Exactly a year ago today I conducted my research on British bats around North and West Yorkshire regarding their habitat selectivity across multiple scales in rural and urban environments. I still can’t believe how fast it’s all gone in the past 10 months! I will be posting up some articles on exactly what I did and how you can also get involved with conserving these fascinating little mammals of ours too, but first I want to tell you WHY bats are so important to us all.
Apart from justifying the value of bats in terms of their diverse nature and unique evolutionary history which has lead to the only powered flight seen in mammals (Fenton et al, 1997), bats provide a range of ecosystem services and benefits to both the environment and humans (Altringham, 2011). The Brazilian-free tailed bat provides one of the largest-scale suppressions of insect pests in the world (Kunz, 1989). During their migration northwards each spring, Tadarida brasiliensis forage on cotton bollworms, saving the US economy over $23 billion dollars in terms of preventative damage to cotton and the reduced cost of less pesticide use (Cleveland et al 2006).
In Asian markets, over 70% of the fruit sold is pollinated or seed dispersed by bats, in particular the Durian fruit which is worth $2 billion (Kasso & Balakrishnan, 2013, Altringham, 2011). The alcoholic beverage, Tequila is derived from the Agave tequilana and is pollinated by the lesser-long-nosed bat, providing a source of income of for many Mexicans (Kunz et al, 2012). Guano is a source of high concentrations of phosphorus and nitrogen, which is one of the primary limiting nutrients of plant life. Deuchamp et al (2009) studied the potential benefits of the ‘pepper shaker-effect,’ a hypothesis where bats flying from nutrient-rich regions to nutrient-poor habitats, redistribute the guano and act as a mobile fertiliser. Several countries sell guano as fertilisers and can be a main source of income in poorer regions (Altringham, 2011).
Ecotourism also boost the economy, for example as seen in Congress Avenue, Texas which generates $12 million annually (Pennisi et al, 2004). Medicine is also derived from the Vampire bat’s salivary enzyme, desmoteplase which acts as an anticoagulant for post-ischemic stroke patients (Furlan et al, 2006). This was initially trialled on mice in 2003, and was found to extend the time required to administer tissue plasminogen activator during the post-stroke period from 3 to 9 hours (Schleuning et al, 2008).
Also mentioned is their value as bioindicators of the overall health of the ecosystem, which can be seen with their importance in ecological networks and high trophic level, if removed, cumulative and rippling effects can be seen lower down trophic cascades (Jones et al, 2009).
I hope you can see how incredible these little mammals are, and stay tuned to find out about the amazing world of bats in future posts!
The media and Zoology students at the University of Leeds were treated to very fascinating and inspirational talk by Dr Chadden Hunter, wildlife biologist and a BBC producer and director of ground-breaking series such as Frozen Planet and several upcoming exciting new series by the BBC- to be revealed soon! I had the incredible opportunity to have a television interview with him afterwards as part of our new “Eco Talks” for Eco Sapien, and really enjoyed delving into the world of wildlife filmmaking with a true professional. David, producer of Eco Sapien, and I quickly set up 3 cameras to intermittently film it and added a Magnito microphone to capture Chadden’s dulcet Australian tones. I was rather nervous before hand as a huge fan of his work and having not presented on camera for some time- been living behind the camera and radio mic! Firstly the talk discussed making the transition from the world of academia into the wildlife film industry– a notoriously difficult and incredibly rewarding career and way of life that I am sure those of you who are reading this want to get into …keep reading on!
