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With a little help from my friends

Attendees on the 2015 Soil Mesofauna course.One of the things which Tom.bio is interested in is how people can be supported in the weeks, months and even years after they attend a training course. Attendees on biological identification courses typically spend a few very intensive days learning about a new species group, building new skills and making new contacts. But all too often once the course ends, that initial enthusiasm is lost because there’s no follow up mechanism or on-going support to encourage people to build on their new knowledge.

Uncertain, or just Confused? The joy of moth trapping

Elephant hawk mothI started moth trapping for the first time this spring, and consequently am writing this with all the fervour of a new convert. For anyone unfamiliar with moth trapping, it involves simultaneously annoying your neighbours, your partner and your friends! Let me explain…

Bashing the squares: the BBS and NPMS

NPMS survey plotLike many UK naturalists at this time of year, last weekend I was busy playing my part as a volunteer - a citizen scientist if you like - monitoring the UK's biodiversity. I was square bashing - continuing an annual ritual of participation in the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) and starting something new by surveying, for the first time, a square for the National Plant Monitoring Scheme (NPMS).

Coincidence mapping biological records

QGIS Conicidence mappingRight now the interest in QGIS amongst biological recorders and conservationists seems almost insatiable. Yesterday I was very pleased to deliver a day's workshop on QGIS and the Tom.bio QGIS plugin for members of Lancashire Wildlife Trust's (LWT) conservation team. The Trust's Red Squirrel Project Officer used the Tom.bio Biological Records tool to produce a couple of maps, from her own records, of Red and Grey Squirrels around the Sefton Coast. She asked me if there was a way to use the tool to make a coincidence map for the two species. Well I had to admit that there wasn't really. But I had a think about it and I realised that it would be very easy to modify the tool to make this possible. So today I published a new version of the QGIS Tom.bio plugin that enables this. This video explains how to use the tool and QGIS' styling features to create a coincidence map.

OS OpenData for QGIS

Ordnance Survey OpenData in QGISDespite the fact that OS mapping is paid for by the British tax payer, anyone wishing to use OS data prior to 2010 had to pay considerable fees for the privilege of doing so. That was generally held to be iniquitous and a serious barrier to innovation and economic growth. In recognition of this, the OS started to produce, in 2010, a range of mapping products which are free to use: OS OpenData. This blog post illustrates the OS OpenData products that are available, free of charge, to QGIS users.

Learning to love spiders

How would you describe spiders? Of all the adjectives these fascinating creatures might inspire, ‘lovable’ is probably not up there in the top ten. Ask someone to describe a spider and you will more likely hear people say ‘scary’, ‘horrible’, ‘disgusting’ or ‘terrifying’. How wrong they are!

Molecular tools for curiosity-led natural history

The NFBR conference 2015 (photo Paula Lightfoot)Last week it was my great pleasure to attend the 2105 conference of the National Forum for Biological Recording which was jointly organised with the British Ecological Society's Macroecology Special Interest Group. In a wide-raging and memorable conference, which succeeded in bridging the gap between the academic and natural history ends of the biological recording world, one of the most interesting things for me was a workshop (and associated poster and presentation) on using molecular tools for biological recording.

National Plant Monitoring Scheme course

Monitoring a linear plot along a stream. Photo: C Bell Last week I had the very great pleasure of visiting FSC Nettlecombe to sit in on a National Plant Monitoring Scheme (NPMS) training course. Firstly, Nettlecombe – what a place! The FSC centre at Nettlecombe is a beautiful Grade 1 listed 16th century manor house, nestled in a pretty Somerset valley, and it truly feels miles from anywhere. A brilliant place to forget about the rest of the world and concentrate on...a new, exciting, national citizen science plant monitoring scheme!

Invertebrate specialists and alcohol problems

Invertebrate specialists often require copious supplies of alcoholAs someone who studies invertebrates, I often find myself turning to the bottle. Whilst I would not recommend alcohol as part of a general approach to problem solving, I wouldn't be without it for preserving specimens. The animals I'm particularly interested in - spiders, harvestmen and, latterly, earthworms and springtails - are rather soft-bodied you see, and the accoutrements beloved of the coleopterist and dipterist - pins, plastazote, gum, card and the like - are of limited value to me; instead I require a copious supply of alcohol (and lots of little tubes).

Soil mesofauna - scratching the surface

'Flying saucer' mite with smaller phoresic mite.  Photo C.BellAnother weekend, another invertebrate training course! Last weekend I attended the four day Soil Mesofauna course, a Tom.bio-supported training course delivered by the country’s top experts in soil science, springtails and mites.

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