Eve on Kenya research trip

Eve’s amazing research opportunity with the leopards of Kenya

Eve Hills, Ecology and Conservation MRes student, tells us about the opportunities and experiences she had studying here and why she recommends Ecology at Brighton.

I came into higher education late in life after deciding that I wanted to develop my passion for animals into a career in wildlife conservation. I enrolled on a foundation degree course in Animal Science, and this provided me with the opportunity to further my knowledge and develop new skills. As part of the course I got to design and carry out my first research project (studying cheetah movement on a Namibian wildlife sanctuary). I enjoyed the course so much, that after graduating I went on to top up my degree with a BSc (Hons) in Ecology at the University of Brighton.

The BSc provided another opportunity to conduct a research project – and this time my focus was the leopards of Kenya’s, Masai Mara National Reserve. I very much enjoyed the research side of my studies and the opportunities that were opening up for me were really exciting.

The MRes appealed to me particularly because it was relatively light on taught modules and heavy on the research. I wanted the opportunity to experience the kind of research I might get do in industry.

My research focused on the African leopard… after starting to study leopards during my BSc I wanted to continue – particularly as little is known about the Mara’s leopard population. In 2016, I made contact with a biologist who had been studying the Mara’s cheetah population for several years. After flying out to meet her and spending a couple of weeks assisting on her project, she encouraged me to start building a database of leopards in the Mara. It was working on the database which led to both my BSc and MRes project ideas.

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More field work

Today we asked our students to work as consultant for the National Trust at Sheffield park as part of the monitoring of previous river restoration work on the Ouse. Under the supervision of Dr Anja Rott &Dr Neil Crooks, our students set out to
survey the River Ouse  aquatic invertebrate and fish diversity. Using standard survey techniques, such as kick sampling, the diversity and water quality of the stretch of river was assessed. More than 700 individual invertebrates were accounted and a total of 24 taxonomic groups identified. This is quite impressive as most of the students were novice, but made up the lack of practice by their enthusiasm and motivation.

The second part of the survey aimed to survey the fish diversity within 3 stretches of the river. Using Electrofishing, students were able to work as a team and capture the different species present. Eel, chub, dace and minnow (to name but a few) were identified, measured and then released.

Another good day in the Field!


Back in the Field!

Teaching has already started for some of us, with the Ecological field skills module. Final year Ecology students and enthusiasts are out in the countryside doing what they like to do best –  field work!

We are very fortunate to have a diverse landscape within our reach and today we are off to Ashdown Forest. Ashdown Forest is most probably famous for  Winnie the Pooh and Christopher, but it also has fine examples of Lowland heathland and reptiles. All 50 of us met up on one of the hottest days of the summer, and started the day by attempting to set up a reptile survey grid under the critical eye of Dr Angelo Pernetta. After a few tangle with our canes and walking through the gorse, most teams managed to set up the grid appropriately, some using very complex geometry calculations.

Lowland heathlands are species-poor habitats, so they are great place to start if you have limited knowledge of plant species and want to get to grips with plant identification keys.
This is what we did, spotting the key Heather species, Gorse and other characteristics plant species, which proved useful for the Heathland Condition Assessment that was done later that day.

As well as the beautiful scenery and the exceptionally warm weather, another highlight of the day was the capture of a young female adder during our reptile survey among many slow worms and lizards.

Inspirational South Africa

Renee Mcalister , 2nd year Ecology BSc(Hons), was inspired by the fieldtrip to South Africa. Here’s a taster of her experience on the trip.

Sundownwer on the Kopje

Sundownwer on the Kopje

I found the South Africa trip life changing on many levels; educationally, emotionally and intellectually. The beautiful intensity of the work served to underpin the concrete learning experience. There have not been many times in my life when I actually desperately wanted to wake up at 5.30am! To watch the dam change from dark to half-light to light and know that anything might happen – from an African fish eagle swooping in to the sight of a water buck watching its young caper in the reeds. And the dawn shrieks of the ibis were a bracing start to every day.

The camaraderie with fellow students, lecturers and staff at the reserve was warm and fun. The atmosphere between us was supportive and nurturing and laughter was as abundant and hearty as a kudu stew. The teaching was utterly amazing. The staff were incredibly knowledge, incredibly encouraging and incredibly just incredible. It was so well organised and flowed wonderfully.

It was an honour to be able to see African wildlife in such a well cared for environment. And a privilege to share the experience with people who have devoted their lives to conservation.

On my return I found I had changed. I felt that I could possibly become a scientist. I felt that I learnt more in those two weeks than I would over a year in a 20 credit module. Learning by doing consolidates knowledge.

South Africa field trip 2016 – days 11 and 12

The last two days were dedicated to personal projects where students collected data to answer their own research question. This year studies ranged from the effects of burning on plant biodiversity to behavioural observations of Rhino. This is another great opportunity to put into practice the skills learned during the taught sessions, but also to spend time focussing and enjoying their field of interest.

Overall this trip was another success and students really enjoyed their experience:

“The South Africa field trip has to be one of the best experiences of my life! It has been a huge boost to my academic learning, coming away with a larger skills set and focus for my future career! My personal project involved me being on foot researching southern white rhino, a once in a life-time opportunity. It such an inspirational and incredible trip, I am itching to get myself back to South Africa!” 

Daniel Bardey recording white rhino behaviour

Daniel Bardey recording white rhino behaviour

Everything about the module was perfect, there isn’t much more to say, but it has definitely been one of, if not the best experience of my life

Great field trip location, staff, good timing and methodical learning process

Unfortunately all good things come to an end, but before packing our bags and flying back to Brighton, there was a last chance to unwind at the Kopje, one of the highest points overlooking the reserve where we could all admire the sun setting on another successful and rewarding trip…. Until next year!

South Africa field trip 2016

This year 24 second year students flew to South Africa with Dr Anja Rott, Dr Rachel White and Dr Neil Crooks to take part in the Biology Field trip.  All students shared a common interest for wildlife conservation and the great outdoors!

During 12 days at Mankwe Game reserve, near Pilanesberg National Park, students improved their species identification skills and undertook a wide variety of exercises in both data collection and data analysis, ranging from large mammal transects to Vegetation Condition Index (VCI), bird counts, camera trapping and sweep netting for invertebrates – to name just a few. Early mornings were rewarded with fantastic wildlife sightings and beautifully lit landscapes.

Connected to the above activities, the students were constantly learning about best practice for managing a wildlife game reserve, including fire management and anti-poaching.