My First Course: Biological recording

Not much new to report from the garden this week. The temperatures are still cold, no more snow or frosts but plenty rain. The frosted beans are either dead or sending out new shoots, out of the batch I've lost about a dozen. I have more seedlings coming on to supplement the numbers so all is not lost. The frosted Wisteria is sending out new shoot, I cut off the dead leaves this evening, so the new leaves have space and light to grow.

Goldfinches on the bird table

The bird table is heaving with birds, upwards of 20 on it or on the ground at anyone time. There are two pairs of goldfinches, a yellowhammer, several greenfinches, a lot of chaffinches, coal, great and bluetits, house and tree sparrows, a pair of woodpeckers, collared doves, a pheasant, and a squirrel!?! We are getting a lot of enjoyment out of watching them and some great photos too.

As I've mentioned in a previous blog here part of my year off is being taken up by studying to do a University certificate in Biological Recording and Species identification with Manchester Metropolitan University and the Field Studies Council (FSC), see here. The weekend long courses take place at FSC centres around the country. Normally people take two years to do the six 10 credit courses, but because I have only one year to do it and I have the time to study I am doing it in a year.

Double Cherry blossom in the centre grounds

My first course was last weekend at Preston Montford near Shrewsbury and is the core module on Biological Recording. Both nervous and looking forward to doing something different, I set off last Friday by train from Edinburgh to Crewe. I haven't travelled by train for years (having grown up on trains) but the whole journey went well and I changed trains at Crewe and caught a train to Shrewsbury. From here myself and several others were picked up by the centre minibus and taken to Preston Montford. This estate has been used by the FSC for many years and they have their headquarters in the grounds. The old house sits in lovely grounds, including a river, ancient woodlands, ponds, paddocks and plenty wild plants.

Bluebells in the woods
Having arrived and got our rooms, had dinner and had the safety brief, we then had our first lecture. This two hours on the Friday evening introducing us to the course and what we would be covering over the weekend. After that, the day of travelling and all this new stuff I was shattered, but went for a drink in the bar to be sociable and chat with some of the people on the course.

Very much needed every evening after a full day
Over the weekend we covered the basic concepts and philosophies behind biological recording, how to take a biological record, why we take them. We went out into the estate and did practical work taking records using different methodologies which will eventually become our first assignment.

Plenty light reading!
We looked at the role of Recording centres, agencies, societies and government bodies who take or use biological records and what they can learn from the records and what they do with them. We looked at voucher specimens (such as you would find in a herbarium) and how to interpret historical records to gain a comparison between then and now as to how species have increased or decreased.

Cardamine pratense on the River bank
We had 10 hours of lectures a day, so it is pretty intense, but with coffee breaks, good lunches and dinners and a great mix of people in the class it didn't seem too arduous. To begin with I found it quite tiring being in a classroom situation as I haven't done any classwork, studying and so on for nearly 30 years, so my brain was suffering a bit by the end.

A lot of coffee helped!

The weather was wet until Sunday afternoon, so not pleasant for wandering around doing the practical exercises, but on Monday I was able to have a walk and see the grounds in the sunshine and the geese and goslings down on one of the ponds.

The field pond, Preston montford

Geese and goslings

Down by the River Severn

The river path
We had lectures until 3pm on Monday then it was time to leave. I had thoroughly enjoyed the weekend, even though my head ached at times. We got the mini bus back to Shrewsbury train station, then the train to Crewe, where I had a two and a half hour wait, yuk! Coffee, creme egg and a book helped pass the time on the platform. From there it was a short journey to Manchester then a supposed half hour wait for my last train to Edinburgh, which was late. I eventually got to Edinburgh just before midnight where David picked me up. Exhausted but happy to be home, with two assignments to do before the end of June.

Crewe train station