A quick round up

Well November seems to have flown by! I’ve spent most of this month sitting in front of a computer wrestling with large data sets while trying to extend my knowledge and skills in R use.  I was, therefore, pleased when I got the chance to spend a morning looking around a couple of Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust’s sites. In the company of one of my supervisors and another researcher from Lincoln I went to look at the newly acquired Woodhall Spa airfield site. We were met by the knowledgeable and extremely enthusiastic Mark Schofield ( mschofield@lincstrust.co.uk) who introduced us to other colleagues on site. Mark told us that the trust had recently bought the site which was once the home of 617 Sqn RAF and that they had a raft of plans to restore it to its former glory. Thanks to the penchant for record keeping that exist among the British the trust has some amateur naturalists notes that describe how the site looked and what the species assemblages may have been at the end of the 19th century. Sadly the site has been quarried since the ’70s and it seems that insufficient thought may have gone into remediation when these operations began, as a result the soil types may have been mixed and soil chemistry is uncertain, this will make restoration a greater challenge. Despite this the trust have big plans for the site which could see it return to its former priority habitat status. I for one think that the trust deserve enormous credit for the vision that they have shown in taking the whole site in one go! I wish them well with it and hope that I might be able to get involved with a bit of plant species monitoring as the project evolves.

On the subject of our historic obsession with writing things down I followed my trip to Woodhall Spa with two days at the NBN conference held at FERA in York. This was a new thing for me, but I was pleased to be treated to a couple of days of interesting and informative talks from data gatherers and record keepers of all types. I was truly impressed by the recording skills of some of the junior recorders who have shown real dedication in the amount of records that they have logged in their short careers, this made me think that I should do something to facilitate my own children in making a start as recorders, a pledge which I kept when I took them to Treswell woods last week to have a go at identifying and recording some fungi. Ont the subject of Treswell the highlight of the NBN conference for me was listening to the indomitable Chris Du Feu regaling the audience with his tales of tree slug recording in the aforementioned wood and how he had managed to get this subject 7.5 minutes of R4 airtime, reducing the PM to 1.5 minutes into the bargain!

It was with a heavy heart that I read the details of the deliberate poisoning of the Masai Mara’s marsh pride of lions (made famous by big cat diary and other TV documentaries). According to National Geographic the local herdsman regularly graze cattle in the reserve under cover of darkness and the poisoning was a revenge attack after some cattle were killed by lions. Intuitively one would think that the Mara in general and these famous animals in particular would be a source of such revenue to Kenya that there would be a big incentive for local people to protect the wildlife but questions are (again) being asked about how much of this revenue trickles down to the local people.

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Male Lion (Google images)

Perhaps the biggest problem with this type of crime is that it is completely indiscriminate; so vultures and other scavengers are also affected. The poisoning of lions is worrying given that it comes against the backdrop of a recent paper by Bauer et al. which makes the assertion that, African lions, already listed as critically endangered in West Africa, are in such decline that in Eastern and Central parts that they ” may no longer be a flagship species of the once vast natural ecosystems across the rest of the continent”. Worrying indeed!

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Managing woodland and other ramblings

A woodland ride

(Avon wildlife trust http://www.avonwildlifetrust.org.uk (c) Mike Martin)

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I’ve read a fair bit lately on the pro’s and con’s of woodland management, particularly in respect of the relative value of coppicing. You can read a bit about coppicing here http://www.woodlands.co.uk/blog/practical-guides/coppicing-an-introduction/ . In my view the jury is firmly out on the value of coppicing as a straightforward conservation tool but it does most certainly promote interest and get people talking, it also allows for the production of sustainable wood products and fuel, see here: http://www.wealdenheartwood.co.uk/woodland-blog/ but a glance at the ride in this wood in Avon shows that a mixed community effect can be achieved without destruction. I think that there should be a place for all management techniques (including doing nothing) and hopefully this will give the required mix of woodland habitats.

Recent times have seen me trying to get into using R for stats and modelling and last week I attended the Sheffield R users group http://www.meetup.com/SheffieldR-Sheffield-R-Users-Group/?scroll=true organised by Simon Cross where I saw some super 3d visualisations and heat maps in a talk by Jonathon Minton available here http://www.meetup.com/SheffieldR-Sheffield-R-Users-Group/pages/SheffieldR_meeting_-_29th_May_2013, any one who is any doubt about the power of R as a visual tool should check this out. I can also recommend this text which introduces R by Mark Gardener http://www.pelagicpublishing.com/statistics-for-ecologists-using-r-and-excel-data-collection-exploration-analysis-and-presentation.html .

I attended the BES symposium on the evolutionary ecology of infectious disease recently and found the speakers to be both interesting and entertaining, well worth the early morning train journey, I was also impressed by the live twitter feed provided by @Bkoskella.

Finally, does everyone know that the Society of Biology has a new home on the web? Their new webpage can be found at https://www.societyofbiology.org/ .