Tag Archives: wildlife

Urban Ecology and Impacts on Bats

Okay so bats might not seem frightfully important to us…surely they’re nothing more than flying rats? You’d be mistaken! These incredible mammal species are a highly evolved flying and echolocating species- the only ones to do so. They ensure our skies aren’t ridden with biting insects, prevent crop damage, provide medicine in the form of draculin, give vision to the blind and lets be honest, MAKE Halloween! I conducted 10 months research on them a year ago, and here’s what I found out about how our urban lifestyle is impacting them in the UK.

Importance and impacts of an urban landscape on bats: Urban foraging

Each bat has evolved is perfectly adapted to each habitat, in terms of wing morphology, diet (ecological niche), echolocation call, hibernacula and behaviour (Altringham, 2011; Threfall et al., 2008). Thus, it is of vital importance to study the effects of particular habitat features on bats, as each specie uses the landscape differently (Altringham, 2011, Coleman & Barcley, 2011).

Some exhibit behavioural plasticity and can adapt to urban environments, enabling them to effectively exploit their habitat without the disruption of roads, light pollution or buildings (Russo & Ancillotto, 2014; Stone et al., 2011).

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This has been seen in bats with long narrow wing morphology with a high wing loading, as open air foragers are largely unaffected by urbanization (Norbeg & Rayner, 1987).

The ability of synanthropic bats to dominate urban foraging areas can be problematic for the less well adapted species (Silvis et al., 2014, Russo and Ancillotto, 2014). Urbanization may result in greater competition between the synurbic and less well adapted species. Arlettaz et al., (2000) suggested that the decline of Rhinolophus hipposideros in Wales may be due to the expansion of Pipistrellus pipistrellus, whose populations have increased as a result of greater feeding efficiency with artificial lights normally avoided by the lesser horseshoe bat (Warren et al., 2002; Lacoeuilhe et al.,  2014).

Water in urban areas

Bats are vulnerable to evaporative water loss as a consequence of their morphology and large surface area to volume ratio (Razgour et al., 2010). Within urban areas, open artificial sources such as ponds, ditches and swimming pools provide bats with fundamental opportunities to drink and forage.

Certain species show preferences over these larger, less cluttered and open bodies of water (Seimers et al., 2001). The reduction in pulse-echo overlap, ability to detect spectral shift and high insect abundance over still water sources can attract large numbers of bats to urban and modified sites (Altringham, 2011).

Such examples can be seen in North Carolina, where studies looking at the importance of managed water bodies over natural wetlands revealed significantly higher bat activity by heliponds, despite equal densities of insects at both sites (Vindigni et al., 2009). Equally, studies on Greek islands showed that bats will also use artificial water sources such as swimming pools due to the lack of natural sources in such arid habitats, with minimal annual rainfall (Davy et al., 2007).

So this Halloween, cast a glance into the skies at night and spare a thought for this remarkable little evolutionary quirk of nature…

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Into the realms of Giants- Whale watching in South Africa

It is only when, for the first time, that you see one of these COLOSSAL creatures in their element do you realise how small species we are – and yet able to cause so much damage to the world’s greatest biome that the Great whales live in.

These great whales are frequently found along the coasts of South Africa as the currents that pass through the Indian Ocean bring up-welling’s of nutrients and food to feed these 20 tonne giants. This is where the fresh, cooler waters from Antarctica meet with the warmer currents of the Pacific. However the main reason for the presence of the whales is to mate– this is literally a clubbing lek for whales wanting to find love, and also for mothers to give birth to their calves. Many locals have told me about remarkable sightings of females being pursued by amorous males for many kilometres on end, what sight that must be!

Their numbers are slightly increasing since the 1970’s ban imposed by the Whaling Union in Durban, and the dreadful practice of killing these magnificent mammals has halted. Most people now see the whales as being more valuable alive than dead which is huge plus. The whaling industry was hugely prolific back in the 1950s, from the shores of Argentina and South Georgia, (in particular during the Falklands war). South African whaling stations along the coast were also being established along False Bay where the meat was processed, where you can see remnants of the place today. Namibia also had a large station as well as Durban and Cape Town as well as in New Zealand and South Australia.

