Bat people

Published: October 5, 2017

Lesser horseshoe bat credit Dr Paul ChaninClennon Gorge Nature Reserve is attached to Paignton Zoo; you can explore some of it from the nature trail that starts near the lemurs. The reserve sits on limestone bedrock, and limestone readily forms caves.

Bats have taken advantage of this scenario and have made themselves at home in these cool calm dark pockets of the reserve. So far, we have records of three species of bats using the caves through winter as a hibernation roost; greater horseshoe bats and lesser horseshoe bats and very occasionally a Daubenton’s bat. Some of these bats will also utilise the caves though the summer as a feeding roost.

Our surveys of bats in the caves goes back to 1991 and over the last seven years, we have been carrying monthly bat counts. It is important to note that these caves are only visited once a month and only under license from Natural England.

The survey itself is an interesting experience irrespective of the bats, with intriguing rock formations and fantastic invertebrates to be seen. My favourite Invertebrate is the European cave spider. They can be quite big and they create egg cases that look like perfectly spherical cotton wool balls with an orange centre. There are also moths that overwinter in the caves, such as the herald and the bloxworth snout (great name!). Another mini-beast of note is the bristletail Trigoniophthalmus alternatus, an insect restricted to caves in South Devon.

During the winter surveys, it doesn’t take long before you spot your first bat, and it tends to be the more conspicuous greater horseshoe. Their tear drop shaped bodies will be hung from the ceilings and the walls of the cave, maintaining a small distance from each other. The lesser horseshoes, as the name would suggest, are smaller than the greaters. The lessers can be a bit more elusive too, sometimes tucked away in crevices. We make our way around the caves, counting the bats in a systematic fashion.

In the main, the caves are quite open and spacious so you can walk around in them; there are only a couple of places where you need to crawl or lie down and wiggle through. We also record the temperature and relative humidity of the caves and the outside, plus the times of entry and exit. The January and February information is fed back to the National Hibernation Survey organised by the Bat Conservation Trust. In addition to this we send all of our survey data to the DBRC (Devon Biological Records Centre) and the local bat group.

Dave Ellacott, Reserves Warden, WWCT, with Dr Paul Chanin, University of Exeter and Chair of Trustees, WWCT and George Bemment, bat consultant

Making a (science) exhibition of ourselves

Published: September 20, 2017

 

Setting up the VR cameras

As I write this, it is mid-September, and we are in the middle of a very busy month of science preparations.

The WWCT will be exhibiting at New Scientist Live 2017 at ExCel London on 28th Sept – 1st Oct. This will be an exciting exhibition of science, from biology to cosmology, marketed as “the world’s most exciting festival of ideas”!

WWCT will be represented at the event by staff from Paignton Zoo, Newquay Zoo and Living Coasts; we will be displaying the wealth of science that goes on at our zoos. We will be taking part in a stand run by the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA), where we will be joined by three other zoo organisations: The Deep, the Zoological Society of London, and Chester Zoo, making this an exciting collaborative event to demonstrate the diversity and importance of zoo science.

Science is fundamental to the work that we do at our zoos, and also to our field conservation projects, but many people don’t realise the diversity of science topics that we cover, or the amount of research work that goes on across our sites. So, how do we use science at the WWCT? Well firstly, science is vital to our animal care. From biology to veterinary science, it is crucial that we understand the needs of our animals and how to look after them. A great deal of research goes into nutritional analysis for animal diets, and WWCT has been leading research into the benefits of removing sugary fruit from primate diets (see our article on the BIAZA website for more information: https://biaza.org.uk/projects/detail/what-would-you-feed-a-gorilla).

We also study the science of animal behaviour, which we use for a wide range of projects such as investigating the effects of environmental enrichment, examining how animals respond to UV light, and studying breeding behaviours, to name just a few. Managing our animals also requires knowledge of genetics, and staff at WWCT zoos manage 13 European Endangered species Programmes (EEPs) and European Studbooks (ESBs).

