Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Leopard study featured in journal podcast

Journal of ZoologyEvery few months, the Journal of Zoology selects a few papers published in the journal and interviews the authors for a podcast. The latest podcast features one of our students, Ross Pitman, talking about his study of leopard predation (featured in an earlier blog entry). The paper was published in the journal in November 2012, and was based on his final-year project for the BSc Conservation Biology course. Ross co-wrote the paper with Lourens Swanepoel (University of Pretoria) and me. You can listen to the podcast here. The interview with Ross runs from about 27 minutes and 30 seconds into the podcast, and lasts around 11 minutes.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Careers Advice Conference by the British Ecological Society

UG logo. ecological ecology careers.The British Ecological Society is holding a one-day ecological careers conference on the 18th February at Charles Darwin House in London. There will be a chance to hear speakers on their research careers based in Universities and NGOS, those who have developed careers in communications, including education, journalism and publishing. You’ll hear about the relationship between science and policy from the perspective of the scientists and the policy makers. There will be guidance and training on career development and management including social media, CV writing and getting the best out of volunteer roles/internships.

As well as the career stories, you get to meet those people who’ve successfully made it through the next steps and have secured opportunities such as Masters, PhD, Post Docs and graduate employment. There is even some time set aside at the end of the day for those people waiting for the 7.00pm off peak trains to practice their networking skills with many of the speakers in attendance.

There will be representatives from terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecology, animal and plant ecologists, those at the start of their career and those that have made it to the top!

Click here for more info and booking. It costs £10.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Placement report: UK Wolf Conservation Trust

Sophie Da Costa and Nuka (young male)
by Sophie Da Costa

As soon as I learned I could complete a work placement as part of my degree, I only wanted to go to one place: the UK Wolf Conservation Trust. I have always been interested in wolves and their conservation, so was thrilled to be able to work there voluntarily for 6 months!

There are 12 grey wolves (Canis lupus) living at the Trust of varying ages and personalities. Most of the wolves are socialised – this means they have lost their natural instinctive fear of humans, which is the result of them being taken away from their mothers as young cubs and being hand-reared by the keepers. The main advantage of this is that the wolves can be walked on chain leads outside the enclosure. It also means they can meet members of the public, who get the opportunity to see the wolves up close and stroke them if they wish.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

OPAL Bryophyte Sessions

Learn to identify common woodland bryophytes (mosses) and try out novel identification keys, as part of an OPAL research study. No prior experience needed. There will also be an opportunity to learn to recognise species in the field, with a walk around the reservoir.

Bryophytes play a major ecological role in a range of habitats, particularly woodlands, and are therefore a key feature of the National Vegetation Classification. They are also a fascinating and often overlooked group of plants and Britain is particularly important for its bryophyte diversity, as it has more than half the species in the European flora.

Sessions are free and held on campus. Places are limited so you are advised to book quickly. To book a session, please email OPAL Community Scientist Alison Smith with your preferred date (options below) and full name to
1.30 - 4.30 pm, Sat 1st Dec
9.00 am - 12.00 noon, Mon 3rd Dec
10.00 am - 1 pm, Tues 11th Dec


Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Salsa Invertebraxa: a graphic novel starring insects

Yesterday I travelled to the Natural History Museum in London with Duncan Allen to meet the author of an entomological graphic novel.  Duncan is an ex Conservation Biology student who now runs his own environmental education business (Pupa Education) as well as sitting on the council of the Royal Entomological Society. It was in his role as council member that he had been contacted by the author of a graphic novel that has an exclusive cast of insects and other invertebrates.  This was a chance that two die-hard entomologists could not miss so we were up at 5 am and on the train to meet Paul Phippen (the author) under the tail of the dinosaur in the main entrance of the Natural History Museum at 10.30 am. 

Life after Uni. What is it like to work as a biologist?

