Following our previous work with the Nottinghamshire Biodiversity Action Group (NottsBAG) we were invited back for another volunteering session on the Crayfish Eradication project. This project, in partnership with the Environment Agency, is aiming to eradicate the populations of the non-native signal crayfish; an invasive species which outcompetes with our native white-clawed crayfish.
Once we collected all the equipment we needed we split into 3 teams to tackle 8 sites in total, spread across 2 ponds. Within these teams about 3 people got into the waders, while the rest were responsible for measuring and recording all of the crayfish caught. Two different methods were used for catching the crayfish, the first is by putting out traps filled with bait within the ponds and we emptied these traps, and the second was going into the ponds with nets and using a sweeping motion to collect the smaller crayfish that would otherwise be able to escape the traps
Every crayfish that we caught had to be recorded and we made note of the species, trap method, trap number, site, size, sex, damage (such as missing claws or antennae) and any signs of disease. Any crayfish caught with the nets were removed to be humanely dispatched. The crayfish that were in the traps were put into a bucket to be dispatched if they were female or a male <40mm in carapace length and any males with a carapace >40mm were castrated and marked with nail polish before being put back into the pond. The reason behind this is to avoid any population blooms in any smaller crayfish that are left behind in the ponds. Also by removing all the breeding females the larger males will then start to predate the smaller male crayfish, helping to further reduce the population. Additionally there were also crayfish collected in the traps that had already been marked, these were still recorded and checked for castration before being released.
In total 308 crayfish were caught, 160 of these were caught in the traps, 53 of which were sterilised and returned, 74 were sterilised crayfish that were recaptured and returned and the final 33 were humanely dispatched. The other 148 crayfish were caught using the netting method all of which were dispatched. A perch was also caught, which we carefully released back into the pond.
All in all it was a very successful day and its safe to say ConSoc will be involved in future crayfish volunteering sessions, as well as other projects like this one!
To welcome freshers and new members to Brackenhurst, ConSoc planned a wildlife walk around the estate. Everyone met outside the campus library at 1pm and grabbed a pair of binoculars each just in case we were lucky enough to spot any birds or other rarity’s that Brackenhurst may have to offer for the day. We began our walk at the back of Brackenhurst main hall, walking through the garden towards the newt pond where great crested newts are known to live and breed.
Newt Pond at the back of Brackenhurst Hall
We then followed the footpath up towards the equestrian centre and animal unit, walking past the cow and horse fields. The gate at the equestrian unit was rather unhelpful as it didn’t want to open for us but luckily a digger came along and opened it, so we quickly walked through before the gate closed again.
The path led us past the equestrian centre and animal unit and round the back of the stables, it was very quiet and peaceful as we followed the footpath between the trees and farmer fields towards the bird ringing.
Once we reached the bird ringing station Joe explained where the nets are put up, along the path and back of the bird ringing area to catch the birds in so they can be ringed. Joe explained what was involved such as weighing, measuring, sexing the birds and putting a ring on their leg to ID them before releasing them again to minimise stress. This topic seemed to gage a lot of interest and quite a few questions were asked.
Following the path towards the bird hide
After visiting the bird ringing station, we carried on following the path, past the sheep fields and up towards the bird hide. The path became quite a lot muddier the closer we got to hide and everyone’s foot wear was decorated with blobs of mud and leaves once we arrived.
Walking past the sheep field
The bird hide was locked so instead we all stood on the wooden decking and looked to see if we could spot any wildlife. Joe explained what species of bird were often seen at the hide and that there had been otter spotting in the lake in past years however, we weren’t lucky enough to see anything other than the odd dragon fly and a lone moorhen.
Taking a break at the bird watching hide
Once we had graced the moorhens company we all started heading back towards campus, the path got a bit muddier as we headed into a slightly wooded area to a small stream which was used for research. Joe explained that zoo biology students and wildlife students might possibly collect water samples from the stream to analyse later in the year and that otters had also been sighted in previous years in the stream as well which was exciting.
The walk ended at around 3pm, with a short wander around the farmer fields before ending back at the gardens on campus. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and learnt a little bit about the amazing campus we study on and can explore over the next coming months and years.
Thank you everyone for coming, hope to see you all soon for future events.
Here’s the big one, the event we had been anticipating and planning for the entire year, a tour of the Isle of Mull. This island, situated just off the western coast of Scotland, is a popular tourist attraction due to its astounding natural beauty and it is also a wildlife hotspot with a collection of species that is largely unmatched anywhere in the world.
Tuesday 6th June:
We met outside of the Brackenhurst library at 6am ahead of a 9-hour drive from Southwell to Oban, many of us took this opportunity to catch-up on sleep as we had to be up early. For me at least this journey seemed to fly by, perhaps because of the excellent banter on the minibus and we also stopped a few times for food which certainly broke up the monotony of the drive.
Once we had passed through Glasgow the scenery was truly stunning and for some of us this was our first impression of how beautiful Scotland really is. Here we saw the first of our highlight species’ – Red-breasted Merganser, which in the UK is only found on Scottish lochs during the breeding season – and Eider, a diving duck which is found mostly around the coast.
We arrived in Oban with over an hour to spare before we had to board the ferry, this gave us time to get fish & chips and to explore a little. While walking along the seaside we came across another target species – the Black Guillemot, which proved to be very approachable but not completely tame.
