Adventures with a camera trap

Adventures with a camera trap

by Ben Roberts

An area rich with diversity 

We’re not short of interesting animals in the area around Pwllpeiran. Doubtless many of you will know about the presence of some of them, from iconic raptors gliding in the skies above, to the variety of wildlife in the woodlands around Hafod and beyond.  The diversity of sometimes rare and endangered species in the area is plain to see, whether it be on a trip to Nant Yr Arian to see the red kite feedings, or evidenced by Vincent Wildlife Trust staff out and about on the roads or scouting the forestry for pine martens and pole cats.

Finding the motivation…

Knowing this, I had always liked the idea of going out at some point to attempt to photograph the animal wildlife that might be present around Pwllpeiran. Unfortunately, a number of factors including frequent wet weather, lack of spare time, and a general lack of patience to sit out on the hillside for hours on end hoping to see something more than just sheep meant somehow I never got round to it….  However, this time last year it began to become a reality via an unlikely route.

Daffodils on the menu?

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No daffodil grazing, but ‘Larry’ the lamb was very keen to show his best side

Having completed our first daffodil harvest, we were preparing to put sheep back out on the plots to let them eat the grass which had grown in their absence whilst the daffodils grew, when we came across a conundrum. We had always believed that the sheep would be unlikely to eat the daffodils, given that the alkaloids
which we are after are actually in the plant to stop mammalian herbivory and were expected to make the plants bitter.  But given no one had tried this combination before, we lacked solid scientific data as to whether our assumptions were true or not. So the question was, how do we check that the sheep aren’t eating them?

Finding a hands-off method

Being the lowest grade member of staff, and knowing that a suggestion of a straw poll was unlikely to win out as the method of deciding who had the honour of keeping a vigil over the daffodils, I decided to quickly search for a solution that involved a less hands-on experience!

Having seen a good deal of BBC nature documentaries throughout my life, I knew that camera traps were a good way of catching animals in action without having to be there. You simply strap the camera to a tree or post facing a trodden path or area where animals are likely to be seen, and leave the camera on standby ready to snap/ record at any time when something crosses its field of vision.  This led me to think this might be a useful solution.  Rather than looking out for exotic wildlife, we would simply have the camera overlooking the daffodil rows, and when a sheep came in its vision we would see whether they were just eating the grass or choosing to sample the daffodils as well.

The adventures begin!

After a few stints at a few different places, we felt confident that the sheep weren’t eating the daffodils.  It was at that point we realised that now having a spare camera trap, we could maybe have a look at some wildlife after all.  We started putting it up at different places around Pwllpeiran, and because it didn’t require us to be there – we could leave it for weeks at a time taking pictures and videos.

Below are a few of the sightings we’ve had…

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Its not just sheep on the plots, this polecat was found hanging around.  Can you spot it?  It’s hiding behind the daffodil leaves.

Despite the rarity of deer in the area (see previous blog), there have recently been one or two sightings not too far from Pwllpeiran, and there was lots of excitement when we managed to get one of them captured on camera.  But it was travelling at speed, and it’s not clear from the image what type it might be.  We’ve had a go at re-positioning the camera to try and catch it head on, but haven’t had any luck as yet.

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The camera-shy deer just caught jumping past!

 

Birds are a lot more easier to catch.  Here’s a a blackbird playing hide and seek.

 

But it’d better watch out for what’s lurking in the undergrowth!

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A fox among the trees.  They’ve been spotted in various locations.

The camera trap is now up again. Watch this space for further photos/ videos when they arrive!

 

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New gold in them thar hills

By Mariecia Fraser

We’ve just had the first paper from the daffodil project published – hurray!  But why are we so interested in daffodils?  Well, it’s because they are a source of a plant chemical called galanthamine (gal/anth/amine), which is used to produce the pharmaceutical product galantamine (gal/ant/amine).  Galantamine is an approved treatment for Alzeimer’s disease.  It isn’t a cure (the world is still waiting for one of those) but it can help alleviate the symptoms and slow down progression of the disease.  However, at the moment it is estimated that the global demand for the product is ten-times greater than the supply.

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Cross sections of the brain showing atrophy, or shrinking, of brain tissue caused by Alzheimer’s disease (more here).

A whole group of plants, including other garden favourites such as snowdrops and snowflakes, produces galanthamine as a chemical defence.  However, of these, only daffodils have the potential to be cropped, and the UK is already the world leader in terms of the supply of cut daffodils and bulbs (yes, really – no, not the Netherlands).  But while production for the cut flower and bulb markets is concentrated on better quality soils in coastal areas, there could be big advantages to growing daffodils for galanthamine in upland areas.  The plants produce the chemical in response to stress, and growing in poorer soils in cold, wet conditions could help trigger higher concentrations.

