Our latest blog by Alex Mills from the current cohort of trainees takes a look back a few weeks to the BioBlitz in Tring, Hertfordshire:
‘What is it? What’s on me?’
‘Wow. It’s huge, Mum!’
‘Ah, cool. Hold still…’
Unconventional collection methods can work wonders during a BioBlitz. In this instance a mother accompanying her children on a minibeast hunt found herself functioning as a perfect interception trap for Stenocorus meridianus, a rather imposing longhorn beetle. The beetle was duly potted and admired. Everyone (including the mother/beetle trap…eventually) was transfixed by this magnificent beetle. And that was the order of the day at the highly successful Tring BioBlitz a few weeks ago: enjoyment and biological records, with kids and adults of all ages being transported by the natural world around them.
Our trainees on the Identification Trainers for the Future project are now well into Phase 2 of their traineeship. Phase 2 is the section where our trainees spend much of their time developing their species identification skills, working with our curators through a series of specialist workshops, as well as helping out in the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity with everything from the Identification and Advisory Service, to getting out and about at events. In this first blog from Phase 2, Steph Skipp gives us an overview of how the first half of the traineeship has gone.
To begin our workshop phase, the ID Trainers had a crash course in lichens. April was in her element, having previously discovered the wonders of peatland lichens whilst working in Exmoor National Park. In contrast, I think the rest of us were taken aback by how interesting lichens actually are!
The wealth of colours and forms were very visually exciting, especially under a microscope. After a trip to Bookham Commons, we came back to the lab with some specimens.
Our adventure on the Identification Trainers for the Future project has presented us with some amazing opportunities. One such opportunity was assisting in the filming of a BBC Four documentary – The British Garden: Life And Death On Your Lawn (if you are based in the UK, you may be able to catch it on BBC iPlayer if you are reading this shortly after publication).
Looking at garden wildlife over the course of a year the project spanned four seasons and compared three very different gardens, considering factors that promote a maximal level of biodiversity. The second cohort of ID trainers filmed in Summer, Autumn and Winter while we, the third cohort, assisted in filming the Spring phase of the documentary for a week in April and what a week it was!
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!
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.
The next new trainee from our Identification Trainers for the Future project is Matt Harrow. Matt has a passion for a subject many may not initially share – Diptera (the true flies), but having started out identifying the more charismatic hoverflies, his interest quickly extended to some of the more unusual groups within this diverse and fascinating Order and he hopes to pursue this interest through the traineeship with the help of our colleagues in the Diptera team.
I can’t remember a time when I haven’t had the urge to get outside and see the wonders of the natural world. For the most part my forays into nature have simply focused on being in the landscape with next to no interest in the smaller things; the plants, birds and insects which do in fact make the place what it is.
It was only whilst studying for a degree in countryside conservation at Aberystwyth when I really started to look at the bounty of life all around. My final year project was decided after scrolling through social media and seeing all the wonderful photos people had posted of Hoverflies, after a few emails to the recording scheme organiser I had a solid title and lots of data to play with! The only problem now was that I knew next to nothing about this fascinating group of flies so off I embarked on some serious reading, realising soon enough not only the vast amount of information there is to take in but also how much is unknown and the opportunities for discovery.
Our next post for the Identification Trainers for the Future project introduces our third new trainee for this year (meet Alex and Steph in our earlier posts). April Windle found out about the project at the NBN conference in 2015 and applied for the final group of trainees. We were very impressed with her ‘bog in a box’ display at selection day in December looking at plant composition in restored and unrestored bogs in Exmoor.
Hi, my name’s April. Zoology graduate, nature lover and aspiring conservationist from Devon. To me, the UK’s natural environment is absolutely fascinating, whether it’s the overwhelming openness of the moors or the secluded nature of a wooded combe, every aspect of our British wildlife never fails to amaze me.
Having grown up in the South West, it’s difficult not to have an unrequited love for the countryside, and all the wildlife wonders that you can find there. On my doorstep, there has always been plenty to explore, and ample opportunities to see the most stunning array of biodiversity.
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!
Following on from our last post where we said farewell to our first cohort of ID Trainers, our next few blogs from the Identification Trainers for the Future project will be introducing our new group of 5 trainees. They started on 1 March and have had a very busy first few weeks settling into their new roles. The first to introduce themselves is Joe Beale.
Growing up in south-east London, green spaces have always been my escape from busy city life. Since I was 7 years old I have been obsessed with wildlife and kept a wildlife diary, recording wildlife sightings and behaviour. This obsession about wildlife is still as strong as ever almost 30 years later, but it has evolved into involvement with various community groups and wildlife societies, a few publications and reports about wildlife, a local wildlife blog and even some natural history book illustrations.
I am interested in all aspects of natural history, but my main passion is birds and butterflies with increasing forays into other groups such as moths and flowering plants, as I try to learn more about the range of wildlife around me. Keeping records of wildlife is important to me. I send my records to the London Natural History Society (LNHS), Butterfly Conservation and others for their databases and annual reports. At a local level, I used many of these records when co-authoring The Birds of Greenwich Park 1996-2011, and I am in the process of updating and greatly expanding this for a second edition.
I can’t believe the last 12 months have flown by so quickly! Our first 5 trainees on the Identification Trainers for the Future project have now completed their traineeship with us and have been released into the wilds of the UK’s biodiversity sector, only now it’s with a whole host of new skills and a wealth of experience under their belts.
In the final post of our short series on the curation placements of our Identification Trainers for the Future, Chloe Rose gives us an insight into the work she has been doing in the Hymenoptera department. The Hymenoptera include all bees, ants and wasps, but Chloe has been focussing her work on the parasitic wasps, of which there are a surprising number in the UK.
I have been spending the last 2 months of my traineeship in the Hymenoptera department with Dr Gavin Broad (Senior Curator of Hymenoptera, specialist in Braconidae and Ichneumonidae). Here I have been working on a genus known as Alexeter, a group of wasps which parasitise sawflies.
These wasps fall into the Mesoleiini tribe which is part of a large subfamily known as Ctenopelmatinae. There are around 6,000 known species of parasitic wasps in the UK, a staggering number which is a huge portion of our insect diversity. However, little is known about many of these groups and few of these species have well illustrated identification keys available, making the area of study considerably less accessible. This is why I am helping Gavin to construct an easy-to-use identification guide for this poorly understood group of wasps.