What I really enjoyed about the interview was how passionate and encouraging he was about getting into the world of science communication, because what many people wanting to get into this industry forget, is that although we are all competing to get that dream job and place on the next major blue chip BBC series- were are ALL working together as a TEAM to achieve the same goal: inspiring others to care and preserve the natural world around us and conserve it for future generations to enjoy. Wouldn’t it be a sad legacy if we were not able to save the very subjects that we film? That’s what we encompass at Eco Sapien, the collaboration of conservation biologists and creativity to communicate our passion for the natural world TOGETHER. The interview and full write up will be out soon once the editing process has begun, so should take a while- WATCH THIS SPACE! But here’s a little teaser into Chadden’s amazing aussie adventures…. Born in Mount Isa, a mining community in the remote north-east of Australia, he travelled with his family to pre-revolutionary Iran where his father was working as a field geologist. Following a few years in Arizona and Colorado it was back to Melbourne where Hunter happily settled back into Australian life. That strength of character was reinforced during the halcyon years of his adolescence when his enduring love of nature and the natural world really took hold. Moving to Cairns, he was suddenly surrounded by nature in all its stunning beauty and profusion. At 15 Hunter fell in love with scuba diving and saved every penny he could earn to pay for his new obsession, not least since he had the dream location to pursue it. After Cairns he moved on to the University of Queensland zoology department, completing his Bachelor of Science in marine biology and working as a research scuba diver. He then studied bowerbirds in St Lucia to gain a First Class Honours degree in behavioural ecology. It was during this time he was taught by one of the people who was to have a profound effect on his life and the way it progressed…..
This event was all about raising awareness about the devastating disease- Dementia. I really enjoyed communicating this fascinating but equally important scientific topic to a diverse audience, ranging from 4-90+. Science communication is becoming ever more so a prevalent skill for upcoming scientists who wish to elucidate their research and the work of others to an audience who have not been fortunate enough to conduct the research themselves or learn from those that have. Dementia is affecting older people every year as well as younger people (it was previously thought that 17,000 young adults had dementia, this was an underestimate and it has since been found that 40,000 have the Alzheimer’s disease). Dementia costs the NHS £26.3bn overall, and the government is considering imposing care tax to pay for the shortfall.
This, I believe, is an injustice to the victims of a disease where no definitive cause has being established. It is wrong to enable health free care to patients with heart conditions for those who have led an unhealthy lifestyle, and deny the right of the elderly who have paid into the systems for many decades and led otherwise, healthy lives. I talked about the symptoms, causes, diagnosis and possible treatments successfully and reassuringly to the audiences, as well attempt inspire younger public members to keep fit and lead an active life… some inparticular were more eager than others! One girl would not stop having a go on the exercise bikes! I am a passionate sportswoman and really enjoy having a healthy lifestyle, and I wanted to share my experience with others and encourage them to live a fitter and more exhilarating life through exercise.
Before I go on, here are some quick facts about what Dementia actually is:
# 1 What is Dementia?
It is a set of symptoms as a result of several diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Lewey Bodies, Fronto-temporal and Vascular dementia which cause the typical set of symptoms such as:
-Loss of coordination
-Difficulty of remembering times during the day, appointments
-Difficulty with speech, slurring words
–Confusion, fear and anxiety
Depending on which disease has caused the specific set of symptoms, they can vary enormously. This is why it is VITAL to go to your GP to check this out. They will run a thorough set of checks: blood tests (to see if there is another cause, for example side effects of medication), CAT and MRI scans of the brain, physiologist will perform mental tests to see how the brain copes as well as other in-depth memory tests. There is plenty of info on their website: http://www.alzheimers.org.uk/
The event was very rewarding and I believe the general public also felt that they had a great experience. The first day on the Saturday I was a little nervous, however as people began asking questions and showed genuine interest I really enjoyed myself, and Sunday I had “rehearsed” the talks. The range of different ages of general public members was large and certainly more interesting. What did work very well was the How brains work stand, with the rat/mouse/snail brains and neurone pipe cleaners, the children were simply enthralled and fascinated by these real life organs, and the younger children were delighted to have something soft and colourful to make and then take home. The adults, to my surprise, asked quite a lot of questions with regards to the symptoms and diagnosis of dementia on this table, which I had prepared for with the excellent notes provided on the Alzheimer’s society website.
The How Science works stall with the chromatography and gel electrophoresis was a bit hit, with the widest range of ages all participating on both activities. We had so many people at one point that we ran out of chromatography paper! We got the children to try a fusion of different patterns and colours from the chromatography which they loved, and the creating of a role play scientist really got them engaging with us and participating in the pipetting of the food colouring in the wells. The thought of dressing up as a scientist for many was the most fun out of the activities on the table, and parents enjoyed taking photographs of them.
