An experience of a lifetime

Anna Marie Lawn, third year BSc(Hons) Ecology student tells us about her time volunteering over the summer.

From July-September 2017, I volunteered with the organisation of the Society for the Protection of Turtles in Northern Cyprus, working with the native green and loggerhead sea turtle species.

There, I worked and lived for 6 weeks with 25 students, sharing mattresses laid out on the floor of a room and outside the building on some inhabitants setting quiet alarms as not to wake up others on different shifts, and all equally in our permanent state of being covered head to toe in sand from the previous day. In the day, we made lunch out of whatever was in the communal fridge (mostly pita bread and halloumi) with two students who had been blessed with a day off, cooking each night using whatever vegetables we could find for a low enough price at a nearby market.

Our work day rotated between night and day shifts, consisting of 10-15 hour days. Night workers patrolled protected beaches from 8:30pm-7am, asking people on the beach after hours to leave, and finding adult female sea turtles who we would observe laying eggs and marking out the locations with GPS co-ordinates. Adults would be flipper tagged, have their carapace measured length and width and have their behaviour recorded; all in the dark with only our faint red head torches shining.

Day work consisted of opening and closing ring cages (used to protect the turtles from crabs, foxes and dogs that people would illegally bring to the protected beach) these would be opened according to the time of day and heat of the sand, allowing any hatchlings to leave their nest during the day when the sand is not too hot, and closing the cages in the evenings so the night workers could collect hatchlings for weighing, measuring and biopsying. They would be released the following night- when they are most likely to escape the watchful eyes of predators.

The bulk of day work involved excavating nests that had hatched, or record unsuccessful nests where no eggs hatched.

This work was extremely labour-intensive. One person would locate, and dig an ever-collapsing area of sand that the night workers had marked out 2 months before, after observing the females lay and marking the location of her egg chamber. Digging had to be done gently enough to avoid harming any hatchlings that could be over 1m deep in the cool softer sand. Once, I had over half of my body length head down into a hole in the sand with the Mediterranean sun pounding on my back, I would carefully remove fragments and unhatched eggs and pass them up to my colleagues, along with any survivors that had struggled to get out, or stuck under plastic caught in the nest. Fragments and eggs would be ordered under a range of criteria, along with information about the nest that would be used for the numerous research projects taking place.

Working closely with fellow students, (mainly ecologists and zoologists) watching endangered animals from hatchlings to adulthood emerge, some for the first time, is something that many of us had spent our lives waiting to see. It gives you a special bond to the people you work with, to the country and to the beaches which I worked on every day for all but 1 day off I had in 6 weeks. The extremely hard work we did across the 3 bases in Northern Cyprus (one dealt with over 12,000 hatchlings this season!) is worth the lifelong friends, the experiences and the satisfaction you gain when you release a hatchling that you pulled from the plastics littered across the beaches. This was the experience of a lifetime, and I cannot wait to go back.

Keep feeding hedgehogs in the Autumn

Mammalian biologist Dr Dawn Scott is urging people to feed dwindling numbers of hedgehogs during autumn to help them survive winter.
Dr Scott, Assistant Head our school of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences, spoke out after media reports suggested people should refrain from feeding hedgehogs before hibernation.
She said: “I feed hedgehogs in the autumn to help them attain body weight before the winter and several animals may need this boost to obtain the body weight sufficient to survive hibernation.
“I would encourage feeding hedgehogs in the autumn and I would also encourage the establishment of wildlife-friendly gardens which promote natural food supplies for the hedgehogs.”
Dr Scott spoke on hedgehogs at last week’s British Science Festival (BSF). She said one media report, suggesting Dr Scott was asking people to should stop feeding hedgehogs during autumn, was misleading.
“I presented data on my findings on the impact of people feeding urban mammals including foxes, badgers and hedgehogs. I mentioned my concerns over the emerging impact of food supplied by householders on animal behaviour and stated more research was needed.
“The point of the BSF is to stimulate discussion and debate hence I raised the point of ‘do we actually know the impacts of people feeding wildlife and it might not always be beneficial’. As hedgehogs are in such decline we really do need to know the consequences of our actions in terms of long term affects and this urgently needs more research.
“I was concerned that hedgehogs were noted as active throughout December and January last year and that, although this is likely to be climate related, abundant food supply throughout winter in gardens could also be affecting hibernation timing.
“One of the ecological consequences of urban environments for animals is the potentially constant supply of food which could affect natural seasonal behaviour. Food reduction as well as temperature is a trigger for hibernating animals and so abundant food could potentially affect this trigger. Anthropogenic feeding and how it can disrupt hibernation patterns has been shown in some other species.
“I said I had no direct data on this, it was a point for discussion and raised as an area that needs to be researched in future. I linked this point with the emerging feeding habits of people towards other urban animals and said we need to look carefully at how, what and when we feed wildlife to maximise its benefit and reduce any potential detrimental effects.”
You can find out more about Dr Scott’s research here.