We also use conservation science in our in situ conservation projects, both in the UK and abroad. We monitor and survey populations of animals using camera traps and genetic analysis. Significantly, we have been developing a new diagnostic tool for the identification of chytrid fungus, a disease that is a huge threat to populations of amphibians world-wide (see our news article here).

That is just a taste of the vast amount of science that takes place in our zoos and as part of conservation projects. We will be presenting a lot of these topics at the New Scientist Live event. Visitors to the exhibition will be able to talk to WWCT staff about the work that we do, see the equipment that we use, and will be able to get ‘hands on’ and experience our research.

All of this is very exciting, but it means that we have a lot of preparation to do! So, for the next few weeks we will be busy writing information crib sheets and collating facts and figures, preparing videos and photos, creating activities and loading up equipment; everything from camera traps, to a box of rubber frogs (to help us to demonstrate our chytrid project)…

If all of that is not enough, we are also preparing a 360 degree virtual reality video! This is a really exciting project that will allow people to enter the ‘virtual zoo’ and view our animals from new angles and learn more about our exciting science. If you have visited any of our zoos recently, you may have seen our keepers and the team from Soundview Media putting cameras in unusual places, such as at the top of the tiger feeding pole, and even underwater in the penguin pool. Once the video is ready, viewers will be able to watch some exciting animal behaviour from right at the centre of the action! I can’t wait to see all of the footage put together.

So wish us luck in our preparations, and we hope that we will see you at New Scientist Live (we’ll be on stand 531!). We will be posting on our social media pages during the event, and we’ll be sure to let you know how it goes. This will be a fantastic opportunity for us to work with other BIAZA zoos and showcase the fantastic science that takes place at the WWCT.

To find out more information about our research, take a look at our website at: http://www.wwct.org.uk/research/wwct-research-themes

We have also written blogs on the BIAZA website, which link to the projects that we will be exhibiting at the event:

Finally check us out on the New Scientist Live website: https://live.newscientist.com/exhibitors/swep?&azletter=W&searchgroup=libraryentry-exhibitors

Dr Joanna Newbolt
Higher Education Co-ordinator

It’s all gone quiet!

Published: August 9, 2017

hollyAll our students have gone. Each year, WWCT hosts undergraduates that come to work within university undergraduate industrial year programmes; this year we had eight students studying across our three zoo sites and reserves. They were with us from September 2016 – but the final student left at the end of July.

At Paignton Zoo, the students are based in the office next door to the WWCT staff, so they could knock on the door and pop in whenever they needed advice during project development or on statistics during their final few months. We had four zoo-based students at Paignton this year. Joe studied the breeding behaviour of the Critically Endangered Edwards’s pheasant, a Vietnamese species that we are planning to work with in situ. Using a surveillance camera system, Joe spent the year recording the breeding behaviour of the two pairs we house off show, with the aim of detailing courtship and chick rearing behaviour that can be fed into husbandry guidelines for our in situ partners to use. He also made an open-access website with video clips and information on his project that other holders of the species can reference. This year the pheasants hatched five chicks, so we will be continuing this research topic next year to observe chick development and hopefully further breeding.

Ignatius spent his placement year recording behaviour, enclosure use, collecting faeces and analysing the diet of spider monkeys under different lighting conditions. He was investigating the effect of UVB lighting in the indoor enclosure – but found that spider monkeys prefer to sit outside on sunny days. His findings led to the conclusion that providing UVB lighting on overcast days and during the winter months when the UV Index is low, may be beneficial to the animals and the energy expenditure of the Zoo.

In addition, we had two students investigating visitor behaviour at Paignton Zoo and Living Coasts, with Alice monitoring the influence of different types of interpretation on visitor learning in our Crocodile Swamp exhibit and Alex measuring what visitors learn from feeding experiences. Alice found that visitors learn more when provided with information during educational talks and Alex discovered that visitors engaging in a feeding experience learn more than general visitors. As we run a range of visitor feeding events at our sites, we potentially have a good audience to share our conservation messages.

