Job Advert for Biodiversity Assistant. Why you should apply – a Biodiversity Assistant’s perspective!

Sutton Nature Conservation Volunteers and London Borough of Sutton’s Biodiversity team are looking for a second Biodiversity Assistant.

I have been in the role for a good few months now and am enjoying it immensely. Here’s why you should join me…

Since October I have been helping the Biodiversity team in their duties from leading volunteer task days to admin and paperwork in the office. The second part may sound a little boring but it has opened my eyes to the ‘behind the scenes’ work that accompanies the practical conservation that Sutton Nature Conservation Volunteers help to carry out.

Personally it has thus far been a valuable learning experience. I had a little insight of the work I would be undertaking from talking to the Biodiversity team and my previous volunteering with SNCV, but was not aware of the immensity of the work undertaken by them.

I came to be the Biodiversity Assistant after over a year of volunteering experience with SNCV, so I was already familiar with the types of practical work done throughout the year and it has been thoroughly rewarding to get more involved with the organisation and leading of task days with the volunteers, learning new skills along the way.

Our task days involve a variety of activities, changing with the seasons. Since October we have of course been doing more ‘wintery’ work (which you can mentally exchange with ‘hard’ work) such as reed pulling, coppicing and felling. These jobs may well be hard, but they are certainly satisfying. Looking back at a newly created laund reduced from thick foliage, or an icy pond once dense with reeds at the end of the day is a great feeling.

While I have enjoyed these jobs very much, there’s a part of me (my back, mainly) that is looking forward to the survey season of spring and early summer! Just don’t remind me about the heavy raking work when it’s time for the meadows to be cut.

Speaking of surveys, my first job in the office was to draw maps for the Phase 1 botanical surveys we had undertaken in the preceding year, or ‘a bit of colouring’ as Dave Warburton the Biodiversity Officer described it. I had assisted with the surveying in the past but was unaware of this extra step, creating an easily recognisable and standardised map to show an overview of a site’s habitat. Just one example of the ‘behind the scenes’ work I hadn’t foreseen, but a job which while being interesting is also quite relaxing – mindfulness drawing, eat your heart out!

My days in the office are often spent doing admin work, managing the website and emails,  data entry/analysis, or writing and researching blog posts. I really do enjoy all of it, particularly the latter. Could you tell from this rambling blog post?
The work I am undertaking here is paving the way towards a job in Ecology, picking up new skills all the time and being challenged in new ways.

Being a Biodiversity Assistant is a joy, I’d highly reccommend it.

If you’d like to be one too, click here to view the job specification, and apply as instructed.

Hope to see you soon!

Adam
Biodiversity Assistant

Tough decisions : The cost of cuts

Some of you may have seen the post that we shared on Facebook earlier today regarding the funding arrangement between Surrey County Council and Surrey Wildlife Trust. Whilst we have removed the post, as we have been made aware that there were some inaccuracies in the information we shared, the case does raise cause for concern.

Surrey Wildlife Trust announced last week the restructuring of its countryside management team, following budget cuts by Surrey County Council. Government cuts mean the council can no longer afford to pay for its countryside estate and SCC wants it to become self-financing by 2021.

With many local authorities facing unprecedented budget cuts, local councillors are making difficult decisions about where money should be spent. As there are many services which councils have a statutory obligation to provide, cuts and reductions are invariably being felt in services which are not mandatory. Regrettably such cuts are most likely to be felt by silent services which may not have a large number of users but which we probably all enjoy and cherish, either directly or indirectly.

In the case that was highlighted it is clear that Surrey Wildlife Trust is having to take tough decisions about how it continues to manage the natural habitats it looks after, in face of the reduced budget it is receiving.

As wildlife doesn’t respect administrative boundaries what happens in Surrey could have an impact in Sutton or other neighbouring areas. Where Sutton’s nature sites enjoy the benefit of proximity to populations of species in Surrey’s habitat, any changes over the border could have an impact on Sutton’s sites.

As budget cuts have the potential to impact upon areas of everyday life far beyond the frequency of bin collections, the need to know what decisions are being taken is vital. Petitions are one way of being made aware and recording your opinion, but it is important that all the information is considered. There are other ways of finding out about local issues and changes that may be planned. Charities and other interest groups will often highlight things that are expected to impact their area of activity, but councils and other authorities will also have a way of briefing local people as well as enabling them to share views and opinions.

