Matt's Work Placement
Updated: Sep 6, 2019
I have wanted to work in a zoological or environmental field for years, and developed a strong interest in ecology and conservation during my time at university. My main interest now is wildlife conservation, but I recently realised that ecological consultancy is a parallel path that would allow me to develop my ecological knowledge and skills while still working to help wildlife.
My search for work experience in ecological consultancy lead me to contact the south-east branch of Acorn Ecology, now aLyne Ecology. When I first contacted Acorn to ask about a work placement, Sarah rapidly and kindly scheduled for me to come in and meet the team. Unfortunately, I came across my first obstacle before even seeing the office: I didn’t have a car, which is a deal-breaker in ecological consultancy (which I came to appreciate as soon as I went on my first survey, which was located 45 minutes from the office). Fast forward to March: I had my first car and I was on my way to the aLyne Ecology office. I was greeted warmly by Sarah and Martin, and by 5 small dogs who all vied for my attention. After a quick chat I was booked in for my work placement at the end of April, and I had accumulated a thorough coating of dog saliva from Alfie.
I eased into the first week of my placement with two days in the office and two days spent on training courses. On my first day I went with Josh, the newest employee of aLyne, to carry out a badger survey. He showed me how the surveys are planned, what to look for during them, and then we collected in the camera traps to begin scrolling through hundreds of clips from the past week. Although most of the footage was of branches swaying in the wind, it was always rewarding to spot some wildlife. I went on another badger survey on my second day, where we found footprints and snuffle holes; success! I was also introduced to report writing for bat surveys ahead of the busy bat surveying season that would begin the following week. The courses were really enjoyable as well, and I particularly enjoyed the reptile ecology and surveying course. This was an especially good opportunity because there were no reptile surveys planned during my time with aLyne, and we also found a smooth snake which was really exciting! This was the second species of reptile I’ve seen in the wild in Britain, behind the slow worm, yet it’s one of the rarest! This is a huge testament to the conservation work carried out by Surrey Amphibian and Reptile Group, whose reserve we were on. Also, these courses are a bit beyond my budget so being able to take part as part of my work experience was a definite bonus.
My second week was more in depth and I got more involved in the work that is carried out behind the surveys. It was also the beginning of the peak bat survey season. This week I was involved in two preliminary bat surveys (PBS’s), which taught me as much about identifying aspects of building construction as it did about identifying the roost potential and signs of bats. I came away knowing the difference between hipped and pitched roofs, and that bat poo looks a lot like mouse poo but is much more crumbly. I also helped to write up the PBS findings in a report, and to create the figures for the report that indicate all of the bat-friendly parts of the house, such as broken roof tiles and open eaves. In other bat news, I took part in two dusk emergence surveys, where I learned how to carry them out (sit and look) and what equipment is used. I still have yet to see a bat, but according to the bat static (i.e. recorder) that picks up bat calls, that seems be more an issue with my looking than with there not being many bats. I’ve flagged this up as something to improve on.
This week I also experienced my first preliminary ecological appraisal. I’d been looking forward to this because species identification is a strong interest of mine, and there’s a lot left for me to learn. It was a more extensive procedure than I expected, and consisted of creating a map of all the plants and animals on site, rather than just protected or important species as I had expected. This was great for me though because I tried to remember as many species as I could as we went along.
Week three. I began working more independently on PEA reports to prepare them for sites that we would survey later in the week. This was a good opportunity to get more familiar with the layout and content of the reports and with programs such as Magic, from which we get information about the site. Martin also introduced me to Bat Explorer and Analook to analyse bat calls from past dusk surveys, which was tricky at first but is also really interesting and is rewarding when you can start to identify different species based on the shape and frequency of lines on a screen. Of course, no week is complete without sitting outside at night in a lawn chair, listening for bat calls and ultimately seeing nothing. Hopefully I’ll have better luck in my final week.
I definitely had better luck in my final week! On one of the PBS’s I went on we found a brown long-eared bat roost in the roof void, complete with approximately 15 bats and bucket loads of poop! Exciting! Then, on my final bat survey I saw not one, but four pips! This has definitely been a good week to end on, and I’ve even gotten to grips with the data analyses and report writing which is a plus. It’s hard to believe that my 4 weeks are already over, but it has been an amazing experience and I plan to try to get involved in more surveys in the future. The small, friendly set up of the aLyne office added to the experience, because it meant that I could be involved more directly in their work and there was always someone available to help. I started this work experience to see if a career in ecological consultancy was a good option for me, and now that I’m at the end I can happily say that I’d certainly give it a go.