Also at Paignton, we had two students studying native species – bees and bats. Emily built bee hotels that she positioned around the Paignton Zoo site to encourage nesting by solitary bees. It seems that solitary bees prefer bamboo compared to other substrates such as cob and drilled logs. We will continue to monitor the nests until the bees wake from hibernation next March. Our other ecology student, Luke, spent the year monitoring bat species from their calls to determine the features such as waterbodies and hedgerows that they use to navigate around Paignton Zoo. There was an abundance of common pipistrelles at the Zoo, with an average of over 300 bat passes recorded per night, favouring woodland and grassland habitats. The Zoo has a diversity of environments and our Reserves Warden Dave maintains the woods and grassland around the site, also conducting monthly bat checks in the Zoo’s caves.

Over at Living Coasts Meghan has been busy training the blue-spotted ribbontail rays in the Mangrove exhibit using positive reinforcement training. During feed times, keepers had observed aggression in the tank and had identified that the three female ribbontails were being aggressive towards the masked rays. Meghan spent the year training two of the rays to come over to a specific target (a white and black circle with a different pattern), touch the target with their body and receive a food item as a reward. The training was very successful, resulting in a reduction in aggression in the tank. Meg was based in the keeper office during her placement and the plan is that keepers will continue this husbandry technique now that Meg has left.

At our sister site in Cornwall, Newquay Zoo, Harriet worked from the Research and Education office and was trialling different diets for frogs to investigate whether carotenoid supplementation (yellow, orange and red pigments) affects growth. By taking weekly length measurements of tadpoles and recording the days until metamorphosis, Harriet determined that a higher carotenoid diet is associated with a larger increase in growth rates and could be a beneficial supplement for zoo frogs.

It may be quiet this week, but our MSc students are coming to the end of their dissertation project data collection, which means we will be carrying out statistics workshops this month. Also, the next cohort of placement students start on 4th September, so it will not be quiet for long!

Dr Holly Farmer, Zoo Research Officer

Zoo to open string of hotels

Published: March 16, 2017

2017 02 WWCT bee hotels smallPaignton Zoo is opening a chain of hotels – for bees… A student studying artificial nest-sites for bees has put up ten “bee hotels” in the Zoo’s 80 acres of grounds.

Emily Tyack, a third year Environmental Biology student at the University of Nottingham, is on a year-long placement with the Field Conservation & Research Department of the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust, the charity that runs Paignton Zoo, Living Coasts in Torquay and Newquay Zoo in Cornwall.

The bees that Emily is researching are not the sort that help put honey on our breakfast tables: “Most people are familiar with the honey bee. There are also 25 species of bumble bee that buzz around our gardens on a sunny day. But there are also about 250 species of solitary bee in the UK.

“My research project is assessing the effectiveness of artificial nest sites for solitary bees in areas that otherwise provide suitable resources, such as flower beds for nectar and pollen. Bees are threatened by habit loss and increased agricultural practices – it’s hoped that by providing artificial nesting sites, we will create more viable areas in which British bee species can nest and support a population.

“Honey and bumble bees live in colonies, but solitary bees choose to nest in individual holes. These are the bees I am hoping to learn more about.” Emily has spent the winter period – whilst bees are hibernating – making different types of bee house. These have been boxed up together to create ten grand bee hotels.

“Different species have different nesting preferences. You might have solitary bees in the brickwork of your house or the canes supporting your runner beans. The red mason bee is cavity nesting – it lays an egg at the end of a long hollow, provides the egg with pollen and nectar and then seals it up using mud. The leafcutter bee does the same thing but uses leaf matter to seal the hole. Carpenter bees nest in wood, mining bees prefer to bore holes in sandy soils and nest there.”
Every hotel has one of each of the types of bee house; there’s a drilled log, a reed tube, a cob brick, a bamboo tube and a wooden slot box. The aim is to provide a variety of nesting media with a range of diameter holes so that Emily can find out which species prefers which medium and which sized hole.