Whilst there may be no way of avoiding the need for cuts to services, engaging with decision makers at an early stage of the process will provide the best chance for the public’s views and opinions to influence the final decisions.

Sutton has not been immune from it’s own budget cuts and for the last few years Sutton Council has been embarking on changes which will shape Sutton’s Future. You may not have given much thought to the services that the Council provides, and the impact of changes to the way they are funded or how the Local Plan may affect the green spaces and places we enjoy.

In order to ensure that the things we cherish and value are given the utmost consideration by those who influence their future we urge you to investigate how to get your opinions known.

Suttons Future Consultation – Sutton’s Future

Draft Local Plan consultation – Sutton 2031

My Sutton online community – Have YOUR say ! My Sutton

 

Job advert for a Biodiversity Education Assistant

Biodiversity Education Assistant

Description

Sutton Nature Conservation Volunteers are looking for an enthusiastic volunteer to help run both formal, and informal, environmental education sessions for children aged 3-18 years at Sutton Ecology Centre as well as other green spaces and nature reserves around the London Borough of Sutton.

This role is suitable for candidates who are looking to improve their career opportunities in environmental education or gain experience of working with children, as well as experienced candidates who are looking for a rewarding long term volunteering opportunity.

The successful candidate will be supporting the Biodiversity Education Officer in all aspects of running the London Borough of Sutton’s Biodiversity Education Service.  This includes bookings, promotion and resource preparation and delivery of education sessions.  Full training will be provided.

We are looking to fill this post with someone who can commit to two days a week starting in February/March 2017 until end August 2017.  However, if you are only able to commit to one day, please do still apply.

Main duties and tasks:

  • Assisting the Education Officer with planning, preparation and running holiday activities for children, school sessions and weekend events.
  • Full on the job training provided to be able to teach and lead education sessions.
  • Helping to supervise and support other volunteers from a wide range of backgrounds, including those with special needs.
  • Development of our education programmes and educational resources.
  • Occasional creative projects to get involved in, depending on special interests or skills & talents.
  • Assisting with school and event bookings and other administration and general office-based tasks.

Hours required:

  • The candidate will be asked to commit to two days per week, Monday and Tuesday from February/March 2017 through to end August 2017.
  • Minimum hours on days of volunteering 9am to 3pm.

Person Specification

  • Previous experience of working with children/ young people & volunteers
  • Reliable with good time keeping skills
  • Excellent interpersonal & communication skills
  • Good IT skills, and a working knowledge of Microsoft Office
  • Willing to work outdoors in all weathers and sometimes get mucky!
  • Interest in the environment/education/nature conservation
  • Teaching qualification (desirable)
  • Experience of working with whole class KS1 or KS2 pupils (desirable)

Why volunteer with us:

  • Free in-house training and access to free workshops/talks/events
  • Gain proven experience in Environmental Education
  • Full on the job training & support provided
  • Travel expenses provided
  • Learn new skills and meet new people

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Sutton Nature Conservation Volunteers are the main nature conservation organisation operating within Sutton.  For background, visit www.sncv.org.uk.

Biodiversity Education Service is part of the London Borough of Sutton’s Biodiversity Team.  During term time we provide formal education sessions to schools at Sutton Ecology Centre and other nature reserves around the Borough as well as outreach to schools. During school holidays, we provide informal education to children and families through fun and innovative holiday activities both at Sutton Ecology Centre and other nature reserves and green spaces. At other times during the year we provide weekend events such as fairs and open days to promote biodiversity within the borough.  Our aim is that, through education, we will help raise awareness of Sutton’s biodiversity, and therefore ensure its preservation in the future. Visit www.sutton.gov.uk/biodiversity or find us on facebook.

TO APPLY

Please send your C.V. and a personal statement to biodiversity@sutton.gov.uk by end Sunday 12th February 2017, giving clear examples of how you meet the person specification.

Interviews: Tuesday 21st February

Anticipated start date: as soon after interview as possible.

Only candidates who are able to commit for 6 or more months need apply. Unfortunately, no living costs or accommodation can be financed through the project so applicants must be able to self-fund or commute to Carshalton. Please note applicants will be required to undergo a CRB (Criminal Records Bureau) check.

For an informal chat, please contact Mary Buckton (Biodiversity Education Officer) on 020 8770 5820 or email mary.buckton@sutton.gov.uk.  If you prefer, you can write to us at: Biodiversity Team, 24 Denmark Road, Carshalton, Surrey, SM5 2JG

 

 

Risky Business: Volunteers get Manual Handling and Risk Assessment training.

