Thursday, 30 September 2010

Volunteering... the return

With September once again truly upon us it was yet again time for my esteemed employers to release the workforce from the office for a day to complete tasks for this years chosen charities/strike a blow back for everything that is good in the world. This year there were three choices, repairing some steps for the local community, repairing walkways and fencing on a local nature reserve or building a hibernacula for the greater crested newts. Although I would have loved to have done all three a choice had to be made & blatantly I went for the newts. Our day started at 9am having completed our short walk from our office we arrived at the BBOWT Sutton Courtney education centre. The building itself is brilliant and if any of you are local I cannot encourage you enough to go and visit during one of their events (more info on the events here the building does all sorts of clever things like collect rainwater and is made from reclaimed materials. After a cup of tea (some things will never change) we were given a quick briefing on health and safety and Rod (who was the main ecological advisor for the project) explained a bit about the newts. The site we were working on was a new pond which had to be dug as the two older ponds on the site had been taken over by stickleback fish (they eat the newt larvae and so were now unsuitable habitat). Rod explained that if any of us were lucky enough to find a newt we should call him as they are a protected species (only licensed people like Rod can handle them) and also the reserve keeps records of their newts (interesting fact, if you turn a greater created newt over they have a yellow belly with black markings, these markings are unique to each individual (like fingerprints on humans) so by taking photographs it is easy for the team to monitor newt numbers). The volunteers from work were divided into 2 groups. The first was to clear a tree that was overshadowing the pond (this handily also provided the base materials for the hibernacula) the second was to bring earth from a spoil heap outside the grounds to cover the pond liner and finally cover the completed hibernacula (2nd interesting fact, although it’s called a hibernacula newts don’t actually hibernate, they just get a lot less active during the winter months, so this was to give them somewhere to get away from predators). The two groups got on with the task in hand and then swapped over half way through. By lunchtime the hibernacula was built and covered and so all that remained was to finish covering the pond liner and put in some natural plants round the edges and under the water. After lunch Rod took the opportunity to show us around the rest of the reserve. By this point the team had seen pictures of greater crested newts and learnt quite a bit about them but still hadn’t seen one. We were all pretty eager to see if we could spot one round the other ponds. Sadly we didn’t find one but Rod had a hunch about where one might be hiding. His insider knowledge paid off and here he is the true star of the show Chris Packham the newt (I got very very excited about this point). Rod weighted and photographed Chris’ belly and then dropped him into a bucket of the local pond water till we’d completely finished working. Excitement over it was then back to the spoil heap to finish the days work. By 4pm the job was done and as an official end to the day Rod placed Chris Packham the newt into his new hibernacula (affectionately known as newt towers by the builders). All in all an excellent day (although I was exhausted after it) and a very worthy cause. To find out more about BBOWT you can visit their website here

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