Skip navigation

Field work with Nature Live

4 Posts tagged with the conservation tag

Today started dull and overcast - grey and gloomy - but we weren’t going to let the weather get us down because this morning we did our first, live video conference from the field with schools. Students from all over the country get to talk with our scientists and ask questions about what they are doing here in the Isles of Scilly.


New Image2.jpg

Tom chatting to Mark during a video conference with students at a primary school.


In the first VC, primary school students got to meet Mark Spencer, the botanist of the group and team leader, and Jon Ablett, Curator of Molluscs. Mark did a small tour of the wild flowers we can find here, explaining that the Isles are located at a crossroads between Mediterranean plants and northern ones.


The relatively mild climate of the islands mean that plants that are usually more typical of Mediterranean countries find a home here, while for other species, the Isles mark their southern-most limit. It’s an overlapping landscape, which is a delight for us to experience, and a joy for the many species of insects and birds who pollinate these plants.



Museum scientists taking in the beautiful scenery, while Holger Thues (far left) is distracted by a rock covered in lichen!


Jon Ablett showed some of his slugs and talked about innovative ways of preserving specimens for the Museum’s collection, while the white vapours of liquid nitrogen made Mark and Tom (who was hosting the event) feel even more cold. Jon is looking mainly for land snails, but will also try to fish for some octopus and squid as we are not sure which species live in these waters. Keep an eye on this blog to find out what he discovers!


The secondary school students had the chance to meet lichen curator Holger Thues. Holger explained that lichens are composite organisms (comparable to corals), meaning they are a combination of a fungus and an algae living side-by-side in a symbiotic relationship (i.e. they both benefit from one another). Lichens are incredibly important indicators of the environment around them and are often used to study changes in the atmosphere and air pollution.


bird poo lichen2.jpg

Orange lichen on a rock, but how did it get its nutrients?


The orange lichen in the photo above only exists in places with high levels of nutrients, you will see them near the sea where the wind itself is loaded with nutrients. However, if you see them on a rock in land, wait and with time you’re more than likely to see a bird arrive ...  you’ll soon find out how the nutrients arrived there!


Thanks to all the schools for their many questions during the video conferences, it was great to speak to you all!


The scientists I will be following over the next couple of weeks are already out in Borneo and working hard.....


Photos2 033.jpg

Dan Carpenter likes soil, so it is lucky that he works in the Soil Biodiversity Group in the Life Sciences Department of the Natural History Museum. Having completed a BSc in Wildlife Conservation, he went on to do a PhD in Soil Science jointly at the University of Reading and the Museum and studied earthworms and their effects on mineral weathering in soils.  He is now a Post-doctoral Research Assistant and he has been studying diversity patterns of soil invertebrates and their role in ecosystem processes.

Dan is particularly fond of earthworms, so much so that he played a large part in setting up the Earthworm Society of Britain and sits on its committee.  When he isn’t digging holes, Dan likes running around in mountains and swimming. He is also a member of the Berkshire Lowland Search and Rescue team, so he is a handy person to know if you get lost!

pitfall traps.jpg

Kerry Leigh studied Biology at university before moving to London.  After originally volunteering in the tropical butterfly house at the Natural History Museum, she began volunteering with the Soil Biodiversity Group, spending time in the New Forest with Dan and his team sampling different habitats. The enthusiasm of everyone in the group rubbed off on her and she’s been helping out in the lab ever since, sorting and identifying various invertebrates that the group have collected.

When not in the Museum, Kerry  works in a little butterfly house in West London where she looks after caterpillars, pupae and butterflies, and sends some of them off to other exhibitions. She loves travelling (particularly in Africa) and her favourite country is Sierra Leone, she hopes to move there one day and build a hostel and restaurant on a beautiful beach! 


Keiron Derek Brown has been volunteering in the Soil Biodiversity Group of the Natural History Museum for over 2 years.  A biology granduate, with field work experience in the tropics, Keiron decided his dream was to work in the field on zoological projects and conservation.

Keiron's time at the museum has been spent looking down a microscope to sort and identify invertebrate samples that he helped collect on field trips to the New Forest.  In his spare time he enjoys going on courses to learn more about the amazing wildlife that live across Great Britain and is also a member of the Earthworm Society of Britain. Over the summer he has been working for the Bat Conservation Trust where he provides advice to many different kinds of people for all things bat-related! Keiron has always wanted to visit the island of Borneo and is excited about experiencing life in the rainforest.


Day 12 PIC 3.JPG

Holger Thues is a curator at the Natural History Museum. His focus is on lichenised fungi and their associated algae which makes him a part mycologist / part-botanist. Before he came to the NHM , he was working partly as a researcher and partly as an environmental consultant. This included work with lichens, mosses and seed plants but also with various animal groups:  from aquatic invertebrates, leafhoppers to hamsters and salmon.