2006-07-26 - 10 -  Road Trip - Day 03 - United States - Illinois - Union - Illinois Railway Museum - No Injury is Acceptable - All Injuries Can be Prevented - Sign

Much of the work that Sutton Nature Conservation Volunteers undertakes can be easily described as ‘risky’. Working with large weights in adverse conditions and hazardous environments is like bread and butter to the volunteers (as long as there’s a cup of tea to go with it).  Of course, much care is always taken to ensure these risks are kept at bay, but improvement and acquisition of knowledge is always a good thing, and it was decided that official training in manual handling and risk assessment would be highly useful.

So last Friday a group of core volunteers wrapped up warm and prepared for a day in the chill of Stonecourt classroom. The manual handling training covered everything from the stereotypical ‘how to pick up a box’ procedures, to which protective equipment to use and when to use it, to awareness of gruesome medical complaints stemming from bad manual handling such as slipped discs and hernias – which after seeing some fairly graphic slides, we are fully aware of!

Learning to use the correct manual handling technique is, of course, massively important for people doing the sort of work that we do. Hopefully, as the volunteers who were on the course spread their knowledge to those who weren’t, we can wave goodbye to those familiar post-task day aches and pains, and stave off any potential long term problems.

The afternoon was spent covering Risk Assessment, the art of keeping everyone safe. We harked back to many task days involving unforeseen risks (the nest of angry wasps in a dumped sofa at Carshalton Road Pastures was fondly remembered) – fortunately unable to recollect any times that those risks have caused any serious harm.

wasps

Potential for pain (flickr)

Some slightly scary hypothetical situations came to mind though – what if some of the material we’ve found dumped on sites had contained asbestos, or other hazardous waste? On second thought, probably best not to dwell on the past, and instead be sure to consider such things in the future. With proper protective equipment and careful handling, we could mitigate the risks involved.

The risk assessment training has given us all a more critical mindset with which to evaluate how to go about our work. Contrary to the much repeated ‘health and safety gone mad’ cliché, we were encouraged to continue with our work, whether waist deep in muddy ponds, felling large trees, or burning our excess biomass. The whole point of risk assessment is that we now know how to approach these jobs with minimal risk, while still getting the jobs done.

The above video is a great example of someone completely disregarding any risks. He evidently needs to attend a training course!

The SNCV’s task days are currently organised and lead by the London Borough of Sutton Biodiversity team. This is a hugely beneficial partnership, which has allowed both organisations to achieve far more than would have been possible individually.

However, with changes to local government sweeping the country, the SNCV are aware of a pressing need to adapt and grow as a charitable organisation, in order to stay relevant through any potential changes in the coming years. With the first aid training some volunteers received last year, and this manual handling and risk assessment training under our collective belt, we’ve taken another step towards a more independent, autonomous SNCV.
By affording volunteers more responsibility and autonomy, there is the potential for more task days and more events run by the SNCV; with the aim that the SNCV continue to help wildlife on Sutton’s doorstep.

With upcoming task days coppicing at Ruffett and Bigwood, and hedge laying at Anton Crescent wetland, there will be plenty of opportunity to put these skills to the test, approaching these familiar tasks with a new viewpoint and with any luck, a safer technique!

The Future of the Brown Hairstreak (Thecla betulae)

This is something of a follow up to Joe Grainger’s great blog post last year  – covering many of the reasons behind surveying for Brown Hairstreak eggs, and methodology of BH conservation efforts undertaken on many of the sites we help manage.

In regards to our conservation efforts, this year we have done much of the same – clearing (“scalloping”) areas of mature blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) to make way for the younger 2-3 year old growth that Brown Hairstreaks prefer – with excellent results. By cutting large crescent, or scallop shell, shapes into the hedge line we not only create space for new growth, but also create slightly sheltered alcoves which will warm up more quickly and retain heat. This allows more herb growth and in turn benefits various insect and mammal species, as well as effectively extending the total length of the hedgerow.

scallopLarge blackthorn scallop at Roundshaw, leaving younger plants standing where brown hairstreak eggs were found.

Recently, the Sutton Nature Conservation Volunteers and the LBS Biodiversity team journeyed out to the wilds of Roundshaw Downs with Butterfly Conservation, not just to scallop the blackthorn, but also to survey for Brown Hairstreak eggs.

