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.