Holger's previous fieldwork has been mostly all over Europe (particularly “rocky” habitats from coastal cliffs to alpine peaks – you can easily locate him in the field by the sound of his chisel). In the tropics so far two field trips to the Venezuelan part of the Andes (focussed on freshwater habitats in open areas with Paramo-vegetation) and earlier this year a month in the mountains of Costa Rica.

One of his hopes for this trip is to collect a rich selection of fresh lichen material from areas which have never been studied by lichenologists before such as the Maliau Basin and to enhance the collections both in Sabah and for our museum with poorly known taxonomic groups which will become a resource for further studies by researchers in Malaysia, at our museum and for other collaborators across the world.



Following on from two amazing trips to Costa Rica and the Bahamas earlier this year, I'm preparing to fly out to Borneo in South East Asia this weekend! 


I'm going to be joining a group of Museum scientists who have already been steeped in the hot and humid rainforests of Borneo for the past four weeks, and have been blogging about their experiences so far.  I'll be reporting back on their research, giving you an insider's view on their ingenious sampling methods, keeping you updated on exciting wildlife sightings and recounting the highs and lows of life in the field.


You can join in by following our blog and using the comments section at the end of each daily post, or by visiting the Museum in person for some very special Nature Live events in the Attenborough Studio including live-video-links to Borneo:


Thu 11 October at 14.30: Biodiversity in Borneo

Sat 13 October at 12.30 and 14.30: Caught in a Trap: Borneo (the 14.30 event will be British Sign Language interpreted)

Wed 17 October at 14.30: Eaten Alive in Borneo


Time to get packing......


Charlotte Coales


P.S. We also have a special series of Nature Live in the Field videoconferences and live-chats for Schools. The first is on Friday 9 October so if you want your school or class to take part, contact us as soon as possible.


Image copyright: Tim Cockerill


Last night, we arrived back at the hut just before dark and ate a dinner of soup (chicken) and rice (sin bean). Over dinner we learnt that, in our absence, Holger and Jo had a productive time (more on that below) and it was nice to be all back together again.


Today I stayed at the hut (checking everything was working for our next live-video-link back to the Museum which will be happening just as this is published) so I had the chance to chat to one of the porters assisting our trip.


Day 10 PIC 1.JPG

(From left to right) Leandro Vargas Astavia and Greyner Vargas Astavia
Daniel Lezcano Arguello and Carlos Godinez Cardenas


Daniel Lezcano Arguello started off by apologising for laughing at my new nickname - which has morphed from Yeti via Crouchy (as in Peter, the lanky, robot-dancing footballer) to Pie-Grande. I pointed out that Yeti and Pie-Grande are absolutely fine but Crouchy has most definitely got to go - I am an Arsenal FC fan!


He told me about his life when he is not working as a guide or porter. He is a farmer and has 5 hectares near the entrance to Amistad National Park where he grows coffee and bananas and keeps pigs and cows. The coffee he sells to a large Costa Rican company although he keeps a bit back for personal use as he prefers to know what is in his morning cuppa. The bananas are used to feed the cows and pigs.


The cows are for milk and he makes cheese, and the pigs are for meat. He also grows some vegetables and we swapped allotment stories although he seemed pretty unconvinced it was possible to grow anything in British temperatures.


He said he is typical of the porters in that they all farm when not guiding people through the park. This trip (like most field work, I imagine) would be impossible without the help of the porters.


They prepare trails and camps and ferry specimens and food to and from the field, and they carry extraordinary amounts and move incredibly quickly through the forest. This is the head porter and our guide Carlos.


Day 10 PIC 2.jpg

Head porter Carlos making his work look easy while I struggle to keep up (hence the blurry photo!)


He is carrying a backpack, a few litres of water, camping equipment for 4 and - if that wasn’t enough already - a shovel.


Day 10 PIC 3.jpg

Leandro taking a breather


I am in awe of their strength and athletic ability at this altitude and their commitment to our trip. They have an invaluable knowledge of the forest and are key in helping us find interesting sites and species. Also, they are vital for the conservation of the park so we are doubly thankful for what they do.


Species of the day today goes to Holger - the result of 2 hours hard work, blood, sweat and tears!


Day 10 PIC 4.JPG


Holger found three different stream lichens with a high likelihood that they may be new for Costa Rica and maybe even new to science.


Day 10 PIC 5.JPG



This lichen is a representative of the family Lichinacae and fresh water species of this family are commonly found in Nordic countries.


Day 10 PIC 6.JPG


Day 10 PIC 7.JPG


Holger didn’t expect to find something like this here and all of the lichens Holger has found reflect a climate far, far colder than would have been expected - something we can vouch for during the long cold nights!


This is why lichens are so important in that that they tell us so much about our environment. Sadly, no video today – I hope to get back to business tomorrow.


(Just a quick reminder that Alex is also writing his own blog about our trip and you can read it here and that our next live-video-links with the Museum are at 12.30 and 14.30 on Saturday 18 February)