Introducing Laura Sivess | Identification Trainers for the Future

Laura Sivess joined the ID Trainers group a little late, following the sad departure of another trainee, Billy, from the programme. That did however leave us with an opportunity to offer the place to our reserve candidate and we are delighted that Laura was able to accept at such short notice. Laura joined us at the start of April and was thrown rather unceremoniously into the Fieldwork First Aid course that the trainees were on. However, she almost instantaneously fitted in well with the established group of trainees.

I came somewhat late to the party beginning a month after my fellow trainees. How did this come to be, I hear you ask? One fateful Wednesday afternoon I received an email and then a call, a place had become available, would I like to take it? Heart thumping, there was no question – of course!

blog 2
Laura Sivess

Like many of us I’ve always had an innate interest in the plants and animals we share our planet with. I’m told as a child I would gaze up at every canopy of leaves we passed and well, I guess I’ve never really stopped. I enjoy watching the sun illuminate the translucent leaves, the insects crawling on the bark, it’s tangible, it’s important and it’s in trouble.

Did you know that between 2002 and 2013, 53% of UK species declined?  Almost 75% of the UK is used for agriculture and a further 10% is built up for residential and related areas (e.g. roads). That percentage isn’t going down; there are always new developments on the horizon. Please don’t misunderstand me, I think it’s brilliant more people will have a comfortable place to call home. I also think it’s important that we all make positive changes to help our wildlife so in creating our homes we aren’t cheating them out of theirs.

Last July I graduated from Royal Holloway (RHUL) following my degree in biology; what a fascinating subject. Particularly enjoying the practical elements of my course I recall walking through a heather field anticipating the palpable moment an adder would cross our path, of course that moment never came but what did happen was just as special. Despite it being entirely out of season for the heather to be flowering (after all, we visited in May) I saw life everywhere and let me tell you insects can indeed be just as captivating as their larger (often warm-blooded) counterparts.


blog 1
Laura among the heather

Throughout my degree and since then I’ve volunteered on a number of projects at RHUL and the Museum, including stag beetle (Lucanus cervus) profiling and surveying biodiversity in school grounds. The latter involved recording a broad range of wildlife including: mammals, beetles, moths, pollinators (mainly orders Hymenoptera and Diptera) and freshwater invertebrates. For me, a highlight was realising the great diversity of UK Lepidoptera, especially moths of which the British Isles has around 2500 species – compared to only 59 butterfly species! I am eager to develop (and expand) my identification skills to include a wide range of insects during this traineeship. There is a lack of emphasis placed on the conservation of insects, in part due to a deficit of data, often meaning an accurate IUCN classification is not possible. I am keen to improve the quality and quantity of such data and to work towards research and conservation in this area.

Having volunteered at the Museum over the past two years I have been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to meet and work with inspiring people throughout the Museum. So many people walk around with a smile on their face, the overwhelming impression is clear; they love their work.  Starting in the butterfly house before transitioning to botany (digitising family Fabaceae, the legumes) and entomology working on the White-Files a comprehensive taxonomic database. Digitisation of the Museum’s collections is extremely important and I’m proud to say I’ve contributed to this mammoth project! And so my journey at the museum has led me here, to the AMC where I intend to learn enough to make a real difference for our wildlife.

I’m also looking forward to the outreach and public engagement element of this role. Taking part in assisting with citizen science projects and (hopefully!) inspiring people to make small changes in their everyday lives, gardens/local public grounds (with the permission of the proper authorities of course!). Improving biodiversity, for example via the inclusion of a deadwood area for saproxylic beetles, can be easy and if everyone contributes will have a huge, positive impact for our wildlife.

If you’ve ever enjoyed the world around you, join me, get outdoors. Get involved! And next time you’re outdoors just take a moment to stand by a tree or hedge and count how many animals and plants you spot.  Once you start noticing the “little things” you’ll seeing life everywhere. It’s time to join in with citizen science and I promise, you will not look back!