Surveys during Covid

During covid-19 gloves and face masks are work to protect the dormice from possible infection

As lockdown has eased find out how we've managed to get some of our survey work back up and running whilst staying safe....

Everyone has had their life turned upside down to some degree over the past few months as covid-19 caused everything to grind to a halt. Behind the scenes though the Monitoring & Research Team, together with many others in the Wildlife Trust BCN, have been beavering away. Besides finally getting around to some desk-based projects, we have also been working out to safely get ourselves and volunteers back out onto our reserves to ensure we don’t lose a whole year’s worth of monitoring data.

Sadly for some of the spring surveys – including the breeding bird surveys and spring slow worm monitoring – it was too late, full lock-down meant we missed too much of the survey season. Rest assured these surveys will resume again next year though. For some other surveys we have done additional risk assessments and tweaked the methods to ensure staff and volunteers remain safe. Measures including reduced numbers of surveyors, socially distancing, increased cleaning of equipment and additional PPE have made our surveys look and feel very different this year.

The first of the surveys I got back out to do were working alone at Totternhoe nature reserve in May. I managed a couple of days recording the Duke of Burgundy and other rare butterflies there and also check to see how many of the man orchids we recorded back in March had produced flowering spikes. This took far longer than usual without the help of you wonderful volunteers.

In June both the Monitoring & Research and Reserves teams were busy conducting our annual Rapid Grassland Assessments to monitor the condition of our grassland reserves. We had to adapt the method to work only in pairs and keeping at least 2m apart at all times. Only one person could handled the quadrat whilst the other did all the paperwork. It also meant only one person could look in the 1m quadrat at any one time, which slowed things down considerably. If kit had to be passed between people at the start or finish it was thoroughly cleaned with disinfectant spray.

By this point we were also allowing volunteers out on individual* surveys allowing some butterfly surveyors and dormouse licence holders back out as well. At the larger Brampton Wood nature reserve, we managed to co-ordinate the dormouse licence holders to all individually check separate compartments on the same day, using staggered start times to ensure we didn’t accidentally all meet up in the car park! As here is a potential risk of passing the coronavirus to the dormice we all had to wear facemasks and gloves during the checks.

From late June I’ve been working with the Conservation Officers in Bedfordshire on the Flit Vale Himalayan balsam project surveying Flitwick Moor and the river upstream to map and remove all the invasive Himalayan Balsam. These surveys felt the least affect by covid as we just had to make sure we stayed a safe distance from each other during the surveys and not pass kit back and forth. It did mean when we found patches of balsam often only one person could pull it up whilst the other had to either find another nearby patch or just watch and make helpful suggestions e.g. “you missed a bit there!”

Next up I’m working on the bat and dormouse footprint tunnel surveys to see how we can safely start those too. We’ve managed to secure the loan of some additional static bat detectors so will be able to collect some data this year at least.

Sadly not all surveys will be able to run, either due to safety, or simply because we don’t have the time to co-ordinate them since everything is takin that bit more effort this year. I hope that we will be able to open up some of the surveys to more volunteers before too long though. Many thanks to everyone for bearing with us whilst we negotiate the layers of regulations and guidance.

*Individual here meaning either lone working or with a member of the same household/bubble