South Africa, DURBAN, Sperm Whale Caught, WHALING (1910s)

Thankfully, there are dedicated researchers setting off into the blue in all weathers to study different species and populations around the entire coast of South Africa. This is principally conducted by aerial photography, isotopic DNA analysis from  samples as well as fin photography. Through identifying individuals, the researchers are able to determine the return of philopatric individuals, where previous calves were born and returned to their birth place to mate and give birth themselves. Humpack whales in particular are attuned to this cycle. They will take 3 years to recover from giving birth, as it’s a very energetic process. I’m pretty sure if I was that big and gave birth to a 4m, 1.5 tonne baby I’d be in no hurry for more…

To see whales in their natural environment has always again been a life-long ambition. Watching Sir David Attenborough documentaries, and seeing incredible camera operators such as the multi-talented and hardy Doug Allen and Diddie made me want to come into contact with these gentle giants myself. Ocean Safari’s made this possible with their coastal tours of Plettenberg Bay, they are the oldest whale watching tour guides on this part of the coast and offer discounts to volunteer students (was 800 rand, now to 500 rand which is around £25-27) for 3 hours of whale watching. You have different excursion times from 9:00am, 12:00 and 2:00pm daily throughout the whole week (weather dependent). So you should always call up if you want to have a tour and book it.

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The boat names Fat Boy, after the local name for the Southern Right Whales

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on boat

The different species of whales you can see include Southern Right, Humpack whale, Brydes whales, and bottle nose dolphins, common dolphin, sharks, cape seals and Orca! The possibilities are endless. The Captain of the Ocean Dafir’s was Marvin, who was an expert sailor- and I asked him how long he’d been sailing this particular vessel- and his response of 15 years assured me that we would be in good company and able to see and spot the whales. Our guide was equally qualified and friendly to us all. We had a quick safety briefing as usual and then headed off to the Plett central beach bay with our life jackets.

We were ready to set sail!

Thrash! We speed off towards the sea and jet stetted off towards the headland of Roberg where the Cape Seal colony resides. The weather had improved significantly compared to the previous day, although clouds did loom ominously in the distance. I had taken my trusty sea sickness tablet, Kwells, which I would recommend taking even if you “don’t get sea sick,” just because it give you that reassurance. I warn you, you WILL GET WET.

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Do take a rain jacket if the company you go with doesn’t provide you with one. The sea salt will leave you looking like a shipwrecked drugged up model with sea salted hair but don’t let that put you off! It was glorious bouncing along the Indian Ocean, and being kissed by the spray peppering our face. As we approached the seal colony everyone grabbed their cameras and gasped at the extent of the Seals climbing abilities. These were apparently the highest climbing seal colonies in South Africa, some at least 40m above the progressively swelling sea that thrashed against the rocks, sending a jet of white foam into the air like flecks of white paint.

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Above is Roberg, a fantastic place to hike and below the seal colony is visible as well as the whales and sharks!

P1010393  Posing for the camera! Cape Seals on the rocks. There’s a fantastic opportunity to “Swim with seals” which is run by the same company.P1010376P1010404P1010429

I’m not going to lie, I was a little perturbed by the size and progressive onset of swells that efficaciously emerged from the seemingly endless ocean- this was my first experience on a boat on a choppy day. I have previously been on a dolphin safari in Spain, but the waters were tame compared to this. As we bounced along the sea, we kept focusing on the sea horizon, and the reassuring words of our friendly guide who assured us we would see Whales, and to keep looking out for the spouts of spray. The humpbacks and Southern Right whales have the two blow holes from which they breathe when they surface.

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Yes that is a helicopter drone you can see above the spray, they are being used now to take samples of the animals and take aerial photos- top class!

The sound they make as they breach is a characteristic “ptfffffffff” which is seemingly imperceptible amongst the sound of the waves and wind resonating through the hull of the boat. Everything seemed to be a Whale, every wave! After 30 minutes even I was beginning to lose hope and wish the trip was over as my stomach began to churn…but then I saw the cool waters break and an immense grey dark shape emerged from the depths and glided across the surface effortlessly, the afternoon light reflecting profusely along its streamlined body- it was a Humpack!

