Phase 2 update | Identification Trainers for the Future

Our trainees on the Identification Trainers for the Future project are now well into Phase 2 of their traineeship. Phase 2 is the section where our trainees spend much of their time developing their species identification skills, working with our curators through a series of specialist workshops, as well as helping out in the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity with everything from the Identification and Advisory Service, to getting out and about at events. In this first blog from Phase 2, Steph Skipp gives us an overview of how the first half of the traineeship has gone.

To begin our workshop phase, the ID Trainers had a crash course in lichens. April was in her element, having previously discovered the wonders of peatland lichens whilst working in Exmoor National Park. In contrast, I think the rest of us were taken aback by how interesting lichens actually are!

Flies - Laura

Getting to grips with Phase 2 of training

The wealth of colours and forms were very visually exciting, especially under a microscope. After a trip to Bookham Commons, we came back to the lab with some specimens.

We used chemical tests, fruiting body dissection and we checked lichens for UV florescence to help with Identification. I felt like a child with a new chemistry set to play with.

Lichens - SS

Examining a lichen using a lens

After lichens, we moved on to mosses, ferns and allies. On a trip out to Lesnes Abbey Wood with Fred Rumsey, we found mosses and liverworts in many different habitats, culminating in a quite substantial species list.

We also studied specimens under the microscope to look at their structures in detail. We marvelled at the extremely thin leaves of sphagnum and the delicate spore capsules of some other moss species. To finish off, we took a look at the ferns in the museums own wildlife garden and compared them to some pressed specimens in the collections.

Moss - Matt

The delicate spore capsules of a moss

Next, we took a leap into the animal kingdom, looking at freshwater invertebrates with Steve Brooks and Ben Price. We went back out into the wildlife garden and pond dipped to see what we could find. Then, over the next few days, we learnt all about some of the groups we had found.

We learned how to prepare slides of chironomid midge head capsules, keyed out dragonfly larvae and admired the sculptural cases of caddisfly larvae. We also got to grips with the different mayfly larvae families and learned how to put that knowledge into an online, multi-access key.

Freshwater inverts - April

The sculptural case of a caddisfly larva

Our next workshop was a day of earthworms with the Museum’s Emma Sherlock. Emma showed us the best techniques to properly preserve an earthworm for easy identification. We looked at various specimens under the microscopes and gradually got to grips with the important features to look for. We also went out into Kensington gardens and learnt how earthworm surveys can be carried out in the field.

For our Diptera workshop, we were lucky enough to have the whole diptera team tutoring us. We visited the Museum’s diptera collections and saw the variety of ways that flies can be curated. Then we went out to Wimbledon Common to catch some of our own specimens.  Back at the lab we learnt some different pinning techniques, including genitalia preparation. We spent the rest of the week studying many of the different diptera families, using keys to learn the features that separate them.

Taking a break from workshops, we all headed over to Hampshire to the former house of Gilbert White, author of ‘The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne’. We were assisting at a Nature Festival, which incorporated a BioBlitz. It was very interesting to see the different approaches taken by the leaders of wildlife walks; we definitely picked up some good tips for future BioBlitzes.

In the Evening, Laura, Matt and I went on a bat and newt walk. We were astonished to witness a female great crested newt laying an egg! After that, Matt and I camped over at Gilbert Whites House to help check moth traps in the morning. There were so many interesting species! Matt will be talking more about this in a separate blog he is writing at the moment.

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Participating in a Nature Festival

Back into workshop mode, we had part one of our two-part flowering plant workshop with Fred. We spent the first day in the lab, using keys to identify a few different plants. We also looked around the wildlife garden to see what gems we could find. Some highlights for me were bee orchids and quaking grass.

The next day, we went on a field trip to Benfleet. To begin with we had to battle a bit of wind and rain, but the weather soon brightened up and we were able to appreciate the rare and interesting plants that we found.

Laura and April flowering plants - Laura

A wet and windy trip to Benfleet

Most recently we have had a busy weekend of public engagement and wildlife. It started with a Bioblitz at the Natural History Museum at Tring. We helped on plant walks, invertebrate walks and pond dipping. Read Alex’s summary here.  Then on Sunday, some of us took trip to Salisbury Plain to look for plants and insects. It was an amazing experience and we found lots of interesting species. April will be talking about that more in our next blog post.

Coming up for the rest of Phase two, we have workshops on Coleoptera, Hymenoptera and Lepidoptera. You can read all about our experiences of those soon!