In just a few years you will be looking for work in the wider world.  While some jobs may appeal to you, do you really know what they entail? These talks give an insight into what’s involved in some of the various jobs that biologist can do. We have three lined up so far, with more to come in the new year:
Working in zoos
Conservation with Natural England
Plankton biology at SAFOS

To come we have:
Nature conservation with city councils
Natural history curators in city museums

Life in a field centre
Life as a university technician

Hospital pathology labs


Friday, 16 November 2012

Nepenthes and scientific truth

By Miguel Franco

We all love David Attenborough’s programmes. An investigation by Philip Jones (! ), a masters student at Oxford University who graduated in 2011, found that natural history programmes in general, and David Attenborough’s in particular, have played a crucial role in students opting for degrees in ecology and biodiversity conservation.  The subject of yesterday’s news ( was about what David Attenborough has learned from a life devoted to natural history documentaries. I do not need to emphasize his amazing contribution. What I wish to refer to is a flawed, currently peddled view on the nature of scientific truth with which the news concludes.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

My Azorean bullfinch picture

I've been going on the Azores field course for six years now, and although I've seen plenty of the rare Azorean bullfinches, I've never had a recognisable picture (only a silhouette which could have been anything). This year I was determined to get something better, and here it is - hardly BBC wildlife standard, but definitely an Azorean bullfinch.
Pyrrhula murina

What we got up to in Induction week 2012

It's a worm

Mixing up mustard
Smell that soil!

Every year in Induction week we go on a trip to Mt Edgcumbe country park just across the River Tamar from Plymouth, in Cornwall. Previously the Biologicaol Sciences group have gone on a fungal foray, but this year we decided to do a couple of more structured activities based on OPAL (OPen-Air Laboratories) materials. We spent a bit of time digging holes in the grass (with permission!) doing an earthworm survey, with variable success (there were a lot of rocks where we chose to dig), and also looking a lichens and sycamore leaf spot as indicators of pollution (or lack of pollution). Here are a few pictures.

Time for a rest

Lab/field week trip to the Eden Project

The Tropical biome

Carica papaya (paw paw)

First year Biological Sciences and Environmental Biology students managed to miss the showers during lab/field week at the Eden Project. We spent the morning trying to find particular plants in the two biomes (with limited success!), and then the afternoon having a go at some scientific drawing, and exploring the environmental sustainability exhibits in the Core building. A good day out as usual - every time I go there I spot a plant I've heard of but never seen before.

Chlorophyll sculpture?

No comment

Monday, 12 November 2012

Volunteering for British Red Squirrel

By Rosie Ball, BSc Conservation Biology student

Maybe the first wild red squirrel kit born in
Devon this century, on the Escot Estate.
For the past five months I have been volunteering for British Red Squirrel (BRS), who alongside Cornwall Red Squirrel Project (CRSP) are staging a national conference on red squirrel conservation in April next year. The last national conference was in 1997 held by the People's Trust for Endangered Species at the Zoological Society of London. Since then there have been successes and setback for the red squirrel in the UK.

Initially my role as a volunteer was not specified, only that I was to help create and organise a national conference. As I attended further committee meetings at Escot Estate (a country estate open to the public with extensive outdoor nature education facilities and a walk-through red squirrel enclosure), my role in organising this event developed further. All other committee members are volunteers, but all also hold full time jobs. Since my student commitments over the summer were minimal in comparison, I became the overall coordinator for the conference.

Monday, 29 October 2012

A load of bullocks (or how some animals can upset your work)

By Dan Moule, BSc Conservation Biology student

Dan Moule, doing
something completely
In July and August of this summer, two other stage two biology students and I conducted a light trap study on the North Wyke farm platform of the Rothamsted Research Institute, near Okehampton, North Devon. Here's an account of our adventures...

The aim of the study was to measure the catches of moths and other night flying invertebrates over time in relation to three different light bulb sizes. Conducted at three sites on the farm platform between the hours of midnight and 4am on alternate nights (weather permitting), we spent six weeks alone in the dark with only the moths, flies and other assorted Dartmoor wildlife for company. If the commotion of the nocturnal wildlife, freezing cold (only a slight exaggeration) or biting midges weren’t enough to keep us awake, our beepers were primed and ready to stir us every fifteen minutes to change our sample jars.

Friday, 26 October 2012

My placement year: Alex Leeper

Alex Leeper has recently returned from her placement year, spending part of it in the UK and another part in Singapore. Here is her account...

The first six months of my placement year were spent volunteering at Bangor University working Primarily with Dr. Louise Firth, and Dr. Cara Hughes.  The main task while I was there was to assist in the processing of sediment cores taken from around sites of planned, under construction, and established breakwater sites in Cardigan Bay.  This meant lots of lab time and practice, both in sorting and taxonomy.  I was living on Anglesey, a place I had never even visited before, and really fell in love with the area, particularly the community and the beautiful landscape.  While my placement was heavily lab based there was still lots of opportunities to gain valuable fieldwork experience, for example at Borth (in picture) a site of construction of a new design of breakwater scheme, where health and safety required us to be suited and booted In High Vis gear!