The wild furry urbanites

Dr Dawn Scott, Principal Lecturer in the School of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences will be sharing her research findings on urban mammals, as well as some unexpected stories about what they (and their researchers) get up to in the city at night, at this year’s British Science Festival on Wednesday 6 September.

The British Science Festival 2017 begins on September 5 and runs through till September 9.

Book your free tickets here: https://www.britishsciencefestival.or…

How good is your garden for wildlife?

Our mammalian biologist Dr Dawn Scott and fellow experts are revealing the secret lives of animals and insects that live in gardens and lawns.

Watch out for Dr Scott who is featuring in a new BBC 4 TV programme ‘The British Garden: Life and Death on your lawn’.

Dr Scott said: “For this programme we assessed the biodiversity in eight gardens to see how different gardens support wildlife and what features of those gardens were the best for wildlife.”

Presented by Springwatch’s Chris Packham, the film looks “beneath the peonies and petunias” to reveal how male crickets bribe females for sex, how a robin’s red breast is actually war paint and how a single litter of foxes can have up to five different fathers.

The programme is scheduled for broadcast at 9pm on 11 July.

A warm welcome at our open day

Sunshine, blue skies, our brilliant ambassadors and friendly staff welcomed visitors to our campus open day on Saturday 17 June.

Open days are a great way to find out about the local area and campus where you will be studying. You’ll also be able to hear more about your chosen subject and talk to our staff and current students.

If you are thinking about beginning your studies in 2018 and missed this one, find out more about upcoming events on our website.

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Stories on springtails

Dr Dawn Scott has recently launched “Springtails” (https://www.brighton.ac.uk/springtails), a University of Brighton study linked with BBC Springwatch, to investigate how feeding wildlife in gardens effects interactions between animals (foxes, badgers, hedgehogs, cats and dogs)

If you have any observations, videos, photos or stories of interactions you have seen (with or without the presence of food) between foxes, badgers, hedgehogs, cats and/or dogs in your garden please could you add them to our data based via the website by following the link “share your story”

Send the weblink to anyone you know who might have also have observations and encourage them to put them on the website. https://www.brighton.ac.uk/springtail

Springwatch starts Monday 29th May at 8pm BBC2 and will feature researchers from UOB

BBC Springwatch on garden animals

University of Brighton mammalian biologist is calling on the public for ‘animal stories from the garden’ for research and a special feature for BBC Two’s forthcoming Springwatch series.

Dr Dawn Scott and her team are studying interactions between foxes, hedgehogs, badgers, cats and dogs in the presence or absence of food in people’s gardens.

Dr Scott, Principal Lecturer in the university’s School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences, said: “Many people support wildlife in their gardens by providing food for them. However, we don’t yet fully understand how providing food can affect the interactions between wildlife.

“It is not always known what animals actually end up eating this extra food or if the animals compete to get access to it. Foxes and hedgehogs have been seen to feed from the same bowl but we have also seen animals come into conflict over the food provided.

“The project will be focused on interactions between foxes, badgers and hedgehogs, but we are also interested in interactions between the same species, i.e. fox and another fox, and also between pets.”

Findings from the research will feature in BBCs Two’s Springwatch which is scheduled to air from 29 May to 15 June.

 

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Moulsecoomb Campus Open Day

Open days are a great way to find out about the local area and the campus where you will be studying. You will also be able to hear more about your chosen subject and talk to our staff and current students.

If you are thinking of beginning your studies in 2018 come along to our campus open day on Saturday 17 June. Find out more about open days on our website.

Quorum Technologies Electron Microscopy prize

If you are currently in your final year and using Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) in your project you are eligible for consideration for this years Quorum Technologies Electron Microscopy prize 2016-17, for final year undergraduate projects.

There is a £200 project prize this year, which will be awarded in recognition of the most commendable undergraduate final year project utilising microscopy.

To enter please send a copy of your project to Dr Jonathan Salvage either by email or as a paper copy marked for Dr Salvage’s attention to the school office, by Friday 9 June (latest).

Good luck!

Research insight

Asa White, Doctoral Researcher within our school, gets to call wading around in the Bourne Rivulet work!

Asa’s is researching how an invisible chemical may be affecting invertebrate and fish life. It has three main elements.

  • using electric fishing surveys around three watercress farms over two years to ascertain whether discharges are having a population-level impact on fish communities
  • at the same sites, surveying habitat suitability for salmonids in terms of the physical habitat and prey species abundances
  • running laboratory ecotoxicology experiments to study the effects of PEITC on fish. The aim of the research is to understand what effect, if any, watercress farming is having on fish populations. Should a negative impact be uncovered, then mitigation strategies to lessen the impacts could be developed to ensure that fish populations in chalk stream headwaters flourish.

Read his story in this article published on the Wild Trout Trust website.