Conservation Update Q3 2013

Here are my top5 interesting conservation facts for July – September.

1. Life at Deep sea vents

It was only in the 1960s that plate tectonics was really understood and maps were created to show the plate divides.  As decades passed more research was focused on these ideas, and most interestingly the ecosystem of hydrothermal vents which truly astounded scientists.  Sometimes as deep as 5000m, these heat expending vents were found to have a vast array of life clustered around chimneys and crevices, thriving off of the thermal energy coming from Earth’s core.  The most iconic of these is the black smoke vents often shown on documentaries, but even more interesting findings have been found at clear vents.  Here species of crustacean smother surfaces, tube worms reach lengths of 2m longs and anemones more intricate than those in rock pools can be found, giving the impression of the presence of alien species – they are truly unique.  Some species are even endemic to single chimney stacks making them really one of a kind.  These areas, although fascinating to researchers, have also become economically valuable, in that they are abundant in rich metals and minerals, particularly the deposits around them on the sea floor.  Mining has been difficult to approve in many areas and most countries have jurisdiction over their surrounding seas/oceans.  However in the middle of the Pacific for example, there is not country to hold jurisdiction, so many efforts have gone in to mining and harvesting the sea floor of its “loot”.  There are risks however to these unique ecosystems in that they depend highly on connectivity, and the removal/destruction of one area due to mining etc, can lead to localised extinction of those species.  I learnt all this from a lecture at the Geological Society on behalf of Shell.  So it is good to see that such huge corporations are investing and are interested in the research into these areas, and the implications to their actions.  It will be interesting to see developments in such a new and undiscovered field of harvesting resources on a global scale.


2. Dara O’brien science show – future Fantastic

I don’t know if it’s living in London or working for a conservation charity, but some great opportunities do sure turn up.  Take this show for instance, I managed to get 2 free tickets for me and a friend to get fed and supplied with wine by the BBC and then be part of the audience for a hilarious science show yet to air on BBC.  Being a big fan of Mock the Week I was really excited to meet the host – Dara O’Briain – and he really is that tall in person! The whole session lasted a few hours, in a hot, quirky and what I can only describe as a disused garage.  He got a couple of experts on to talk about mind mapping, crystallisation, future fashion and robots, all great sciency things! Naturally experiments went awry and script mistakes were made, but being presented by a comedian made it a brilliant thing to watch. You can catch the episode I was there for here on BBC2 – so enjoy! #scienceclub


3. Cheating buff-tailed bumblebees!

I have already blogged about my great experience with the Bumble Conservation Trust and all the interesting identification skills that they taught us, however there were quite a few things that interested me that I just had to go home and research about.  The main one being the cheeky story of the buff-tailed bumblebees and their mischievous technique of ‘nectar robbing’.  With their short little tongues they aren’t always able to reach the nectar pools inside long or tubular flowers, so instead of accepting this, they have developed a sneaky technique of getting just what they want.  They basically nibble a little hole in the base of a flower, usually honeysuckle and clover plants and sip up the nectar straight from the reserve.  This isn’t always good news for pollination though. The main reason a flower produces nectar is to attract insects, and in turn as the insect climbs inside the flower, they pick up pollen and essentially distribute from one flower to the next.  So with the buff-tailed bumblebee not following the rules it actually means that it is not pollinating, however research has shown that with other bees and insects trying to make use of this hole themselves and failing, have had to visit more flowers than normal in an effort to find a good nectar supply, which as a result increases levels of pollination.


4. Residential in Hillingdon

One really serious and interesting thing I learnt about conservation this quarter, was the need for some serious arm muscle.  By this I am referring to the levels fitness required to use the essential machinery for habitat management in order to control scrub growth, and manage existing habitats that are vulnerable to more dominant wide spread species.  The main example is the brushcutter – a petrol powered cutter that is so big it needs to be harnessed on your body.  For the annual London Wildlife Trust residential we went to Hillingdon – the idea of this residential is to get office staff off their butts and out into the reserves they are helping to run, and for someone like me who rarely ever gets to see our sites, it was a definite ‘yes’ when the invite went round.  It involves camping and working on the sites over 4 days, where you’re only expected to do one day.  I chose Friday so that I could camp and not have to worry about sorely attempting to get back to work on time the next day, as Hillingdon is pretty damn far from central London.  Quite a few of us turned up on the Friday and as we all got trained up on the monster machines we were very eager to start chopping and mulching.  With our helmets and goggle we were pretty sites indeed, but after 5 hours of cutting through the densest bramble filled fields I have ever seen, in the hot sunshine, we were very glad to get back to camp and collapse next to the fire.  It was a cold night, but we survived, and the amazing fry up in the morning made it all worth while.  I honestly just didn’t realise how much our reserves team has to do on a daily basis, and if it wasn’t for our dedicated and wonderful volunteers so much of the Trusts amazing habitats wouldn’t be the way they are.  I just wish I could help more!


5. Staff day Bioblitz

For my 3rd staff day at London Wildlife Trust, we went to one of our old reserves, Tump 53, located in Thamesmead.    It was my first visit here and on looking on Google maps I immediately thought, wow what a lot of green spaces. Then my colleagues showed me Google images and I saw a lot of concrete instead.  So on arriving there I was pretty apprehensive, then if anything I was even more  discouraged when I saw a lot of run down estate tower blocks, pubs with “locals only” signs in the windows and then poor ponies tied up next to car washes and petrol stations, it was sad. However, walking  with my experienced colleague we soon saw the good parts to the area, and wildlife like Great crested grebes swimming in the river and a female poplar in full seed.  It was great.  The reserve itself however was even more amazing, surrounded by a moat and the remnants of an old wall that held the arsenal and testing facility associated with Woolwich; it was really interesting.  The afternoon’s activity was to split in teams of 5 or so and do a bioblitz of the small reserve, and it was incredible how much we found!  In just a couple of hours we have managed to identify 131 species including the smooth newt, the vapour moth caterpillar, a minnow fish, hart’s tongue fern and some comma butterflies.  These were great chances to learn and improve my identification and monitoring skills by working alongside the ecology experts at the Trust, a very valuable experience.


Stay tuned for Q4 for some more interesting conservation and sciency facts and stories!


About wilsoemi

A 1st Class Biological Sciences graduate, with a Masters degree in Conservation Biology. Dedicated to nature and conservation, with over three years voluntary experience in environmental and conservation charities and NGO's. Currently working for the World Society for the Protection of Animals and volunteering for London Wildlife Trust.
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