The bee hotels have been placed in sunny spots around Paignton Zoo, including outside the Zoo’s Vet Centre, near the train station, in the wildlife garden and on the big lawn not far from Crocodile Swamp. The Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust hosts around 100 students every year at its three zoos, including those on year-long placements like Emily, MSc students from universities in Plymouth and Exeter and other visiting researchers.

The Trust’s UK Conservation Officer, Tracey Hamston, said: “We do a lot to conserve the wildlife that naturally lives in the Zoo. Visitors come for the exotic animals but a wealth of native species can also be found here, so it is important that we look after them, too. Many are in decline, including pollinating insects such as bees.”

How to do joined-up conservation

Published: January 12, 2017

monkeyWe call it holistic conservation, or joined-up conservation. It’s when the animals at our zoos and our fieldwork on the ground tie together to form a single logical thread.

The two of us recently travelled to Indonesia to visit our Selamatkan Yaki project, which works with Critically Endangered Sulawesi crested black macaques (Macaca nigra). The species can be seen at both Paignton Zoo and Newquay Zoo; in addition, Holly coordinates a key conservation programme for the species in European zoos. Selamatkan Yaki means “Save the Sulawesi macaque”.

We went out to help organise and attend the second Species Action Plan workshop for Macaca nigra at which we gave a talk on the role of zoos in macaque conservation. We also went to generally catch up with Selamatkan Yaki and their projects and meet with various partners.

We attended the last day of school visits by the Selamatkan Yaki education team as they completed their Yaki Pride campaign in southern Minahasa – they have involved 34 schools in all. We also went to Tasikoki Wildlife Rescue Centre, which is home to around 60 Macaca nigra rescued from the pet trade, and to Tangkoko Nature Reserve to see wild macaques and other species.

We want to link the role of the European zoo population into the wider aims for conserving the species in the wild. As the European Endangered species Programme Coordinator for Macaca nigra, Holly is in a great position to do that.

The important thing is the link we as a conservation charity make between the management of zoo populations and conservation efforts in the wild. People can see this species in our zoos and learn about the way we are leading conservation efforts in their native range. It’s joined-up conservation.

The trip went smoothly. Indonesia is a relatively modern part of the world and the team out there really took care of us, but it takes a long time to get there – about 24 hours door-to-door. We had a few tropical downpours with lightning and the forest was full of mosquitos and leeches! The highlight for Holly was seeing macaques in the wild for the first time.

Our project in Sulawesi is a great example of holistic conservation – we have a strong team on the ground working with local people in many different ways to reduce the threats to this species. Harry Hilser, the Field Programme Manager, and his team work really hard and do a fantastic job. This team is supported technically and financially by zoos back in Europe which keep macaques, including Paignton Zoo, Newquay Zoo and many others.

Dr Holly Farmer and Dr Andrew Bowkett

Sulawesi conservation trip

Planting Strapwort Seedlings In Cornwall

Published: June 12, 2016

A joint project between the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust and the National Trust has culminated in over 1500 strapwort plants being planted on the shores around Loe Pool in Cornwall, a site where it was last recorded in the early 1900s.

The tiny plants were grown by the horticultural team at Paignton Zoo (run by WWCT) using seed from plants at Slapton Ley, a nature reserve also owned by WWCT. This was previously the only site for the Critically Endangered Strapwort in the UK.

strapwort-WWCT-cornwall

Once the plants arrived at Loe Pool, staff and volunteers from both organisations combined to undertake the mammoth task of getting them all into the ground. The site had been carefully selected with the open conditions required for strapwort. The new plants were already flowering and ready to produce seed for the next generation. The low water levels meant there was plenty of shoreline and it should continue to drop over the summer.

The newly planted population was closely monitored over the summer. Alex Millington, a researcher from the University of Exeter, was on site for much of the summer, watching for the first new Cornish plants for 100 years and recording data for his dissertation.

strapwort-conservation-project

Strapwort is a small plant with white flowers which is found on the shores of freshwater lakes and rivers. It needs the bare shore left as the summer water levels drop to grow and produce its tiny seeds. These are spread by water and possibly birds’ feet.