The multi-coloured chromatography designs were dried and stuck into their activity books to keep and show to their teachers; these booklets were most definitely popular and a good motive for the children to keep going around and get involved in all the activities. It was extremely rewarding to see the delight on their faces as they saw what they had created. When praising them for their work they were more willing to try out new activities and ask questions.
What didn’t work as well was the larger neurone which involved more children, it wasn’t as entertaining for them, and they felt slightly more embarrassed than doing the pipe neurones. I think in the future face painting would be a very good way to engage children and keep parents at the event for longer. BBC One show presenter Marty Jopson was also there with his children and wife, so that was a surprise! His children clearly had his love and passion for science, and were particularly good at the exercise bikes and blood pressure monitor testing.
Having to tailor information for particular age group was initially challenging, but then as I gained more practice at it, I felt more confident in toning town the level of complexity for younger groups, then increasing it again for adults, and more so for academics. I certainly felt more confident in communicating with a broad range of people as well as approach people rather than wait and hold back for people to communicate with you. I never thought that I would be able to relate to children in a scientific manner which I did, and I truthfully felt rewarded when children were inspired and excited by the science we were explaining to them. I had to remember how to use my artistic side, having created a staggering 36 neurones! I really enjoyed myself and look forward to participating in some more, possible even consider leading an event now that I feel more confident.
Having read up on Dementia and the diseases that cause it has giving me a new found interest in the science behind it, the proteins that cause such damage- talking to the PhD volunteers was interesting and I believe I have learnt a lot about the disease. It has inspired me to go on to do a 5k run for the Alzheimer’s society, and help those in need of care- it really is a good cause and I hope I can do my bit.
Almscliff Crag is located between the verdant green sloping hills of Harrogate and the bustling city of Leeds, and protrudes on top of a small hill. Made of Millstone grit, it optimizes the hardiness of the great Yorkshire people- tough and gritty is most certainly the way up North! It was formed out of the destruction of the surrounding softer and more fragile shale and mudstone strata, which left this hardier famous landmark which is extremely popular with walkers and climbers alike. I headed up with the Leeds University Mountaineering society (Climbing) to try out my first outdoor climb, having had several indoor and seemingly difficult routes indoors at the Depot (Pudsey) and The Edge (Leeds). I could only really manage the Blues and Black holds at that point, so wasn’t too sure what to expect on an outdoor trip! But I was rearing to go and try it out.
Beautiful views of Otley and the Chevin from the top of the Almscliff crag.
Ed and Dan were my teachers and were incredibly patient with my incompetent movements that resembled a seagull with broken wings that had been coated with tar… rather flailing!
But you learn fast, it literally is a steep learning curve, with all the different names for pieces of kit, it can be a bit overwhelming! Firstly, rock climbing involves two people or a small group including the use of ropes which can either be done indoors at a local climbing centre OR outdoors. Other types of climbing without ropes involves bouldering where crash mats are places strategically in order to prevent any accidents. This is usually done in indoor centres without rope as the crash mats provide sufficient padding to cushion a fall whilst you build up your strength and stamina, to prepare you for an outdoor climb. You can use ropes indoors where another person is strapped into a harness and tied up whilst one person belays you- basically pulling up the slack rope as you climb ever higher and ready to catch you if you slip and fall. The different types of climbing are:
# 1 Traditional (or trad if you want to sound cool and mingle with climbers, ALWAYS use colloquial language to get in with the climbers!). This is where one climber will “lead” up along the rock face and place in all the bolts, cams and screws through which the rope will be placed through. This not only keeps the lead and first climber safe but allows the second climber to follow. Then at the top an anchor is built and three ropes are attached with into the rock with hexes (you will see why, they resemble hexagonal metal pieces) and then attach yourself to them by the rope with a special type of knot know as a clove hitch. The second climber will follow up after the first has yelled “OFF BELAY, FREE TO CLIMB” and they have secured the ropes up at the top. The second climber will also remove the gear as they progress.
(Left) Your nuts, bolts, cams and clip ons to keep you safe! All of this should be provided with your climbing society. (Bottom) Nick Belaying Fergus, (Bottom Right) Nick being lowered by the belayer, Ed who is at the top.
