In the second of our blog posts from our new trainees, Steph Skipp introduces herself. Steph started with us on the 6 March and has already demonstrated her fascination with entomology, and similarly to Katy from our first cohort, has a passion for Coleoptera particularly.
I have been interested in wildlife for as long as I can remember. However, I think it was while studying Ecology at the University of East Anglia that my curiosity really began to expand.
One sunny day at University, I decided to escape the computer screen and have lunch by the campus lake. Enjoying the sunshine and watching the rippling water’s surface, something drew my attention. It was small, bright blue and sparkling – sitting on a leaf like a raindrop… with legs. A beetle!
I was stunned. Surely such a gem of a creature belonged somewhere more exotic. Had I made a rare, groundbreaking discovery?!
Nope. The beetle turned out to be a fairly common flea beetle (tribe Alticini). A group possessing enlarged femurs (beetle thighs), allowing them to jump impressive distances. This was something I soon discovered when I tried to take a photo, only to watch the beetle disappear before my camera lens.
After that, I began to realise how much of nature you don’t usually notice. From the plethora of life concealed below the bark of a fallen tree, to the ecosystems thriving within an unassuming cowpat. For me, it is discovering new things like this that make the natural world so exciting.
Wandering around campus, examining leaves and peering under logs soon became my favourite procrastination activity. I began recording the things that I could identify onto IRecord and I started my own beetle collection, which steadily gained new recruits.
Keen to continue my ecological education outside of University, I went to various wildlife training courses. I was able to pass on some of the things I learnt from these while volunteering at PlantLife ‘Bug hunts’. It was great to see the curiosity inspired in young children as they discovered shield bugs and harvestmen in their sweep nets.
I have also volunteered with the Kent Wildlife Trust, helping to maintain some of their reserves. My favourite activities were butterfly surveys on the chalk grassland habitats. There were so many species, some of which I had never seen before.
Several of the courses and surveys I attended took place at Ranscombe Farm. A fantastic PlantLife reserve with a diversity of habitats to satisfy any aspiring naturalist. The events, hosted by reserve manager, Richard Moyse, were part of an on-going project to address under-recorded groups. They aimed to gain a more complete picture of the hidden biodiversity buzzing along the field margins and scampering below the sea of poppy heads.
Ranscombe Farm was also the site of some of my dissertation fieldwork, along with three other Kent reserves. I must admit that working in such biodiversity hotspots was not always conducive to productivity. I often found myself distracted from the task in hand by a delicate micro-moth or formidable hornet in the vicinity.
Luckily my focal species, the fly orchid (Ophrys insectifera), was interesting enough to keep me on track. I was fascinated to learn about its astounding deceptive relationship with its pollinator. On several occasions, I even managed to witness such interactions taking place!
Once I had completed my dissertation, I found it difficult to pry my attention away from the beguiling fly orchid. I wrote an essay about it for the Royal Entomology Society’s Student Award, which achieved second place and was published in their ‘Antenna’ quarterly magazine. I also submitted an article on my fly orchid study to the Kent Field Club ‘Transactions’ journal.
When I first heard about ‘Identification Trainers for the Future’ I was still studying for my degree so unfortunately couldn’t apply. After University, I worked at Forest Research where I met several inspiring young scientists. With a renewed desire to continue my personal development, I decided to apply for the next round of the traineeship.
I am excited to broaden my knowledge of UK wildlife as a whole through the workshop stage of our training. It will be interesting to learn about groups that I haven’t covered before and I can’t think of a better way to do it than under the guidance of the experts at the Museum!
I also hope that this traineeship will give me the confidence and experience to encourage others to learn about UK biodiversity. At University my lecturers showed me how to set up moth traps, pointed me towards useful literature and even invited me to entomology collections and events. This support was invaluable to me and really helped to broaden my understanding of the field. I would love to be able to inspire others in a similar way.