“Over there!” I gasped in awe.

The captain and guide then followed my hand signal to my surprise, was it a whale or did I imagine it? Nevertheless we sped on, and then there it was again, the spouting and the appearance of the whales back, this time accompanied by a miniature version of itself- a calf! This was a female travelling with its mother, perhaps one that had been born there and now off to feed. They did indeed seem to be hungry and moved with remarkable speed. I had no time at all to take photos, and so filmed everything on the GoPro. I would recommend the same. The water and spray could really damage your camera, and the Gopro on the selfie stick works wonders as a stabiliser.

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We followed them towards the north and Roberg, and then were surprised to see yet another whale join us at the side, and fluked with its broad and knarred tail, slipping once more into the deep dark depths of the ocean. It’s truly was magical. Then to top it all off, one of the males breached and its immense body left the waters for seconds, water streaming down its muscular and colossal body, and then landed with an all mighty splash. Wow! We saw a few more sightings of the mother and calf, and I believe we saw up to 4 individuals all busy on their way to feed or mate…

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And then all of a sudden as soon as it had started, it was all over, and the skipper had already extended our trip to get further views, and so we headed back past the seal colonies. I spoke to our guide about any BBC film crews that had shot in these waters, and apparently Dolphin Army was filmed off these waters! I mentioned my plans to film in South Africa as part of my final film project next year, and he said that they would be more than happy to accommodate students! Score!

So who knows, I may return to film some of these remarkable marine species in more detail the following year. But if you’re around Plett or South Africa in general, I can’t recommend a Whale Safari more highly, it’s one of those experiences that never leaves you, and it’s now made more aware of what we’re putting into our oceans. As part of the #BigBlueLive filming that will shortly hitting our screens on the BBC, I think it’s vital that we get behind our gentle giants of the oceans and keep putting pressure on our governments to create more marine reserves around our waters in the UK and worldwide. Happy Whale watching!

Urban Bat Ecology

 Urban Growth

The rapid global urban population growth seen in the last 65 years, from 746 million to 3.9 billion in 2014, has had significant impacts on bat species richness and abundance (WUP 2014, Kunz et al 2007), due to habitat loss, fragmentation, degradation (Altringham, 2011), chemical pollution, barrier effects, introduction and facilitation of invasive species and a decline in prey species (Wickramasinghe et al, 2004, Lentini et al, 2012, Berthinussen & Altringham, 2012). Many studies are currently looking into the possibility of using bats as bioindicators of environmental change (Wordley et al, 2014, Russo et al, 2014), due to Chiroptera being the world’s second most speciose mammalian order (second to Rodentia), numbering 1232 species (Kunz et al, 2011).

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Equally, their widespread distribution and sensitivity to even minute perturbations means they could reflect the status or possible risk of such change in other species (Jones et al, 2009). Some of the responses to change can be seen with declines in abundances, population size, range distributions and behaviour (Altringham, 2011). Thus, it is important to determine the relative abundance of bats in urban areas compared to rural and suburban, and see whether an association with particular urban features are limiting or enhancing their ability to forage and roost there. This information has vital applications for conservation, as 82% of the UK is urbanised and is steadily increasing (United Nations World Urbanization Prospects, 2015). Thus, policy makers with knowledge regarding the ability of certain bat species to adapt (synurbic), or not (more vulnerable and sensitive species) to one of the greatest land use changes seen in the last century, can act to reduce the impact by lobbying with businesses, developers and politicians (Altringham, 2011, Russo, et al, 2014).