The ferry ride across to Mull was a bittersweet experience (at least for people who left their coats at home…) as the wind was very intense at times but in return we got some great views of Gannets fishing as well as Manx Shearwater, Shag, and Puffin. Upon landing in Craignure our first stop was a nearby sea eagle nesting site but as the weather conditions were poor at this time they did not appear, so we checked into our bunkhouse and turned in for the night.
Wednesday 7th June:
Some of us decided to get up at 4:30am for a walk along the Craignure seaside and we were awarded for the early rise with some amazing views of the morning sun against the mountains and the sea. We then returned to the bunkhouse to have breakfast and prepare for the island tour of Mull.
Our first port of call was to return to the sea eagle nest site that we visited the previous evening in another attempt to spot one, and we did. The White-tailed Eagle is the largest raptor (bird of prey) that can be found in the British Isles, hence the nickname ‘flying barn door’ which comes from the wings being both extremely long (wingspan = 2.4m) and extremely broad.
After this we hit the road with an eventual destination of Calgary Bay, a picturesque white beach with a brilliantly cold sea to swim in. Over the next couple of hours, we stopped a few times along the road just to take in the breath-taking scenery if nothing else, we saw a number of new species here such as: Short-eared Owl, Whinchat, Buzzard, Cuckoo, Curlew, Oystercatcher and Redshank. However, we hit a small problem along the way as one of the roads along our route was closed, this meant that we had to drive all the way back to Craignure and find a new route to Calgary Bay; on the upside though we had our first sighting of a Hen Harrier due to the road being closed, every cloud eh.
Our luck became even better along the new route as before long a large raptor was spotted from the minibus, we stopped to take a look… At first glance, it appeared to be a Buzzard being mobbed by Jackdaws as this is a familiar sight back home, but before long we realised it was a Golden Eagle! And the following birds were in fact Ravens, which gave us a sense of scale so we got a good impression of the sheer size of the eagle. While most of us were gazing in wonder at the eagle another squabble in the sky was spotted, a Hen Harrier mobbing a Buzzard! Golden eagle, Hen Harrier, Buzzard, and Ravens in the sky together… Epic.
We arrived at Calgary Bay at around 2pm, most of us changed into swimwear and headed for the beach straight away for a swim, but some of us were more reluctant… Especially after being told the water in the bay was glacial melt-water! On the water, there was a family of Eiders and it was super cool to swim with them (cool being the key word there). The weather was perfect for a good hour and with everyone chilling out on the beach you would have thought we were in Barbados or something!
By about 4pm the sun went in so we hit the road again and headed towards Tobermory, a town famous for being the set of some children’s programme apparently. At one point along the road we came across a White-tailed Eagle nest where the chicks were being ringed and the parent birds were circling above it calling to each other, which is something that really gives you the chills and here I think all of us truly fell in love with the eagles.
The road to Tobermory had one more gift for us, as we passed by the very last loch along the way there were a family of birds on the water which turned out to be Red-throated Divers. A lot of us had this species in mind before the trip but at this point we had pretty much accepted that it wasn’t going to happen, just goes to show that nothing is impossible in birding and that’s why we love it.
Upon arriving in Tobermory we checked into the place where we were staying the night and then we split up to explore the town. Some of us went for fish and chips, some on a mini-pub crawl and some of us went for a walk in search of Dippers or a lighthouse, there was no luck with either of those but it was fun regardless.
Thursday 8th June:
The ferry back to the mainland left Craignure at 11am which unfortunately meant that we did not have much time left to explore the island. We left Tobermory at 8am and drove directly to Craignure which meant that when we got there we had over an hour of time to play with, so we headed back along the road from the previous morning to have one last look at the moorland. There were a few more Short-eared Owls spotted here and a White-tailed Eagle with a wing tag was sat on the ground next to a small loch, plus a few of us saw another Hen Harrier in the distance. A nice way to say good-bye to Mull, for now at least.
The ferry ride back to Oban was much less breezy than before and we saw a nice collection of species including: Arctic Tern, Black Guillemot, Guillemot, Eider, Shag, Gannet, and also a pod of Harbour Porpoise.
All in all this was a very successful trip from a birding point of view especially considering we had to cover the whole island within a day, plus the time spent at Calgary Bay and Tobermory was great fun! It was the perfect way to end an awesome year with ConSoc.
As a result of our past hard work and commitment on the Grizzled Skipper Project we have been asked to take part in further conservation work in the form of a signal crayfish eradication programme with the Nottinghamshire Biodiversity Action Group and the Environment Agency.
A recent estate walk with a couple of new NTU international exchange students highlighted (with embarrassment) the amount of litter on the verges of the A612, the main road that runs through our campus and estate. With this in mind it was decided that the time had arrived for Conseco’s first litter pick, not the most glamorous of tasks, but probably one of the more necessary, as these verges were once locally designated as sites of biological interest or SBI, a designation of which was recently removed. Some roadside verges in the UK have been given SSSI status, Sites of Special Scientific Interest.
Today we made a visit to the northern side of Sherwood Forest, known as Budby South Forest and this is a very new RSPB reserve so there is a lot of management work to be done in order to fulfil the ecological potential of the site.
So it was decided to return to the Idle Valley for a spot more bird watching, as we’d previously only covered the southern half which found us heading north from the visitor centre, along the River Idles course, as far as the village of Tiln. All previous recorded bird sightings (Notts. Birders) all stated that the ‘interesting stuff’ was all spotted to the north of where we last visited.