Friday, 21 October 2016

Conservation K9 Consultancy

What many of you may not be aware of is the amount of research work the British Wildlife Centre helps with. Being the home to many of Brtiain's mammals, we are able to help accredited wildlife groups and students with their projects. In the past this has led to us helping with developing harvest mouse feeding stations, purity of wildcats through pelage and DNA, tracking by supplying a database of footprints and scat for most British mammals plus much more.

A few years a go some of you may remember that we were asked by a young lady in Wales, Louise, if we could help her to train her black labrador "Luna" to aid with the conservation surveys of pine martens. This involved us sending pine marten droppings through the post for Louise to train Luna to be able to locate the scent out in the field.

Well, a few weeks a go now I received another email from Louise and Luna, asking if we could help again. Of course we could, and so more droppings were sent through the post... this time not just pine martens, but polecats, otters, water voles plus various other scents.

I am passionate about British wildlife, and the conservation there of... and I love dogs... so I was very interested in Louise's story. I asked how Luna has been getting on, and Lousie was kind enough to up date me on how things have been going.

I tend to keep the updates here quite short, so bear with me on this one, but I found this very interesting and wanted to share it all with you.  If you don't have time now, come back with a cup of tea or something when you have a few free minutes, you will find it very interesting. Plus there are some cute puppy photos, so win win! :-)

I shall now hand you over to Louise…

-Louise Viljoen

Luna has been doing a fantastic job looking for Pine Marten Scats since 2011 when you originally scent me some scat. We assisted The Vincent Wildlife Trust in Scotland doing some scat searches that year, Luna was only new to scat searches so this was a learning curve, we did however find some well hidden scats.

Luna and I then facilitated a Phd Student in Ireland, Emma Sheehy who was studying Red Squirrel population and Pine Marten relationships. This is where Luna really showed us what she was made of, and from the very first second of her searches she found lots of scat that helps in Emma’s final results. Emma stated that if she could have had Luna work with her for the last 6 months her result would have been much better and she would have a stronger argument in her Phd.

Over the last 4 years plus we have been heavily involved in searches with Shropshire Mammal Group and Shropshire Wildlife Trust, looking for the elusive pine marten which has had sighting for many years in this area but obviously in such low numbers that we need DNA evidence to prove their presence and get more DNA information form them and confirm presence.

We have found many scats over this time, but when sending these to DNA Sequencing - the result prove inconclusive. Many reasons for this such as washed out scat, contaminated scat, dry old scat or small sample size. This is very disheartening for us, as we are very confident that they are definitely pine marten scat, but have no DNA to prove Luna is right. 

However, in 2015 in Shropshire, a Pine Marten was actually spotted and photographed. This was more evidence that Shropshire wildlife trust needed to help prove that there are Pine Martens in the area… and also makes it even more exciting searching for scat.

So Luna and I have been going out regularly with Stuart Edmunds from Shropshire Mammal Group and Shropshire Wildlife Trust, tirelessly looking for the scat we need to prove DNA and what haplotype the Pine Martens are. We have been doing the searches regularly to try and catch a recent area where the Pine Martens have passed through and hopefully find a fresh perfect scat. Luna has been undergoing intensive training to ensure she is spot on with her indication, attitude, endurance and her work ethic. At the moment she is at her peak  I am so pleased and proud of her.

Our last search was on 15th sept 2016. We covered a huge area, up hill mostly, the temperature was 25 degree plus and very humid, Luna didn't let that stop her, we searched for a full 4 hours with little breaks in between to rehydrate her and check she is ok and working well and staying cool under the tree canopy.

As we were walking along Luna produced a perfect lay indication. This was on a tuft of grass, no visible scat could be located, however with closer examination it appeared the area was a scent marking spot and drips of feaces had been sprayed on the grass. Perfect, a sample has been collected, after that Luna indicated on two more scats also, but too old and too brittle to collect and send off.