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Importance and impacts of an urban landscape on bats- Urban foraging and roosting

Bats form some of the largest seen mammalian assemblages, (Jones et al, 2009), with up to 40 million in a single cave-roosting colony (Seimers et al, 2001). The potential of urban areas being suitable areas to provide bats with useable roosting and foraging habitats is becoming an ever more prevalent area of research. Thus, it is of vital importance to study how bats are using such anthropogenic landscapes (Bellamy et al, 2013). It is essential that research from a wide variety of urban landscapes is conducted in order to assess the relative importance of particular variables and landscape features, as some are more important to different species, which each exploits the landscape differently (Altringham, 2011, Coleman & Barcley, 2011). It is this specificity of each species responding to urbanization differently which is vital to conservation and management policy. Each bat has evolved is perfectly adapted to each habitat, in terms of wing morphology, diet (ecological niche), echolocation call, hibernacula and behaviour (Altringham 2011, Threfall et al 2008). Thus some exhibit behavioural plasticity and can adapt to urban environments, enabling them to effectively exploit their habitat without the disruption of roads, light pollution or buildings (Russo and Ancillotto, 2014, Stone et al, 2011). This has been seen in bats with long narrow wing morphology with a high wing loading, as open air foragers are largely unaffected by urbanization (Norbeg & Rayner, 1987).

Hunting phases of bats. Search phase involves a high frequency component (45-55kHZ) as well as CF constant frequency with longer pulses as it detects prey. Then the calls increase in frequency with additional harmonic components as the bat approaches its prey. Then terminal phase the bat can emit calls at 2ms as it hones in on it.

The ability of synanthropic bats to dominate urban foraging areas can be problematic for the less well adapted species (Silvis et al, 2014, Russo and Ancillotto, 2014). Some studies even suggest urbanization may result in greater competition between the synurbic and less well adapted species, as implicated by Arlettaz et al (2000). The study suggested that the decline of the Rhinolophus hipposideros in Wales may be due to the expansion of Pipistrellus pipistrellus, whose populations have increased as a result of greater feeding efficiency with artificial lights (Warren et al, 2002, Lacoeuilhe et al, 2014), normally avoided by the lesser horseshoe bat. Equally, in one study investigating the activity of insectivorous bats in Panama Canal, it was shown that only a few dominant Molossus were able to adapt to urbanized areas due to their high wing loading and aspect ratio (Jung et al, 2011). This was in contrast to a majority of clutter-specialist species recorded which foraged within the forest and the forest edge.

Advantages provided by artificial roosts in urban areas include homoeothermic benefits, in particular for pregnant females by reducing the energetic costs of maintaining their body temperature within the thermal neutral zone (Lausen & Barcley, 2006). Therefore the potential to provide bats with artificial roosts is of interest to many conservation bodies, which aim educate and encourage public concern (Altringham, 2011). Artificial bat boxes have been shown to be particularly exploited by opportunistic and synurbic P.Kuhii (Angelli et al, 2011). However, the lack of rigorous scientific testing of their effectiveness is yet to be determined in lesser adapted species (Altringham, 2011), and with thorough monitoring and further studies into ‘bat box’ preferences, a more valid account of their potential use may be of value to policy makers (Russo & Ancillotto, 2014).

Importance of Water in urban areas

Bats are vulnerable to evaporative water loss as a consequence of their morphology and large surface area to volume ratio, as well as high energetic costs with the ability to fly (Razgour et al, 2010). Within urban areas, open artificial sources such as ponds, ditches and swimming pools provide bats with fundamental opportunities to drink and forage. Certain species show preferences over these larger, less cluttered and open bodies of water (Seimers et al, 2001). The reduction in pulse-echo overlap, ability to detect spectral shift and high insect abundance over still water sources (Altringham, 2011) can attract large numbers of bats to urban and modified sites (Vindigni et al, 2009). Such examples can be seen in North Carolina, where studies looking at the importance of managed water bodies over natural wetlands revealed significantly higher bat activity by heliponds, despite equal densities of insects at both sites (Vindigni et al, 2009). Equally, studies on Greek islands showed that bats will also use artificial water sources such as swimming pools due to the lack of natural sources in such arid habitats, with minimal annual rainfall (Davy et al 2007).

