A summer in the life of a Conservation Officer…

As the survey season draws to a close, our Conservation Management Officer Sarah talks us through the survey process. This post also featured on thewildoutside.com

All images copyright Sarah Brooks (WWT)
All images copyright Sarah Brooks (WWT)

The survey season is generally considered to be anywhere from April to September depending on what species you are surveying and what information you are looking to find out. This means I spend much of the Spring and Summer outdoors trying to cram in as many surveys as possible before the season ends. The negative point to this is that I have so little free time to do anything (including writing blog entries) but the good news is that now things are starting to die down now and I have a bit more free time. Part of my job at Warwickshire Wildlife Trust is to find out what wildlife is on our reserves and what condition the habitat is in. This is no mean feat with over 60 nature reserves needing some form of assessment and each one is different from the last. Each reserve needs to be in favourable condition to meet the Trusts’ Living Landscape policies, but also to meet the criteria in any agri-environment scheme that the site is part of. There are also other legal obligations to consider such as the designation of the site and any UK or European protected species that are present. This means that every site has different criteria to meet and different conditions to be considered “favourable”. I decided to tackle this mission a number of ways.
First of all I designed a number of tailor-made condition surveys for different habitat types – such as different grassland types, woodlands and ponds for example. The surveys can be carried out at any site and assessed against the criteria specific for that site. I intersperse this with other surveys to look at target animal species such as reptile, amphibians and mammals.

Wood Mouse from our Longworth Trap surveys
Wood Mouse from our Longworth Trap surveys
Bee Orchid during one of our grassland condition surveys
Bee Orchid during one of our grassland condition surveys

As I’m only one woman, it would be impossible to carry out all surveys needed for each site on my own. I therefore rely heavily on the fabulous work of my volunteers and partner groups. I run a volunteer group called Survey Force every other Monday during the survey season and it’s an opportunity for expert and novice alike to take part in surveys of our nature reserves (you can read a volunteer’s account of Survey Force here). This allows us to get a number of surveys done in the day, it also allows volunteers to improve their survey skills and allows the experts an opportunity to engage with and enthuse new people. Our experts are also volunteers. We work closely with other groups such as the local Flora Group, Butterfly Conservation and county recorders who all volunteer their time to help the cause.

Some of our volunteers during a grassland condition survey on a nice sunny day
Some of our volunteers during a grassland condition survey on a nice sunny day
One of our volunteers taking a lunchtime snooze - surveying is hard work!
One of our volunteers taking a lunchtime snooze – surveying is hard work!

The experts also help me to run a number of workshops at the beginning of the year to train people in how to carry out condition surveys and improve their ID skills. The workshops are free to attend and all we ask is that volunteers use their new found skills to survey one of our reserves. This has so far been really successful and we have carried out more surveys in 2014 than in any previous year. As well as this I will work on my own or with small local groups to carry out even more surveys.

Volunteers at our butterfly survey workshop
Volunteers at our butterfly survey workshop
Common blue butterfly seen during the workshop
Common blue butterfly seen during the workshop

Now that the survey season is coming to an end and I have a mass of paperwork which (again with the help of volunteers) will be entered into various spreadsheets, databases and shared with the local biological record centre. This information will then be analysed and fed back into the management of our sites to make sure the the condition is improved or maintained into the future.

With a bit of luck, come next April all the data will be entered and we can start the whole process again! Volunteers are such an important part of keeping our countryside in the best condition for wildlife and were so grateful to their effort. Keep up the great work as we couldn’t do it without you!

Sarah

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