# 2 Sport climbing is where climbers clip onto already placed bolts that are securely fixed into the rock for people to ascend. This is the much easier and quick way to climb, but not as exciting as leading a climb.
#3 Soloing is where climbers will ascend under their own steam without any rope and by themselves, DON’T TRY THIS FIRST!! It can be very risky going it alone, so make sure you have many months of experience before you try this out. Ed, (see below) has done this for years and so is experienced enough to know the risks.
#3 Ice climbing involves, as the name suggests, ice or snow with use of particular equipment such as ice picks (who doesn’t want those awesome looking pick axes?) as well as crampons, boots, thermals, rope and harness. This isn’t for the faint hearted, not only are the cold conditions tough, but the technique is better off perfected indoors before you go out there, but it looks beautiful.
# 4 Competition climbing is more competitive climbing primarily done indoors in climbing walls, check out these amazing videos of insanely good comp climbers!
# 5 Bouldering is as I mentioned earlier without ropes, and is frequently performed indoors with different coloured holds which indicates their level of difficulty. Hand Jamming, crimps are all part of the technical lingo…watch out for the Climbers chat guide coming soon!
Here is Fergus Bouldering up Manhorn…quite a long way down so crash mats were used! I was going to do this but then again….
Here are the essential basics to Traditional climbing:
#1: Belay Kit– can be bought in many outdoor stores, I personally bought mine at GO Outdoors as you can get a £5 discount card which will save you a whole load, and my gorgeous black and orange harness as well as purple screw gate (to clip rope through) and orange belay device (where the climbers rope is threaded through and to control the climbers ascent/descent). This will usually set you back £50 with all of the above and a chalk bag for when you get sweaty palms! If you have a bit more cash to splash, you could probably get a harness for £46 alone then buy the rest of the gear separately. Check this Climbex one similar to the one I got on Go Outdoors.co.uk:
#2 Climbing shoes- I can’t stress how IMPORTANT SHOES are… always get a size above your normal shoes size, as they can be quite tight! It is supposed to be just uncomfortable so that you can really grip the rock face and have the friction to push up against gravity and the wall. Also you want them to be super comfy!
#3 Chalk– is placed into you bag and attached to the back of your harness, used to stop those sweaty palms of yours when you’re up high from sweating up and losing grip!
The cheapest and best way to start climbing is to join your local university club and pay the membership there: your covered for insurance purposes and can borrow all the gear for a small £30 a year…think how much you will be saving if you don’t have to buy all that rope, harness, shoes, cams, nuts, clip ons, ect!
It’s also a great way to make friends and get shown how to climb with a good technique. Most members would have been doing this sport for some time and are experienced. So don’t splash your cash on all these fancy pancy climbing courses all the time- although I learnt how to belay at the edge for £25, I could have learnt the exact same thing with the climbing society showing me. I did my first outdoor climb with them too.
Me checking out my harness, belay device and screw gate.
So back to Almscliff! Classic climbs include the Chimney which is categoriesd as very difficult and Wall of Horrors. But as a beginner I would highly recommend doing Stewpot and Easy man– I am seen here doing Stewpot, which I also led a climb for. The rock is lovely and firm here which is reassuring, but it really makes you move your body in a way that makes you a more cautious and perceptive person. You need to be aware of where you’re placing your feet at all times…if you get a bad foothold then finding an equally dodgy handhold is of no significance.
TRUST in your strong powerful legs and push up always from them and straighten your body right from your feet, all the way through your legs, through your core and UP you go! Onto the next hand hold. I must say, when I first started climbing, I had my doubts whether or not I could do it. My arms are like spindly gibbon arms, not much muscle at all! My legs are strong with all the cardio I do, and I was assured that it’s your LEGS that are the key to climbing. Whilst climbing Stewpot, in one of the cracks my friend shouted out that he saw a bat! I had to come up as I must say I didn’t initially believe him! But indeed there was a small wrinkled up Pipestrelle, sat snuggly between the cracks. We wondered if he was dead but he stirred as soon as we took a photo of him. Hope he was alright. You need a special license to handle them so it’s best that we left it alone. One then route had been led for me and it was safe for me to climb, I tied up my harness and headed up.