If you want to find out more about how YOU can help bats, head over to the Big Bat Map and the Bat Conservation Trust!

http://www.bigbatmap.org/pages/help-count-bats.html

Interview with BBC’s Dr Chadden Hunter- From academia to wildlife production

2015-03-17 18.35.48 chadThe 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. Chadden-Hunter 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. eco 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! chadden 2 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. chadden 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. camera_and_boy 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…..

**Full write up soon, interview below!**

Short 10-minute version

Full 20-minute version

Into the Mist: Day 1 of Deer shoot

6am wake up calls come very easily to me in the UK, mainly because the sun percolates through my curtains at that time, and partly down to the noisy customers that happen to be buying todays newspaper from the shop beneath us. But today I had even more of a reason- Deer filming!

Here is a short clip of the deer I got the week before, couldn’t resist this little fawn!

Here is the shot of the two male Red Deer having a par at each other…nothing too serious as it is late in the rutting season, so are winding down from their predominantly active season. Filmed with basic SLR (Canon 600D) and VERY basic £25 Tamron 70-300mm lens, so pardon the quality and jerkiness and lack of editing YET!

Harewood Park Start: Harewood Church Lane Distance: 5 miles Map: OS Explorer 297 Lower Wharfedale and Washburn Valley

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We started near the church and headed down towards the stank and Carr wood, neat the road where the der tend to browse.

As part of the brilliant new YouTube Channel, Ecosapien, I work as a camerawoman to help get some of the story shots for the team to edit into one of the weekly episodes that David Bodenham broadcasts out. I am so grateful to be able to help out with something so exciting- the combination of stunning images with factual information targeted towards 13-25 year olds. Some more filming this Thursday so can’t wait! We parked up in a small neighbourhood (and yes we did check for a “Residents only” sign!) some way away from the deer park. Loaded up with a Manfretto Tripod, Canon 600D and Tamron 70-300mm I headed off with David to see if we could catch a glimpse of these beautiful British mammals. It was one of the most misty days I had come across being in England, and it was incredibly difficult to locate them at first. We headed down the side of the road to see if they had congregated by the roadside farmland, but with no luck. Back through the moss, thicket and ferns. It was truly magical walking through the forest that was so still. Quiet. Damp. Cool… The trees were playing tricks on my mind. Surely that tree was a deer? David assured me it wasn’t. I even had my contact lenses in at the time. I am certainly glad I had layered up correctly, the air was damp but very cold as well. Always put a thermal top underneath your clothes (sorry, love that Shakira song!) Then at the other side past the cattle grid we had more luck. The stalking began… This next stage of setting up your camera and trying out different lenses was really good fun for me. I have used my DSLR in lots of filming before but not at the adequate settings- aperture 5.6, 1080P 50f, ISO 200, white balance Auto. try it on your Canon model! We got a couple of establishing shots of the trees in the mist, just to highlight to the audience what the day was actually like! Then we saw the emblematic shape of antlers in the distance that soon enough melted away again in the depths of the mist. I could only hear the clashing and clanking of the antlers echoing through the mist as I crawled ever closer on the dew laded moss. It was thrilling. First Day Of Autumn In Richmond Park...LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMB The next part of the shoot involved a lot more crawling. And yes, I got soaked but this is what you do to get the shot! it was so very worth it in the end after many failed attempts to get decent and clear shots. Never had getting soaked been so much fun! We stalked them all the way to the very same field that we had originally walked to, and for the very first time- I saw so males rutting! This is the best time of year to see deer rut (the mating season). The rutting month varies between species, but mostly it is during the autumn. You see the stags using their antlers in fearsome trials of strength during the rut (a Middle English word meaning ‘to roar’), and an enraged or injured stag can quite often be a dangerous animal. The episode is about the impact of the over browsing as Deer can have a huge impact on forestry operations. They cause extensive damage to young trees, either by stripping the leaves in the spring or by eating bark in winter or rubbing the velvet off their antlers in the summer. All of these actions can kill young trees. Many areas have to be deer-fenced to protect the trees until they are large enough to survive being browsed. Also, having no natural predators in the UK, deer numbers can become very high. For these reasons they are culled in many places. In another episode we will be talking about the reintroduction of wolves back to the UK, and I will be writing another feature soon! wolf-82e30 We had been able to find a small ditch as the side of the field that enabled us to get closer to them- we got some cracking shots of the males fighting it out in front of the females. With two stags, a third tried to join in! The males were pumped up, and also sniffing out the females. Brilliant day, I would highly recommend visiting Harewood to see them, and it is very much worth getting up early for.