For this species, the eggs are the most conspicuous and obvious evidence of a population to look for, as the adults spend most of their time high in woodland canopies, and the tiny larvae are small, green and feed on the underside of leaves. Searching for little white dots might not sound easy – and it isn’t – but the eggs are a lot easier to find than other forms!

bh

Adult Brown Hairstreak

With a large cohort of volunteers we carefully picked through the site’s various blackthorn thickets searching for the tiny white dots of the eggs. Despite the weather’s best attempts we all avoided frostbite, the occasional adrenaline burst that comes with finding an egg proved sufficient to warm us up. Although it must be said that when it’s that cold differentiating eggs from ice crystals can be difficult!

Our morning of searching along the north and south blackthorn hedge lines turned up 65 eggs, up from just 19 found in 2015. Of course, this may be due to a larger team (and there were a lot of us braving the cold!) searching the area more thoroughly, but it is undeniably encouraging to see such a stronghold of a relatively rare butterfly on one of our sites.
What’s more, the areas which had previously been scalloped, mainly on the southern edge of the site, turned up far more eggs than those areas which hadn’t been cut back, showing that our hard ongoing work has been worth it!

bh_eggsThe ‘Sea anemone’or ‘golf ball’ shaped eggs of Brown Hairstreak (Thecla Betulae)  

As a little bonus, on top of this we recorded 16 Blue Bordered Carpet Moth (Plemyria rubiginata) eggs. While this isn’t a particularly rare or unusual species it is the first confirmed record of it on the site, and 16 eggs found coincidentally could suggest a healthy local population of the moth.

bbc_eggs

Ovoid eggs of the Blue Bordered Carpet Moth (Plemyria rubiginata)
But what is the ultimate point of collecting this data? Joe has explained before that the Brown Hairstreak is in decline, and at risk of regional extinction. Thus it had been included as a priority species for conservation in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. This decline is thought to be mainly down to the destruction and improper management of blackthorn hedge lines where Brown Hairstreaks can lay their eggs. Therefore showing correlation between well managed blackthorn hedges like those at Roundshaw Downs and increases in Brown Hairstreak numbers is important in proving that point, and can be used to encourage more sensible management of blackthorn hedges.

Of course, showing that we have seen an increase in the species on a site is always a good thing, especially when the species concerned is a priority species. However it is important to remember that we are a small part of the bigger picture, and what we are really doing is contributing to a huge database of surveys and information collected about these species, which becomes more complete as time goes on and more surveys are undertaken. Using the data collected from this site, Butterfly Conservation can extrapolate certain information by comparing it to other sites on a local and national scale.

popmap
Population Map of Brown Hairstreak

Brown Hairstreak are generally confined to the South of the UK – with strongholds in Surrey and West Sussex, North Devon and South West Wales – however the data collected in Surrey by Butterfly Conservation since 2000 shows trends that the species is actually slowly moving North. Southerly sites in Surrey have seen a marked decline while at sites in the North and West of the county have seen an increase.

As mentioned previously, these assumptions may be slightly skewed. Have the sites with recorded increases of population (like Roundshaw Downs this year) really seen an increase, or is it that they have been more thoroughly surveyed? Had some of these sites not been previously surveyed at all? I mentioned above that we found the first recorded Blue Bordered Carpet Moth eggs at Roundshaw, but that absolutely doesn’t mean that there was no population there previously, just that they hadn’t been recorded.

The only way to verify these trends and gain real meaning from the data collected is through widespread and consistent surveying, both through organised survey days with large groups like our frosty morning with Butterfly Conservation, and through individual recording.

Both individuals and groups can submit sighting information to Butterfly Conservation  via the iRecord Butterflies app, for any and all butterfly species. All information submitted this way will add to the overall database of knowledge, giving a clearer and more complete picture of butterfly populations.

While this blog has focused on Brown Hairstreak the message extends to all species: the more information we collect, the more useful it is.
So get recording – the future of the Brown Hairstreak may well depend on it!

Future flowers

Over the past few months, a huge effort has been invested by SNCV and local Queen Mary’s Woodland volunteers to bring future floral splendour to the woodland. Nature conservation is a discipline that is always informed by science and occasionally, partway by art. Sometimes when restoring habitat, like restoring a painting, one just has to scrape away and start again.

A management objective for the woodland is to diversify its habitat from what was a singularly very shady, ivy dominated woodland. To this end, we have been resetting the light levels across the woodland. Since last winter, work has focused on clearing trees and shrubs and other ‘rough’ vegetation to allow for more open and sunnier conditions through to dappled shade and then fuller shade conditions within the woodland.