It was a gorgeous warm and sunny day. 25ᵒC-perfect for climbing the warm baked rocks of Almscliff crag. The scenery is truly spectacular up there. You can see why it’s a popular haunt with climbers, ramblers, boulderers, painters and walkers. Prior to joining the group, on my way up from the side car park, I wandered the crag to get a couple of panorama shots, and found a whole host of insect wildlife there. Swallows dart up and down catching their ready packed meals that are equally agile and astute on the wing- talk about fast food!
My climbing friends tried the much harder Chimney, and Nick and Fergus gritted their teeth, and push and pulled harder to get to the top after attempts to get past the notoriously difficult mid slab of millstone rock- gravity ALWAYS wins. Funnily enough as I am writing this I just watched the film Gravity last night, brilliantly composed and shot, but a rather pessimistic film! Its unnerving to see your climbing buddies take a fall, even when attached to rope that can take the weight of a ton. We shout out support down at the bottom to help spur them on.
The sun was beginning to slide further down the clouds, providing the perfect opportunity for me to get a silhouetted head shot and create a double exposure- check it out!I was very happy with the results after a tinkle on Photoshop CS3, I will be posting up a video tutorial on how to do it shortly. I hereby name it “Fergus and the Ferns!” after the plant I used to create it and the guy posing for it!
After a long and gorgeous afternoon of climbing and photography, it couldn’t have ended more perfectly. I OFFICIALLY have the climbers bug, despite the climbers calluses and cramps in your toes after wearing the tiny shoes, climbing really makes you feel alive and brings out the best in your abilities- it MAKES you have to believe and trust in your judgment and work as a team to help them through the climb.
“Nothing beats that feeling when you get your hand at the top of that rock…”
I am officially “batty” now- I have descended into the depths of a cave and followed my fellow subject of research!
This is the second time I’ve been in a cave this summer…but this time I was actually ascending and descending it with karabiners, cows clips, descenders, hand and chest jammers, D-ring and a WHOLE load of rope! This stunning cave is located within walking distance from the Horton in Ribblesdale train stop in the Yorkshire Dales of roughly 2km. We left the Leeds train station at a later time of 9:10am, tickets will cost you £16 for a return, a with a rail card around £13. The weather, as usual was changeable with sheets of light piercing even the darkest of nebulous clouds, the occasional shower then patches of rather pleasant sun. ALWAYS take your rain jacket and thermals, that’s one thing I’ve leant the hard way! I keep forgetting that summer in the UK is rather different to a Spanish one! The walk to the site was equally as changeable, but nonetheless breath-taking. I felt quite safe with the three caving members of the Leeds University Union Speleological society, Michael, who has been caving for over six years, Katey who has been on more than 60 trips and Brendan who had recently joined the society a year ago, but nevertheless experienced.
The climbing team looking summery in their shorts!
They were all so welcoming and helpful, and exceedingly patient with my sometimes futile efforts! I literally had a crash course in Single rope technique (SRT) and vertical climbing/ascending/descending the day before with Michael and Kristian… then thrown into the deep end!
The journey ahead…
Selgil cave, the dry route which we decided to try out.
There were two entrances, the wet route is to the right hand side of the walk from Ribblesdale where the stream thunders down into a waterfall within the cave, or to the left is the dry (more like dry-ish) route which is the one we selected. We got dressed in the open into our oversuites and hooked up all our kit, including a cave helmet.
Katey, rearing to get going! (above). Mike posing for the camera with all the kit.
Katey descending into the cave via the dry route, we didn’t fancy our chances with the wet route on a rainy day! (Above)
The wet route is advisable only in dry weather! The route was all rigged by Katey and Brendan; we descended from the entrance 6m down into the cave with a 15 meter rope. It was a little daunting at first, I must admit, trusting in the gear away from the safety of The Edge! But I was always in safe hands and so trusted everyone and the gear. It was rather fun! We got to the bottom, and could hear the discernible roar of the waterfall tumbling down in torrents. I am SO glad I put my camera in the water tight daerum drum, the spray was a bit of a nightmare for any photographer… I was also lucky that the only damage to my camera was scratches on my 600D screen!