You of course can actually if you go out of leeds on the A61 you will reach a large set of gates into the rear of Harewood. Then turn left and you can park there. If you go across the road, through the gates & turn left down a wooded path follow the path until it comes out through a wood gate back onto the main road turn left pass the main entrance and then take the next turn left on this road for 1/4 of a mile (no cars allowed) .You should see them on the right as the road drops down rather than get damp and mossy (but that’s the fun part!) You can also start from the village centre, parking at the village hall in Church Lane. The estate village of Harewood sits outside the entrance to Harewood House, one of Yorkshire’s premier stately homes. Other features include the Harewood Arms and the remains of a castle which we walked past on our trip down. h

Almscliff Adventures: Begginners guide to Rock Climbing

 Almscliff crag walk

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.

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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!

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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.

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(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.

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# 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.

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Ed soloing it up the Chimney

#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.

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# 4 Competition climbing is more competitive climbing primarily done indoors in climbing walls, check out these amazing videos of insanely good comp climbers!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Qk-lNsRtwQ

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# 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!

IMG_5325Here 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:

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http://www.gooutdoors.co.uk/climb-x-pilot-harness-set-p194186

#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!

http://www.gooutdoors.co.uk/climb-x-crux-climbing-shoe-p194484

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#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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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…”

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Bioparc Fuengirola Zoo

Komodo dragons, Bengal tigers, Western Lowland Gorillas and Binturongs….not only are they found across the furthest stretches of the verdant Indonesian islands, equatorial Africa and the depths of the everlasting stretches of Asian forest, but this array of superb species are all found in the rather non-tropical heart of the Costa Del Sol.

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Situated in the busy coastal town of Fuengirola is Bioparc zoo. This spectacularly simulated zoo with over 260 species and 1600 animals, with collections from Equatorial Africa, Asia and South America was established in 1981 with the name Fuengirola Zoo. As a member of EAZA and AIZA it partakes in the Endangered Species Breeding Programme (EEP). The zoo was entirely rebuilt in 2001 and renamed Bioparc with its new ethos and free of barriers concept. There is glass of course! But the overall impression makes it feel like you are watching them in the wild. The architectural design of the enclosures attempts (and in my opinion, succeeds) to recreate the natural habitats of its fury, scaly and smooth inhabitants. The entire experience allows you to stroll through each of them in a rather immersive fashion, encapsulating the feel of the wild ecosystems and the continuity of the design is overall very pleasing to the eye.

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Take this man made Baobab tree (Adansonia digitata), yep, it’s made of concrete and clay! Originally constructed from wires them plastered with cement, it accurately depicts this revered tree, which can store over 30,000 litres of water during the rainy season. It is often called the “upside down tree” for obvious reasons or “tree of life” due to its succulent fruits which ripen during the dry, scorching African and Australian summers. The seeds are incredibly nutritious and the bark is used for all sorts; including musical instruments, waterproof hats and homes. The leaves can handily treat kidney problems, bladder disease, asthma and insect bites. These ancient trees can live for over 5,000 years and have been central to local folklore in Africa as well as traditional remedies. All are deciduous and can reach impressive heights of 5-20 metres. Their rather bloated pinkish barks are easily carved/hollowed out and lived in by several African tribes, with up to a staggering 40 people residing in the cavern. Other unusual uses for the tree have included a bus shelter, storage barn, shop and prison!

