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!
At the end of February we waved goodbye to our second cohort of trainees on the Identification Trainers for the Future project. Kristina, Jaswinder, Sophie, Joe and Niki are now off finishing their final projects and starting their careers and we will update you on their progress shortly.
In the meantime, our next few posts will introduce our third and final cohort on the project. Alex, April, Matt and Steph joined us on 6 March, and Laura will be joining us in the next week. Over the next few posts our new trainees will introduce themselves to you. First up is Alex Mills:
Curiosity and care. This is why I’m doing what I’m doing. I’m fascinated by the natural world and by how best we can conserve it. We rely upon the organisms and systems which constitute our environment for everything: wildlife is our life.
One of the most important aspects of being a curator is not actually related to the Museum’s collections, but instead it’s ensuring that we encourage others to become interested in the natural world and the role we perform. So, this August gone, I was very lucky to have help from Billy Stockwell, a young wildlife enthusiast, who spent a few days at the Museum for work experience. Here’s his own tale of his time here, which he has kindly given me permission to reblog and I encourage you to read the rest of Billy’s adventures in the world of nature on his own blog:
The Natural History Museum is far more than just a museum. With 80 million specimens straddling 4 billion years of natural history it’s more of a microcosm of mother nature herself; a snippet from each stage of our planet’s life hitherto. Its collections are no less over-whelming, including prehistoric creatures worthy enough to feature in Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, to millions of butterfly specimens whose species inhabit our modern world today.
From a visitor’s perspective the most exciting aspects of the Museum may be the captivating dinosaur exhibition, the butterfly house, or even the Museum’s gift shop. But if you’re brave enough to venture behind the scenes you have another thing coming! And that’s exactly what I decided to do for my work experience a few weeks ago…
Our initial cohort of ID Trainers for the Future are nearing the end of Phase 2 of their 12-month long traineeship – Chloe Rose provides an update on the work they’ve been doing so far:
Over the last six months you will have heard all about the vast array of workshops we’ve had delivered to us by the Museum’s experts, the beautiful parts of the country we’ve visited for field trips and the various different projects we’ve all been working on. It has been an action packed, whirlwind and we’ve all gained so much. But it’s now time to wrap things up as we head towards Phase 3 of the traineeship. This will mean the five of us going off on our separate ways for three months, to spend time with one of the Museum’s curation teams.
Here is where we will get the opportunity to refine our identification, fieldwork and curatorial skills to one particular species group. Between us we will be covering beetles, dragonflies, lichens and flowering plants. My project will involve working on the hymenoptera collections and looking at an understudied subfamily of parasitic wasps. I will be required to sort and describe the species and look to writing a comprehensive key for identification purposes. Watch this space for future updates on how our curation projects are going. For now, though, back to what we have been doing during August.
The home of the Museum’s citizen science programme is its Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity, where we develop a series of surveys and activities that enable anyone in the UK to contribute to the Museum’s scientific research.
But the Centre has a wider purpose to support both new and experienced naturalists to develop their skills, meet like minded people and, together, develop new knowledge about the UK’s biodiversity (the diversity of it’s wildlife) and geodiversity (the diversity of it’s rocks, minerals and fossils).
The Centre provides workspaces, meeting rooms, microscopes, high specification photo stacking equipment (for photographing small specimens), books and identification guides to support people of all abilities to explore and study natural sciences in the UK. It’s free to book a visit and the Centre hosts over 1,000 visitors every year, ranging from individuals and groups to natural history societies.