At the end of the search when Luna was tired on our way back to our vehicles, she started to act rather strange… excited, confused, wind scenting and searching frantically then freezing and then sitting and laying down, a mixture of behaviours. Stuart who I was with was very confident that we where near the pine martens den area, and around the trees they must feed up as Luna was trying to climb the trees. This was absolutely wonderful and Luna was very good at showing us areas of interest that more camera traps could be set up to gain more footage of the pine martens and try to get footage of the juveniles, which proves they are breeding which is positively brilliant news!

Its so important to continue and increase the use of detection dogs within wildlife surveys and searches within the UK and beyond. Basically because it’s the most non-invasive method there is! It’s non-biased, it’s the most effective and efficient method to use for surveys and searches as a dog can cover a larger area than human search teams in less time. Research suggests that human search teams efficiency is a mere 11-26% yet it have been proven that dog search teams are over 90% efficient!!! The numbers speak for themselves. However in the UK we are a little less accepting of such methods for our conservation needs and using dogs in this area. It has been used as a viable method especially in the states since the 80's and increasingly being used world wide to help with, carcass, nest, animal products, invasive plants and animal, animal signs and wildlife crime detection.

Not only is it the BEST method to use, it’s innovative, pioneering and exciting, it is cost effective. That's why here at Conservation K9 Consultancy we are so very passionate about it we want to be able to offer a more affordable and professional method to be available for organisations.

In my previous role, I set up the UK’s first company working dogs for wildlife search. This was driven through my will and my passion for this subject. So now, after returning from living in South Africa, I am back to reintroduce the best dogs and training out there for any UK wildlife and conservation project. I can deliver the best possible results. We may be a small business, but we have big ambitions!

Whilst I was living in South Africa, (I did take all my 4 beautiful dogs with me) my beloved springer spaniel got taken ill, and we found he had cancer, he was my pride and joy… a rescue springer. I had trained him in cadaver detection for a search and rescue organisation and he was the first UK Bat Carcass detection dog! For 5 years I conducted demonstrations, presentations and talks around the country to push and advertise the use of dogs for bat carcass searches primarily for use on wind turbine sites. He was a super star, he has been in many editorials, publications and magazines. In 2014 the bat carcass detection dog work came in and he was put to work. He did wonderful and helped develop the methodology of bat carcass searches in the UK.

When I returned to the UK with 3 dogs I felt very lonely, and being Springerless I had to look at rescuing a Springer ASAP. So we welcomed “Henry” a beautiful black and white springer spaniel that had been in a a few homes already and was looking for a home desperately due to his hyperactivity and lets say, manic non stop attitude. We rescued him on the 29th March 2016.

Then “Hettie” came along, a 16 week old cocker spaniel. I help a local dog rescue and I was fostering the non name dog, anyway the no name dog became Hettie and stayed with me.

So now I have two dogs to add on with Luna. Luna is already trained in Pine Marten scat, Great Crested Newts and Bat Carcass'. We intend to train Henry and Hettie on some of these existing scents plus many more such as hedgehog, bird carcass, wildlife poison, Polecat, Dormouse nests, ivory and other products of animal origin as well as some non disclosed invasive plant and animal species. We have an exciting year ahead.

This method is definitely going to become a more regularly and preferred method of animal survey and search. The list of things that dogs can help facilitate with detecting is never ending we just have to not limit our imagination.

If its hard to find and needs to be found… let dogs take the LEAD and show us how its done!

Hope you enjoyed that as much as I did... If you want to hear more about Louise's work, and what she achieves with Luna and her other dogs, you can follow Conservation K9 Consultancy on Facebook through the link below, and I will share the link to their website when it is finished being updated.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Red Deer Rut

I have received a lot of queries lately on when our red deer are likely to start rutting... the short answer is soon!

I have not seen any locking of antlers, nor posturing from the younger stags, but Albus is beginning to strut around and make a noise. 

I imagine he will be successful this year again. We do have two younger stags, the one above is still way too young to challenge and I doubt will even attempt it, but Olivander below may well give it a go. 

This year Olivander has really matured, and grown in size for this season. He has a wider spread of antlers this year too and so he may fancy his chances. I imagine not much will happen in the early stages, but when Albus starts to tire Olivander may try to assert himself as a challenger.

