopted. Plant of the month: Tussock Sedge (Carex paniculata) - What’s not to like about a sedge that thinks it’s a tree? 

  Max:May is already over, and it’s passed by suspiciously quickly. We started off with a few botanical surveys and practiced the basics of an NVC on some land opposite the office in Hemyock before undertaking a few more throughout the month. We also covered bat ecology, legislation and surveying followed by a preliminary roost assessment and a dusk survey for planned work on a church. I have also been very fortunate to gain some additional experience in dawn and dusk bat surveys thanks to Seasons Ecology.

Having spent the first few months immersing myself in botanical identification, I have developed a habit of spending most of my time looking at the floor whilst walking around. This is all well and good when I’m doing a botanical survey, but having also spent some weekends this month working with the Somerset butterfly group at Buckland wood in search of the Duke of Burgundy and with Somerset bat group, undertaking bat box checking in some sites on the Somerset levels, it became clear that I might have to learn to put the plants aside from time to time.

Nonetheless, it’s been another great month filled with interesting new plants, butterflies, beautiful views, early mornings and late nights. I’m looking forward to getting involved in upcoming events and more surveys.

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