We then moved on to the second pitch where we were carefully picked our way along the route with cows tails and avoided accidentally dislodging any loose rock. The route to the left side was far drier, which we opted for! This was only 12m down, (we had 20m rope) but still a little daunting for a first timer like me! It was a good feeling though as you glided gracefully (well, perhaps not me!) down on the rope using the descender. It takes a bit to release your hard lock then soft lock because your life is literally handing on that rope, if you slip up, its a long way down….
Once at the bottom, I could hear the others further down the third pitch, then we descended ourselves. This was the furthest one down and required two steps of getting to the edge, then staying clear of the water falling from above. This was definitely the more daunting of the two pitches, and as I peered over the edge, I was glad I had misplaced my contact lenses! It was however, really beautiful, once I was off and descending, light flickering from my helmet painted the cave with an orange glow and light danced off the wet surface of the limestone rock. The spray hung in the cave like a blanket and created a slight haze.
Mike had to shout commands to me as I neared then end as the thunderous downpour of the waterfall echoed and resonated throughout the cavern. Whilst he was doing something technical further up the pitch, I waited gazing at the bottom with the scenes of what once was an ancient sea floor. I even saw fossilized remnants of coral on one of the slabs. All around me, I could see new sections of the cave forming with soft sediment being deposited at the sides. Katey and Brendan then reappeared from the bottom which was an easily accessible hop-down into a walkable section of the cave. When Mike joined us we decided to take a couple of cave shots and used our head torches as flashlights.
The depths of Selgil, Mike shines his torch and the wet surface of the cave reflects with enough light for my long 30 second exposure.Some more light painting in the dark with Kate as our model.
I used ISO 6400 to get some cave portraits, and then used flash for some other closer up shots. Then we took long exposures (30 seconds), of Katey and the cave, whilst the guys acted as flash assistants. They did blur but they were certainly fun to take! I couldn’t progress any further without my camera get wet, so I returned it to the daerum drum and headed down with the guys to complete the walk. The source of the noise and spray became apparent as I hopped down and the waterfall was visible in all its resplendent glory. It was truly breath-taking, admittedly I was very cold and wet due to inappropriate underclothes, but even that didn’t dampen my spirits! The trip wouldn’t be complete without #CaveSelfies which we eventually got right!
Cave selfie! We got it just about right, but Brendan was just out of the shot, sorry man!
We eventually reached the “Duck“, which as the name suggests, requires you to duck and crawl through to the other side. I decided to wait with Brendan, I was too wet and quite cold, and didn’t want to get soaked! But the cavern itself was lovely to look at, as was being silt being deposited with shining particles that glinted and danced in that light emanating from our head torches. We switched them off to fully appreciate how dark it was, 70 meters underground, I literally could not even see my hand in front of my face- most certainly an adept description of pitch black!
As Mike returned we then headed back up to the 3rd pitch to start ascending. Now the hand and chest jammers were used rather than the descender. This was the point at which I began to get nervous as I ascended with my hand jammer, which seemingly ‘jammed,’ and fear began to creep in! Mike reassured me I was fine and doing well, as well as encouragement from Katey and Brendan down below. Then, what seemed an age, I eventually reached the top, a little shaken but relieved. It is very enjoyable and rewarding, and I will be back for more! But it was scary as a first timer, and I feel good to have gotten over my fear of swinging from heights! When we stepped out of the entrance after a good 45 minutes (due to my inability to shimmy up the rope with the same speed and agility as the others), a gorgeous border collie greeted us, with his mane being whipped up by the blustering Yorkshire wind.
I was glad to be out, I was pretty cold and hungry but also exhilarated by a fantastic trip. I never felt in any real danger with experienced people, more of a heightened panic moment. We played with the dog, who apparently took a shining to Brendan’s yellow oversuit!
Ready to catch his new chew toy. Photo taken with flash, Aperture mode, 5.5, ISO: 800
“One man and his dog…”
We got undressed then headed back down the track to the pub for a well-deserved cup of tea and sandwich. What a day! I will most certainly be joining this September. The next social is go-karting in September which will be great fun, will keep you updated on all the caving- I am officially known as Bat womannow!