Slapton Ley has always been known by botanists as the place to spot strapwort, and people on their knees peering closely at the ground around the shores of the Ley is not an uncommon sight. A combination of research, site management and supplementing the Slapton population has led to sustainable numbers and improved knowledge about the ecology of this choosy little plant. Grazing animals historically kept much of the shoreline open, but these days the clearance work is done by FSC reserves officer Nick Binnie and a willing band of volunteers. However, as a single population, it was at high risk of extinction, so Natural England funded us to undertake a study to look at other potential sites.

We looked at several sites but the National Trust site at Loe Pool was always the most likely as it had historic links with strapwort. It was recorded there in the late 1800s as being prolific before declining and disappearing in the early 1900s. Conditions in the pool have improved over the last 15 years so reintroduction is now possible.

The National Trust were also keen to see it growing there once again.  Laura Bailey, the NT ranger for Loe Pool, has been preparing the site with volunteers by clearing some scrub to create the open conditions it needs.

For more information please visit:
http://lizardandpenrose.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/rare-plant-reintroduction-at-penrose.html

A Springtime Ramble

Published: April 17, 2015

Lesser celandine

With the proper chilly days of winter behind us, the heralds of spring have been pushing their way out of the cold soil.

In the reserves there is a host of new lush green leaves from plants that are quick to take advantage of warming sun before the onset of full leaf cover and shade.  Dog’s mercury may not be a very showy plant with its tiny flowers, but in a group early in the year it is a very pleasing sight.  Out in the meadow and at the edges of the wood the lesser celandine is prominent with its happy yellow flowers.  The name celandine comes from the Greek word for swallow and like its name sake is another of spring’s heralds.  Joining the yellow colour palette soon after is Devon’s county flower the ‘first rose’ or Primrose.

Primrose

Primrose

Back in the woods the bluebells’ strap-like leaves have appeared and the first signs of flower buds emerge soon followed by the dangling floral bells that are so familiar and perhaps the most loved of all spring spectacles.  Sadly, Primley Park also has the hybrid between the British and Spanish bluebell. The Spanish hybrid is stouter and has wider leaves.  Alongside the bluebells are the pretty white flowers of the wild garlic. Stomping amongst the plant causes it to release its heady aroma, waking my belly long before lunchtime and leaving me wanting garlic bread!

The other spring representatives I eagerly welcome are

Wild garlic

Wild garlic

the first insects after their winter hibernation. Butterflies like the peacock will feed on the bluebells and buff-tailed bumble bee queens can be seen feeding on the primrose.

Spring is without doubt my favourite time and these plants and animals along with many other not mentioned make this time of year special.  Mentally ticking off the species as they appear and sharing the ‘first one spotted’ stories with friends and colleagues is a geeky joy.  I recommend that you go and visit Primley Park (other nature reserves are available) and see the show.

Bluebells, dog's mercury and peacock butterfly

Bluebells, dog’s mercury and peacock butterfly

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dave Ellacott,
Reserves Warden, Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust

 

At the sharp end – rhinos in Zimbabwe

Published: October 22, 2014

Working with rhinos is dangerous – and not for the obvious reasons. Yes, they are short-sighted, nervous, incredibly fast over 50 meters, weigh more than a ton and have sharp pointy bits on the front. But the really dangerous part about working with them is the vehicles.rhinos430x323

Let me explain. The Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust provides operating support (that’s money and expertise) annually to a small charity, the Dambari Wildlife Trust (DWT), based in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. That trust carries out a lot of work in and around the Matobo Hills National Park, which contains one of the world’s iconic landscapes, and also the largest surviving populations of black and white rhinos in western Zimbabwe. Those populations are carefully managed because they are so precious, and every rhino is captured, ear-notched, and a transponder tag is inserted in one of the horns. This work has been ongoing for over a decade.

