Meet the volunteer - Sam Buckton

Photo: Andrew Bladon

Sam is a University of Cambridge Biodiversity Intern who has been volunteering with The Wildlife Trust BCN since June.

The Wildlife Trust BCN’s Monitoring & Research internship – part of the University of Cambridge’s Biodiversity Internship scheme – stood out as having a particularly varied work remit, with a combination of field- and desk-based activities. The internship has certainly lived up to expectations! I started a 7-week stint on 18 June 2018 and have come away with a wide range of new skills and ideas. It’s been exciting to work with an organisation which places such strong emphasis on conservation informed by scientific evidence.

I’ve enjoyed much of this unusually hot summer outside in some of the Trust’s beautiful chalk grassland reserves including Pegsdon Hills and Totternhoe Quarry, assisting Andrew Bladon in his post-doc butterfly project. A member of Ed Turner’s research group in the University of Cambridge Zoology Department, Andrew is investigating butterfly associations with habitat and temperature. Practically, this involves catching butterflies with nets, identifying them, taking their body temperature with a sensitive non-invasive probe, and recording various other attributes of the butterfly and the site where it was caught. This will enable us to assess how different butterfly species vary in their ability to buffer their body temperature, and how this in turn varies with sex, condition, size, etc., while also revealing the preferred habitats and microclimates of different species. Ultimately, the project will be able to inform the Trust’s reserve management, with particular relevance for adapting to climate change.

Getting involved with Andrew’s project has made me more certain of what direction my life will take in the next few years. I graduated this year with a BA in Natural Sciences from Churchill College, University of Cambridge, and am now planning to put in a PhD application for Ed Turner’s research group, working on a project focused on invertebrates and climate change in close connection with the Wildlife Trust BCN. So you might not have seen the last of me!

I’ve undertaken many other activities besides with the Trust. These have included grassland, hedgerow and aquatic plant surveys; planning and carrying out drone surveys, analysing resultant maps using Quantum Geographic Information System (QGIS) software and completing written reports; writing a management plan for Hayley Wood; writing blogs and Facebook posts; and removing invasive Himalayan Balsam with the practical management work party (hot but satisfying work!).

A bonus of volunteering with the Trust is the opportunity to attend the Trust’s programme of wildlife workshops for free.  So far, I’ve gained confidence in identifying grasses as well as leafhoppers and froghoppers, and plan to join workshops on identifying solitary wasps and spiders later in the summer. I’m worried at how much natural lore is being lost among the younger generations as we become an increasingly urbanised species alienated from wildlife, so I’m keen to learn as much as I can – especially relating to more understudied groups of organisms - and hopefully pass on some knowledge to others in the future. I’m also just a bit nerdy when it comes to taxonomy: I’ve recently entered the competitive world of pan-species listing.

Thanks to the Monitoring & Research internship I’m now more proficient in the identification of plants (including brown and crispy specimens!) and invertebrates, have a better understanding of woodland and grassland management and the challenges they face, and am a strong believer in the power of drones and GIS to do cool conservation stuff quickly and cheaply! I’m about to start another internship with the University of Cambridge Living Lab for Sustainability, working on the university’s biodiversity action plan, and will hopefully be able to apply much of what I’ve learnt at the Trust.