But at the moment... and who my money is on for this year... it is still Albus Dumbledeer. He is certainly making himself known, stamping around, chasing off the younger males and roaring. Side by side he still is a little bigger than Olivander, but watch out next year... they will be more evenly matched then.

If you want to see them strut and roar, now is a good time, and one thing I can;t express over this blog is the smell! A real strong musty scent that the males cover themselves in this time of year, it really hits you out by the paddock. I wouldn't say it's particularly pleasant, but well worth experiencing.

As for actual locking of antlers... if that occurs, I will try and get some pictures and of course let you know to come and see for yourself.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

September 2016: Photo of the Month

"Stray light over Red Fox" by Matthew Cattell

A lot of good images shared this past month, and a lot of fun ones too... but 1 in particular caught my eye.

This photo of Flo the fox, taken by Matt Cattell, has a lot of atmosphere to it. It is difficult to catch Flo at the best of times, as she is constantly on the move, but not only has Matt done this he has also managed to get some eye contact. What really stands out though is the lighting. Beautiful dappled light on her body really adds something to the image, and the shadows in the background really make Flo stand out. Nice one Matt!

Matt's image will be in our coffee shop gallery next year, alongside the other months picks, and be in with the chance of winning a photo day here at the Centre.

"Polecats" by Routemaster on Twitter

This is  a great fun photo that was posted to our twitter feed. Oriel, our female polecat, almost looking pleadingly at the camera to help here out with her 6 boisterous kits... all seen behind her.

"Badger" by Rosalind Gray

Another fun one from flickr... Toby, with out a care in the world, having an afternoon scratch in the sun.

'Wild Roe Deer" by Ken Noble
And take a look at this photo by Ken! Ken is a local bird watcher, who keeps a tab on all the sightings on our nature reserve. He sent me in this great photo of a wild Roe buck who we frequently see out there with a doe.

Look forwards to seeing more photos of the coming month.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Polecat Update

Do you remember these?.. Lots of polecat babies bred by Cassie and Billy. I haven't got any recent photos, as they are now preparing for collection by the breeding group, but along with Whitstable and Oriel's youngsters we have 12 kits ready to move on to pastures new.

All our kits are now off-display, so you can no longer see them if you visit the Centre. But you can still see our adult polecats.

Oriel, above, is very much enjoying her life now with out the kitts around. She if  make the keepers lives easier too, with no babies to protect she is a lot less bitey!

Whitstable is as laid back as ever, but it won't be long now until we introduce him back in to our main enclosure with Oriel. They can the settle over the winter, before hopefully having more kitts next season.

Billy and Cassie, well... Just Cassie really... is a bit more temperamental. We will have to introduce them together a little bit slower, but they should both be on display by October half term.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Harvest Mice on Countryfile

Our harvest mice have been very successful this year, and so we have been able to continue our releases out on to our nature reserve. Having spotted more frequent activity on my morning walks with Bess around the boardwalk area, we decided to release this years mice a little further in to the reserve to encourage the spread throughout our land and hopefully connect up with previous litters we have released. 

Our releases have been such a success that they even caught the eye of the Countryfile team. They have filmed a piece on the work the Surrey Wildlife Trust do with monitoring harvest mice in the wild, but unfortunately were unable to find any mice in the lead up to filming. Therefore they sent Anita Rani to see us to actually see a mouse, and talk about the work we do here.

We filmed a short sequence on how we converted 26 acres of redundant farmland in to a nature reserve of a mosaic of habitats, and how introducing our harvest mice is not only good for bio-diversity but also as a indicator species for the habitat itself and how successful it is for wildlife.

All good news of course, and means one of our harvest mice gets to be a TV star!... (but not Barry, sorry Steve).

Of all the mice we release, only a small percentage will survive, but that is what is expected with a survival rate in the wild of only around 5% Unfortunately for the harvest mouse, one of their main roles is to be at the lower end of the food chain... but it is there presence, along with other mice and voles, that attracts in the stoats, weasels, barn owls, kestrels and many other predators that we see on our reserve.

If you want to see our mice on Countryfile, I believe it will be aired on the 2nd of October, but will let you know if that changes.