The procedure is known as ‘rhino operations’; DWT organises them every year, in the cool dry season (May to September), and provides the logistical support to the capture teams. The teams have a fixed wing aircraft to spot the rhinos; a helicopter to get the veterinarian close enough to dart them; and trucks and other vehicles to transport the animals if they need to be moved to another park for reasons of genetic management. It’s a complex operation, and although the teams are now very skilled at it, things still go wrong.

A few years ago the helicopter clipped a tree on landing and turned over on its side, injuring the veterinarian and totally writing off the machine. During this year’s operations the fixed wing aircraft ‘made a heavy landing and hit a tree’, which sounds pretty much like an air crash to me, but fortunately nobody was hurt. Then, earlier this month a DWT Land Rover overturned on a road near the Matobo hills and, tragically, a passenger was killed after being thrown out of the vehicle. Strictly speaking the vehicle wasn’t on rhino operations at the time, but it could easily have been.

In all that time not one person has been hurt by a rhino.

rhino 1 for Zimbabwe blogThe increase in elephant and rhino poaching in southern Africa has been one of the headline conservation stories throughout the world in the last few years. The rhinos in the enormous Hwange National Park, in northern Zimbabwe, have been completely exterminated and sometimes we wonder how it is that the Matobo rhinos still survive. The only recent poaching incident there was in November 2013 when two bull white rhino were machine-gunned to death in the middle of the park during a night of heavy rain.

Unusually, the poachers made no attempt to hide the evidence, for example by collecting the spent bullet casings, and they didn’t have time to remove the horns before a ranger team, which heard the gunfire, responded. It was such an unusual case that we wondered if the motives were different from normal poaching events; perhaps related to local politics around the reserve. It is impossible to isolate any national park, particularly one as small and surrounded as Matobo, from the communities around it. The park exists because those communities tolerate it; our challenge is to help them come to love and value it for its own sake. How we do that is such a complex issue that it will have to be the subject of another blogpost in the future!

Simon Tonge
Executive Director, Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust

 

Slow Loris Outreach Week

Published: September 11, 2014

Slow Lorises don’t have it easy. Everyone thinks they are slow because of their name, and because of the lack of evidence everyone thinks they eat fruit and rice. For this reason many lorises in captive settings receive inadequate diets and with inadequate furniture. They are also absolutely adorable and they are a hot commodity in the illegal pet trade which is pushing their dwindling wild populations to extinction.

slow-lorisPaignton Zoo has been at the forefront of slow loris nutrition, conducting research on captive diets. Turns out feeding them what they eat in the wild – gum, insects and nectar – is healthier for them than fruit and hard boiled eggs or chicks. It encourages natural behaviours and decreases abnormal behaviour patterns.

The Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust is also funding intense research into the natural feeding behaviour of the Javan slow loris (Nycticebus javanicus), which aims to itemise and quantify the diet of wild individuals. This new data will be used to create nutrient recommendations which will guide the creation of the ideal captive diet. Not only is this important for zoos but also for rescue centres in South East Asia which are full to the brim of confiscated lorises, most of which are fed poor diets. Having a wild standard and nutrient guide is the absolute ideal when creating a zoo diet! The wild animals will be observed at the Little Fireface Project. Hopefully reintroductions will be more successful after they have a healthy and appropriate diet in captivity.

This week is the Slow Loris Outreach Week (SLOW, get it?) and it is our goal to spread the plight of the slow loris. Surprising slow loris facts:

1. Slow lorises are not slow! They are very agile and strong but they cannot jump so they must be within reaching distance of other branches. If they have somewhere they need to be … one blink and they are gone!
2. They are extremely popular in the pet trade because they are cute but they make AWFUL pets! They naturally have a very pungent smell, they are nocturnal and want to sleep while you are awake and they are venomous and can actually kill you. This is why their teeth are usually ripped out before being sold in the markets.
3. There are 8 species of slow lorises but we are expecting there to be many more after looking at molecular markers.slow-loris2
4. They aren’t as solitary as once believed! A male and female will actually have overlapping territories and can be seen sleeping together occasionally. The male will also play with its offspring.
5. They are very hard to breed in captivity and only a handful of institutions can manage it (including Paignton Zoo!). Any seller saying they were bred in captivity is not telling a likely story.
6. They like to sleep in bamboo patches or on branches of huge trees and prefer places that are less noisy. Guess I am more like a loris than I thought.

