Dormice, orchids and churring nightjars: my past few months!

© Martin Bennett

My time at the Trust has absolutely flown by, and now it’s nearly time for me to leave my role as Trainee Geospatial Ecologist. I've had an amazing few months here!

I’ve gained so much useful experience being here, and have really enjoyed working with such a friendly and welcoming team.  I’ve also had the opportunity to be involved in a huge range of fascinating projects. Here are a few of my highlights:

Surveys

Over the summer I’ve been able to do lots of different kinds of surveys which I haven’t done before, including surveying for bats, crayfish, butterflies, reptiles and river flies, and carrying out rapid condition assessments of heathland habitats. However, my favourite surveys have been the dormouse surveys. I had never seen a dormouse before working here, and it was so exciting to see them up close. It helps that they’re incredibly cute! On one survey that we did back in June, at Chappett’s Copse and Shutt’s Copse, we were lucky enough to find 10 in one morning.

two photos of dormice asleep in an ecologist's hands

Sleeping dormice ©Becky Banbury Morgan

Chappett’s Copse Orchid Monitoring

One of the first things that I did as a Trainee Ecologist was go on the annual sword-leaved helleborine count at Chappett’s Copse, which I wrote about in an earlier blog post. Since then I’ve been working hard at producing a report on the findings of the count, using data from this year, alongside data collected by the late Richard Hedley and his team over the past 20 years. This year was quite a good year for the sword-leaved helleborines, with numbers increased from last year. However, my analysis found that fruit production is decreasing within the population at the site. This is probably because of decreasing pollination, either as a result of declines in bee populations across the local area, or because the habitat at the site is sub-optimal for bees. The Trust is hoping to investigate these declines further in the future, in order to identify some management techniques that might help increase pollination!

Sword-leaved helleborine, an orchid with white flowers and long narrow leaves, at Chappett's Copse

Sword-leaved helleborine ©Hannah Wheldon

Nightjar Territory Mapping

As well as doing surveys and data analysis, a big part of my role has been learning how to use mapping software, like MapInfo, to visualise and analyse spatial data. For example, I’ve been involved in a project to survey nightjar territories across the New Forest. During May, June and July, enthusiastic volunteers headed out to do surveys of churring nightjars at sites across the New Forest. When the data was returned to us, I was responsible for digitising all of the nightjar records, to create a map of all the points where nightjars had been heard churring. In order to estimate the number of territories from this data, I first had to put a buffer of 350m around each point. Points that are more than 350m apart can be considered as separate territories, but points that are less than 350m apart are probably the same individual churring in different places. I found it really interesting to see how mapping software can be used to carry out analyses like this. Our final estimates were of 435 breeding territories in the New Forest!

Nightjar

© Martin Bennett

My position at the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust has been funded by the Richard Hedley Fund. I am extremely grateful to everyone involved with the fund, which has enabled me to gain such wonderful experience working with the Trust. It has been a great privilege to be involved in a small way in continuing the work that Richard Hedley did at Chappett’s Copse, and I am sure that the site will continue to flourish long into the future.