Alice recently spent two weeks volunteering full time with Froglife. Here she recounts her experiences.
Day 1 and 2
My two-week long placement at Froglife began with a general introduction to the charity and a tour of the Hampton Nature Reserve. While at Hampton I saw how the reserve was managed to protect threatened native species such as the Great Crested Newt and Bearded Stonewort.
Bearded Stonewort thrives in newly scraped ponds, I saw first-hand the progression of growth in a series of ponds that were created at different times. I also considered the challenges of creating and maintaining ponds in a large and rugged site.
While touring the site I noticed mats placed around the reserve which are used during reptile surveys. I also saw specially created basking pits for reptiles and strategically placed clearings, allowing reptiles to bask on the south bank.
Reserve design is a topic that I have covered extensively at university. The fragmentation of natural environments can isolate populations, which leads to inbreeding and a reduction in the fitness of a species. Hampton Nature Reserve is split by a road. Special tunnels have been built to allow reptiles and amphibians to migrate, and the success of the tunnels is monitored using camera devices. During my visit I was able to view these tunnels and while in the office I am going to be working with the camera data.
Hampton Reserve cannot be accessed by the public but there are still conflicts with the local community such as vandalism and littering. This caused me to reflect on a previous work experience at Walsall Countryside Rangers. In a publicly accessible reserve the local community fly tipped and burned waste causing extensive damage and resulting in an intervention by the fire service. Local community engagement is a complex task faced by any conservation organisation. Froglife is tackling this by increasing its use of social media, and inviting community groups onto the reserve to volunteer.
My time at Froglife will be divided between Hampton Nature Reserve, the main office and community events. While at the office I am going to be working with data from the tunnel cameras and from the long running Toads on Roads project. This project monitors common toads, which migrate along roads during the breeding season and are often harmed by vehicles. Signs and physical crossing assistance can be used to reduce toad fatality.
Today I was helping with the Dragon Finder fun day at Lyveden New Bield. This community engagement event involved making masks, pond dipping and a quiz trail. Around 130 people visited and many people asked for more information about upcoming events.
During pond dipping, local children caught and identified a variety of aquatic invertebrates. Particular highlights included a dragonfly larva, a duck leech and damselfly nymphs.
Yesterday I assisted with a reptile survey on Hampton nature reserve. This is the first time I have surveyed for reptiles, and I learnt a lot about reptile identification. During the day I saw slow worms, common lizards and grass snakes, at many different life stages. I also saw a wide variety of invertebrates, plants and a wood mouse.
The survey was conducted using a series of mats placed around the reserve. The mats were lifted and any reptiles found underneath were recorded. We also recorded any reptiles found in the immediate area. Any interesting species and potential dangers such as cats were also recorded.
Day 5 and 6
I have spent the previous two days of my placement in the office, familiarising myself with current literature on reptiles and amphibians. I read a particularly interesting paper about the effect of historical and current land use on amphibian populations. Environments with a long history of agriculture often have lower land quality, reducing the diversity of species present. Areas which have a history of local forest cover have a higher level of species diversity, and have more common toads. I also read a paper concerning the introduction of an invasive marsh plant that was destroying the breeding habitat of Fowler’s toads in Canada. There was sufficient adult habitat but the species declined as it was unable to breed successfully. These two papers showed the effects of habitat loss in human altered environments.
I have also increased my knowledge of UK conservation by finding contacts with ecology and herpetology backgrounds. This is to assist Froglife in finding others interested in collaborating with their camera trap research.
During my lunch break I also got the opportunity to visit Froglife’s allotment. Many different community groups work on this site, including young offenders and it has been improved recently by the addition of a new path. While here I have been able to see newly created ponds, and ponds at various stages of construction. This has enabled me to consider some of the challenges of setting up appropriate amphibian environments, such as selecting the right plant species and preventing algal blooms.
Day 7 and 8
Due to the rain yesterday, the butterfly survey was rearranged for today. The survey took place at Hampton Nature Reserve and the sunny weather meant that lots of butterflies were visible. Our team surveyed the entire site for butterflies and moths, this covered different habitat types such as woodland and scrub.
My surveying skills progressed quickly due to the expertise of the other volunteers. I was able to distinguish between different types of white butterfly using the presence of green veins and the colouring of the wing tip. Species such as the small heath, the speckled heath, the small white and the meadow brown were common sightings. We also saw red admirals, commas and peacocks.
Today is my last day at Froglife, and I am in the office finishing all of my online tasks.
I am reflecting on the last two weeks and all of the new experiences I have had. It had been three years since I last performed a survey, over the last two weeks I have gained a vast amount of knowledge on reptile and butterfly identification. I have seen my first grass snake and learnt the names of butterflies and plants that I have seen countless times.
While at the office I have improved my computer skills and found some useful websites to gather historic data. I have learnt how to more effectively summarise scientific literature and I have enjoyed expanding my knowledge on reptile and amphibian ecology.
During my time out of the office I have met many new people with different expertise and backgrounds. I have also worked with members of the public, and taught young children about wildlife. The soft skills that I have developed such as living alone in a new city and forming relationships with colleagues will prepare me well for life after university.