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On my route around the park, I first encountered a Lowland Gorilla, which was a remarkable specimen; a large adult male who’s been around for quite some time now. I do feel sorry for the poor old chap, Ernest, I can’t help but imagine him in his native forest in the Congo. The gorillas first arrived 2004 from the Royal Rotterdam Zoological Garden; Kim, Xara and Ernst. Brazza monkeys also inhabit the enclosure and are perfectly happy to share their space with their larger counterparts. The enrichment includes trees and tyres with a small artificial waterfall and stream, and visitors can see him through a large 6x6m glass frame. Photography is made a LOT easier with this architectural pleasure! Indeed this is a thought, for all of the enclosures contain this if not open air plan. Although mind, keep your ISO up to at least 800 in the shade, then switch back to 200 when back in full daylight. The Spanish sun always causes a lot of contrast in your images, whereas in my experience in the UK its doesn’t create enough, so keep checking your settings when on holiday, and make sure you shoot in RAW so you can edit them later on in Photoshop.

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I also went into the lemur enclosure, where they roam free and approach you at their will. There are strict rules of not touching them, but they most certainly approach you if you happen to have fruit in your bag! I had apricots and apples in mine which caught the attention of a particular Red Ruffed lemur. The Ringtails were bursting with energy as we approaches, literally bouncing off the palm trees like fuzzy black and white pinballs as they jostled for the best position to knock each other over. Lemurs are highly social and communicative primates, and are the oldest- at the base of our phylogenetic tree. Our common ancestors once came from theirs too. Often the young males partake in “stink fights” by rubbing their tails furiously along their studded thumb projection on their hand, whilst females are often far more aggressive as the dominant, stripy- trouser wearing members of the troop.

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The Black ruffed were rather inactively grooming themselves, I would recommend visiting them earlier in the morning, I went at 11am, and they were still all fairly active, but even earlier or later on in the evening when the air is still and cool, is perfect. It’s a most wonderful feeling to get so close to our little hairy cousins, their large, amber coloured eyes protrude from their head and stare at you in a rather primitive fashion- its not like the sentinel and meaningful gaze of a chimp or Gorilla, but nevertheless still a magical moment. In the wilds of Madagascar these beautiful creatures are critically endangered (Red Ruffs and Indris), primarily due to habitat destruction. Over 90% of the forests have been destroyed, GONE FOREVER. Although replantation programmes are in place, it will take many years for the ecosystems to recover, indeed, any forests that are cut also require time to recover as the mycorrhizal fungi that connects and symbiotically associates with certain trees are also destroyed- life is NOT that simple! There is hope though now, many breeding programmes across the world are now able to add to the genetic pool and many babies are born each year in captivity, ready to be released into the wild when the time is right.

Walking over a reassuringly, well-constructed bridge, Chimpanzees were frolicking and residing next to a cool pool with nothing more better to do than pick their noses and groom their companions. Their gaze is entirely different to that of the Lemur, behind those dark emblazoned eyes is something far more meaningful and intelligent, which is of course one the reason why we share 98% of our DNA with them. Some of the relaxing poses were remarkably similar to that of a human, scary in some way! Even reminding me of particular yoga move my teacher is fond of- I don’t think I will be able to get a mental image of that chimp out of my mind now during my next session! Flashes of “Rise of the Planet Apes” also come to mind, but then you are reminded of the high elevation the impossibility of one nabbing a bamboo cane to use as a vault pole to escape… but you never know.

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The stunning leopards were up next through the maze of palm trees, who were also relaxing on a log. The mother, Toni and the once cub, (now a two year old, he has grown a lot since I last saw him!) Again, another small enclosure for a big cat, but nevertheless a well-constructed one. Some scientists argue that cubs, having been born in captivity have no prior knowledge to life in the wild, thus it is not unethical to keep them in enclosures. My argument is that evolutionary and instinctively these animals need VERY LARGE areas to roam as they would do in their natural habitats. It’s hard-wired in their DNA, so how on earth are you supposed to observe natural behaviour and reintroduce healthy characteristics and traits into the gene pool with this sort of restriction? It is however remarkable view, only 6 metres away from one of the rarest felines in the world. Its coat was irrefutably a thing of beauty, dappled in the light, with brown swirls and rosettes splayed along its golden back and delicate face. Its flank was cream coloured, and his large paws dangled down while he slept and rested his head on his mother’s back. He only stirred to look up at the young children tapping the glass, and then rather nonchalantly returned to his dream state. What a privilege.

