Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Mammal Society – the day we went to Bangor

It’s normal to hold meetings in London but this autumn (17th November) the society experimented with collaborating on a regional seminar.  The venue was Bangor, ‘dinas dysgu’ or ‘city of learning’, in the Brambell Building with its natural history museum making an excellent area for serving refreshments. On the ground local organisation was by the Snowdonia Mammal Group and more than 120 people attended the conference from all over UK.  

Derek Yalden (President) gave the first talk, an update on our knowledge of brown hares and how they are faring. It seems not so well. Surveys at the beginning and end of the 1990s showed a disappointing decline despite the introduction of ‘set aside’. I think Derek said he used to see 2 or 3 a day on average in the 1980s but nowadays it’s down to just 1.

Our 2nd speaker was Penny Lewns with a ‘reasons to be cheerful’ talk about badgers and an overview of the work she and her partner have done by way of badger mitigation. There were some interesting photos of artificial setts under construction with an analysis of how successful they had been.

Before our excellent lunch amongst the skeletons in the museum we split into 5 workshops and I joined the ‘wildlife film making’ workshop with Geoff Garside. There’s a lot more to it than point and click with a camcorder. I walked away feeling very inspired (brilliant footage of stoats playing on the Conwy estuary, more photogenic than meerkats!) but a bit in awe of how good you’ve got to be. The sad conclusion was the comparative lack of producer or investor  interest in UK as opposed to exotic species. I’m told the other workshops were also good.

The afternoon session was opened by Jack Grasse and his totally black slide – it had something to do with our collective knowledge of dormice not so long ago. It’s not just about surveying hazel nuts and broadleaf. Jack gave a graphic (great facial expressions) description of how to age an old nutshell. What do they eat in conifers? Is it sap and invertebrates? We just don’t know yet, but maybe the MISE project will help.

Anita Glover from Leeds University described the arrival of Alcathoe’s Bat in the UK. In April 2010 it was confirmed in Sussex and 350 km away in Yorkshire. It was first described in Greece in 2001. Alcathoe? She was a young woman in Greek mythology who ... ‘while the other women and maidens were revelling and ranging over the mountains in Bacchic joy, these two sisters alone remained at home, devoting themselves to their usual occupations, and thus profaning the days sacred to the god. Dionysus punished them by changing them into bats’. How widespread are they in UK and when did they really arrive?

Kate Williamson described how she, Chris Hall and Sam Dyer had piloted hedgehog survey techniques with tracking tunnels. In the middle of the tunnel is an ‘inkpad’ to cover the soles of the feet and make tracks.  The team found that black powder paint (not easy to find these days) mixed with oil was successful, maintaining tackiness for about 6 days. Hot dogs were used to entice subjects into the tunnel and a motion detector camera showed that the local cat was very partial to these! The pilot seems to have worked well but be prepared for cattle to disrupt tunnels.

Chris Hall spoke about surveying for coastal otters across the coastline of Llŷn and Snowdonia. 22 locations of 1 km² were chosen, each with a flow of freshwater. All showed positive in the course of 12 months when surveys in September and May were combined. Working with volunteers can be very successful but you need to control them! Bill and Mandi Taylor (the unsung heroes) were commended for outstanding contributions to these and other surveys.

Pete Turner from Waterford Institute gave the final talk about the use of DNA analysis to identify individual otters. At the time of his talk DNA patterns had been taken from 86 of the 123 spraints from the Llŷn coastal otter survey in 2011. Of these spraints 79 were from females and 7 (8%) were from males.  Do females mark more than males? Analysis so far, from out of the above, has identified 19 different individual otters.

And finally it was the raffle. A great day out and I was particularly pleased that 3 of the delegates signed up to become direct debit subscribers of Natur Cymru! And here are 30 seconds from the day:

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