You want to help the slow loris during SLOW!? HOW!? Well for starters you can share posts and banners from the Little Fireface Project and other conservation and zoological NGOs! Although be wary of those Youtube videos of the lorises eating rice or being tickled, they are actually illegal pets and sharing those videos has been shown to cause a spike in people wanting them as pets so avoid at all costs!! More importantly, get involved! Come see the pygmy slow lorises at Paignton Zoo (or your nearest BIAZA zoo). They are beautiful and quirky little primates and will entertain you during their inquisitive and puzzling interactions.

facebook.com/littlefirefaceproject

nocturama.org

This post was written by Francis Cabana, Zoo Nutrition Researcher and PhD student in Primate Conservation at Oxford Brookes University, who is currently carrying out research into the natural feeding ecology of the Javan slow loris with support from the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust. Francis also did research at Paignton Zoo for two years where he first fell in love with slow lorises.

Native species in a zoo full of exotics…

Published: August 12, 2014

Conservation work in Primley Meadow

Recording the vegetation in Primley Meadow

My name is Alexandra Moore and I’m a placement student from Cardiff University working as an ecology researcher for the Whitley Wildlife Conservation Trust based at Paignton Zoo.

Five months in and I am still having the best time. It’s great working in the Field Conservation and Research Department as there are plenty of different projects to get involved in. A placement year is the perfect way to gain practical experience and see what working life is truly like.

What have I done so far? Keeper days, pond dipping with school children, weekly butterfly transects, planting thyme, post and rail fencing, the list goes on! I particularly enjoyed helping with the monthly monitoring of bat numbers in the caves at Clennon Gorge, a 60 acre wooded valley adjacent to the Zoo. This involved being fully kitted out with waterproofs, wellies and helmet and crawling through some rather tight spaces in order to count the numbers of greater and lesser horseshoe bats present. It was amazing to see all the sleeping bats up close. I’m not the biggest fan of spiders, so I had to do my best to pretend they weren’t there!

Being at the Zoo we are surrounded by incredible animals that you do not expect to see on a daily basis! However, my work focuses on native species, which are very important and shouldn’t be forgotten about. Strapwort (Corrigiola litoralis) is a Critically Endangered plant growing on the shore of Slapton Ley, one of the nature reserves WWCT owns.  The future of strapwort at Slapton Ley is uncertain because the sea could break through the shingle ridge. I’ve explored all the information I can find on strapwort in order to develop a view on the feasibility of reintroductions to other sites in South West England. Strapwort may not be the most exciting of plants, but it would be a real shame for it to disappear from Britain altogether.

For University I have to carry out my own project entailing research, planning, data collection and analysis. I am investigating the floral diversity of Primley meadow, an important green space in Paignton. Before 1995, horses grazed on Primley meadow, resulting in a highly fertile soil overrun by few coarse grasses in low biological diversity.  I have read a large number of papers and completed a literature review on meadow restoration, which highlighted restoration of grassland on formerly arable land to be an important biodiversity issue.

Previous students have tried to work out the best way to increase plant species diversity at Primley, experimenting with techniques such as ground rotovation, sowing yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor) or adding wild flower seed mixes. Yellow rattle may look pretty and innocent, however, looks can deceive – it sends out roots that grow into the roots of neighbouring grass plants, stealing nutrients. Yellow rattle can help to provide variety in meadows by weakening the coarse grasses, giving other species more of a chance to survive. In May I will be collecting data to see how well Primley has progressed in species richness, whether the yellow rattle has spread from where it was sown and if there are particular floral diversity hotspots in the meadow. In the meantime, my wildflower and plant identification skills need some vital attention!