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Further along were the stunning Sumatran tigers, with their enormous paws and burning eyes.. However it was clear to me that they were clearly disturbed. The incessant pacing and non-meaningful stare into the unknown are classic signs of “zoochosis” as coined by Bill Travers of the Born free foundation or stereotypical behaviour. This deeply upsetting behaviour is due to extreme boredom, frustration and usually a lack of enrichment. For all the marvellous recreations of the Angkor watt temple, complete with a mini-waterfall and stream, as well as large fallen logs and a bamboo forest, the enclosure was simply not large enough for this fierce some predator. I always get a thrill to see them, but no in this condition. They did play around with each other for a short time which was lovely to see, check out my video below.

Next up were the Biturongs… now a year ago I NEVER heard of them. With a monkey-like tail, body like a bear and a face like a cat many call this 2-3ft animal a bearcat. Their short, stocky bodies and coarse shaggy hair give it its distinctive appearance. They inhabit the tropical rainforests of South-East Asia in the densest and remotest regions, and their main threats to their survival in the wild is, ye you guessed it, habitat destruction. These little quirks of evolution reveal many fascinating insights into its family, the Viverridae which includes the Civets and Gneets, under the order carnivore… thus is not related to bears or cats, but part of a very old group of medium sized mammals found in the Old World (East). They primarily eat fruit, eggs, plant shoots, fish, birds, small mammals and carrion. However they have a mutualistic relationship with the strangler fig, whose digestive enzymes are strong enough to remove the husk of the seed, and thus plays a vital role as a keystone species, spreading the seeds far and wide. The scent glands located underneath its tail, which is dragged along the foliage when it patrols its territory, and the smell is apparently similar to buttered popcorn! Can’t say the same for a leopard! Living in the tree canopy, they are superlative climbers and use their semi-retractable claws to move with agility throughout the forest trees. With its prehensile tail to aid it (only the second carnivore in the Old world to have one, other than the Kinkajou) with its climbing. I tell you what, I’m beginning to think that having a tail would be pretty useful for my own, or indeed caving! Avatars have it right after all…Nearby were the Alligators too, which you can see at very close quarters, remarkable ancient looking creatures.

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The very exciting a new Komodo dragon enclosure was really interesting, it was my second encounter with one of these prehistoric looking reptiles. The enclosure resembled another one ancient temples at Angkor Watt, complete with its little stream and sandy court yard. It wasn’t very active initially, but then it picked up a scent as it flicked its tongue, tasting the air as it retracted it into its mouth, from which it can use the molecules of air to taste what its surroundings are giving off. It has relatively similar vision to humans, so it’s a useful sense to have. He then waddled towards a pile of small pebbles, which initially I thought were eggs, and started digging them up. Although they seem rather lazy and cumbersome in terms of their gait, they can move pretty fast as monitor lizards, at 20kmph. Of course they are known for their powerful bite which inflicts much damage to its prey in that the repulsive bacteria congregating in its mouth with almost certainly cause its victim to die of septicaemia or blood poisoning.

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 Later on I went to a “Jungle event/animal exhibition” whereby trained animals are on show, including kookaburras, Asian Otters, Sitatunga, Wild Peccaries and several other birds of prey. I always enjoy a good show, which is in both English and Spanish, wand lasts for around 20 minutes. By then my camera battery had run out and I was a spectator without a camera, which I actually enjoyed! Although I occasionally used my mobile. The last animals I went to visit were the flying foxes, VERY CUTE Old World bats which were busily scoffing down an assortment of succulent fruits such as mangoes and banana which seemed to be their particular favourite.

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Bioparc Fuengirola is a fantastic day out, one which I would highly recommend; it only costs you £13 with the discount card you can pick up at the Miramar centre. They even have African dance night, which I went to last year and was great, the atmosphere is electric and the buzz you get from dancing is positively euphoric! Its also a very good time to see the animals out and about. If you need any tips on getting there, or would like to know about any of the animals there, get it touch!

IMG_2466-001“Boundless Nature”