This is most evident on the eastern side of the wood, where, after much clearance of invasive cherry laurel and sycamore, the subsequent ground scraping of topsoil created a new bare ground ‘canvas’ to work on. The plan for this area is to create new grassland and herbaceous dominated vegetation zones, with a high diversity of flowers and grasses. These would then be relatively easy to manage through seasonal meadow management, such as an autumn cut and clear and hopefully in the future, conservation grazing.

A new canvas 

looking-north-2

There was little of particular interest from the subsequent spontaneous growth of vegetation from the remaining seed bank: a bit of cock’s foot grass, cleavers, herb robert and some thistles and brambles. This was sprayed off and hoed, to keep the ‘canvas’ free from unwanted species and ready for a new palette of plants to be encouraged.

Next came the new seed sowing, which were undertaken by the Biodiversity Team and volunteers over a number of sessions, from late summer through to the autumn.  Various commercial wildflower and grass seed mixes suitable to the site’s conditions, such as, chalk grassland, woodland and hedgerow were selected (as well as a pond margins mix for the new pond). These were then blended together in various proportions to help widen the range of potential plants to grow within any one area. Most areas were sown with about 5g of seed per square metre, the majority (c.60%) of that being wild grasses. We also planted 75 mature foxglove plants (9cm pots) among the cedar trees. As foxgloves are biennial we shall see their beautiful spikes of purple bells flower next year and hopefully they will then perpetuate themselves.

Seed sowing with woodland seed mix

img_20160924_125742614img_20161015_125958950

Planting foxgloves

img_20161015_131754230

Elsewhere, along one long strip on the south eastern side, we have also invested in experimenting with three contrasting small scale grassland creation techniques. Like elsewhere, the whole area was scraped with a excavator to remove the concrete and any topsoil, to reveal the chalky subsoil below. We then laid down 150mm layer of Meadowmat low fertility soil, a commercial product with a very low nutrient factor. This created a superb base for the introduction and establishment of a wildflower meadow and will hopefully deter those nutrient hungry nettles, docks and brambles.

The three techniques we used were:

  1. 120m² of standard seed sowing of a chalk meadow seed mix
  2. 160m² area covered with  a 25mm deep layer of a commercial product called Wild Flower Earth which is essentially a pre-seeded germinating medium; we chose the peat free option!
  3. 200m² of Meadowmat – a commercially grown wild meadow turf.

From a materials cost and logistics perspective, if you are interested in trying any of these at home, seeding was cheapest (approx £3 per m²) and least effort. Turf laying was the most expensive (£10 per m²) and the hardest work (most labour intensive!) and the Wildflower Earth was nearly the same cost as the turf (£9 per m²) but easier to install by just raking out, although we added some grass seed because it does not include grass seed as standard.

An area of the low fertility soil base sown with chalk meadow mix

img_20161005_141222158

Wildflower earth being raked out

img_20161002_113947234

Meadow turf laying

img_20161113_135323328

Meadow complete!

img_20161115_122036790_hdr

A green fuzz of germinating plants can already be seen and we shall watch with fascination how all these areas develop. No doubt additional weeding and a little fussing over will be required to help establish these new plant communities. We plan to carry out more seed sowing and wildflower plug planting around the woodland loop path and other areas next spring, once the new path and additional tree work has been completed this winter.

We’ll be keeping you updated as to how each of these experimental areas works out!

Germinating seed!

img_20161130_113553473

If you want any advice on how to create your own wildlife rich area, please get in touch with the SNCV sncvvolunteers@hotmail.co.uk, chat to the Biodiversity Team biodiversity@sutton.gov.uk or look through the old wildlife gardening pages for some ideas: https://suttonnature.wordpress.com/biodiversitygardens/wildlife-gardening-resources/

Latest Task Programme – Out Now

The new task programme is now out: November 16 – February 17

With the addition of colour coding it hasn’t been easier to see what regular SNCV volunteers and Sutton’s Biodiversity Team will be getting up to and what seasonal nature events are on offer.

As the winter approaches our attention turns to the control of trees and scrub as well as the seasonal maintenance of ponds and wetlands around the borough. And with more work planned to continue the improvements at Queen Mary’s Woodland, there are plenty of opportunities to ‘Help Wildlife on Sutton’s Doorstep’.

adam-sec-pond