I am a PhD student at Durham University and I work with the citizen science project MammalWeb to better understand how we can use camera traps to monitor wild mammals and engage members of the public in the process. I am enjoying my studies but unfortunately, as I am in the final year, I am being asked the ‘What are you going to do next?’ question more and more often. I’m not sure of the answer yet but, luckily, I was given the opportunity to take a two-month break from my PhD in order to do a work placement and gain more experience.
As someone with an interest in European mammal research, I have followed the work of VWT for some time. When Lizzie Croose from VWT reached out to MammalWeb for assistance in creating a citizen science project to help classify camera trap footage from the Mostela project, it felt like a great opportunity for knowledge exchange. I could learn about this new camera trapping method for weasels and stoats and gain experience of working in a conservation NGO. And in return I would be able to set up a MammalWeb project and assist with field work.
After spending much of the last year working from home, coming into the VWT office to work was a very refreshing change – everyone was so friendly, and the regular tea and coffee supply was a bonus! I was able to jump straight into the Mostela project, helping check the cameras in the field, and had great fun climbing into surprisingly small gaps in hedgerows to position the boxes – necessary, as this was the most likely place to find small mustelids! Checking the footage was always exciting, with some lovely videos of weasels and polecats, and some more unexpected visitors, including a grass snake!
A selection of small mustelids recorded in Mostelas
While one focus of my placement was the Mostela project, I was also able to get involved in some of the other varied projects going on at VWT. This included some of the work being done to support the pine marten re-introduction programme in the Forest of Dean. As part of my PhD research, I have been monitoring the pine martens in the area using camera traps, so it was great for me to get an insight into other aspects of the reintroduction, such as the translocation process and radio-tracking.
Previously, I have worked with a variety of terrestrial mammal species, but I have very little experience with bats. While at VWT I was able to get to know more about this group of species, the kind of research being done with them, and what is required for their conservation.
Helping with reserve maintenance is an important part of mammal conservation
Overall, I found my placement to be very rewarding and I really enjoyed being able to get involved with such a diverse range of projects, and would like to thank everyone at VWT for letting me get involved and sharing so much of their extensive expertise!
Sian Green, PhD student