But of course we can’t just go ploughing up hillsides to plant daffodils without risking serious environmental damage.  So our project is taking a completely different tack and evaluating the potential of sowing lines of daffodils into long-term upland permanent pasture and then harvesting the green growth in spring.  Our first experiment tested this approach in small-scale plots at five different locations.  These ranged in altitude from 250 m (850 ft) to 430 m (1400 ft) above seas level, all on poorer soils.  The good news was that the concentrations of the galanthamine were higher than reported in previous lowland and lab-based studies.  However, the biomass yields were lower than we were hoping for.  As a result, sets of new experimental plots planted up last October will be exploring the extent to which different agronomic factors affect the amount of harvestable material available.  Without this information it’s not possible to weigh up the true economic potential of it all as yet.

You can read the full paper here.

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Cutting for Gold

By Hannah Vallin

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A new face to the team, a new blog and a new post. Having joined the Pwllpeiran upland research team only three weeks ago, it has certainly been a busy introduction to the job.  I found myself tagging along on the day to day tasks, learning the ropes, and providing an extra pair of hands just in time for harvesting all the daffodils upon the research plots.  The endless rows of daffodils are part of the project ‘Innovative system for sustainable daffodil-derived galanthamine production in the uplands’.  After a quick summary of the project it was straight outside to get to work.

During the end of April, believe it or not, the weather here in the Welsh uplands gave us a break of dry sunny calm days.  Shocking I know, but perfect timing for us to harvest the daffodil plots. The considerably mild conditions this year has encouraged the daffodils to thrive. We all know daffodils to be a clear sign of spring, covering fields and road sides with bright yellow and orange colours, while small lambs bound in the fields. The two sights go perfectly together and give everyone hope that the winter months are over and we might, just might, get that lovely hot summer we have all been waiting for.  So you are probably thinking that the rolling Welsh hills are now covered in beautiful yellow flowers. Well, not anymore.  We harvest the daffodils at the ‘goose-neck’ stage when their galanthamine (the yellow gold we are after) content is at its highest concentration.  I’m afraid we don’t really give the daffodils time to bloom into lovely open yellow flowers, or, if they do they are chopped pretty soon after.

Within the space of a week the Pwllpeiran team took to the hills and harvested 6ha. The side kick team comprising of Mariecia, Ben and I went up prior to John and Gareth who had the tractors, trailers, 4X4’s and of course the trusty harvester! We sub-sampled all the plots for our own analysis back here at the research centre using our very own Edward scissors hands, or just fancy hand clippers! It was then the job of our trusty two men to harvest the lot. Keeping in mind that only two lines of daffodils at a time could be chopped and the tractor (New Holland 1920) was rather slow moving, pulling the harvester behind, one week wasn’t bad going. Big thumbs up to Gareth who endured the not so comfy tractor seat all day long for a week, his precise positioning up and down the daffodil plots and of course what would any field experiment be without some kind technical mishap… let’s just say a few machinery issues in the beginning. Luckily enough thanks to a local bearing man in Aberystwyth all our problems were resolved in no time. I also took the opportunity, while the weather was fairly decent, to document our harvesting season.  The GoPro’s boxed up in the office were finally taken out and put to the test. It’s not quite a bird’s eye view, more so a tractor view, of the harvesting. That’s right we stuck the GoPro onto the tractor and the back of the harvester! As it drove off down the steep hillside there was a moment of uncertainty as to whether the sticky attachments would hold or not. Alas, they did, and you can take a peek at the short video I made to show off our site!

So after a busy week of being out in the field in the sunshine, hard life I know, what’s next?

A lot. A lot of sample analysis back in the lab; boxes and bags full of daffodils! While this part may be less thrilling and slightly more time consuming, it does allow us time for working on our acapella voices, singing while we work.  Remaining positive from our successful, and may I say extremely efficient, harvesting we should have a lot of progressive data for analysis.

From the new arrival in the team, coming to the end of my first blog (give me chance, I shall improve!), I shall end on this note. The next new arrivals to Pwllpeiran in the upcoming weeks are not that of a human form…!  Keep an eye out for our updated blog on the exciting projects we have lined up, and who or what they involve!

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Pwllpeiran

A new season, a new blog

20th January 2016 02

Ben’s note;

Hello, and welcome to our blog!

As you may have seen from our other pages, this blog has been set up to provide a little bit of information on the general activities that occur at the the Pwllpeiran upland research platform. Why a blog though?  Well, for the ‘communicating research’ module of my undergraduate degree at Aberystwyth University the main aim of the module was to…  well…  communicate research.  One of the ways covered was establishing a blog.  During that wet lunchtime mentioned on the ‘Why blog?’ page, I thought this would be a perfect chance to put in to practice, what I’d learnt in that module.  The only problem being.. as the blog was my idea, I’ve been tasked with writing the first post.  So here it goes; hope you enjoy! 


A general update from Pwllpeiran

So what’s been going on?  Well, the daffodils are growing! The wet are unseasonably warm weather in December meant that the daffodils were growing even in the heart of the winter months. However by February, the temperature had dropped significantly and all growth – both daffodils and grass seemed to cease. Some days we had glorious sunshine, and using the excuse of checking the daffodil plots – meant I could enjoy the terrain and go running. Though I hadn’t quite considered how bad the wind chill on the top fields would be – needless to say, running shorts in future probably isn’t enough alone! This aside, as we approach the end of February, the weather has warmed considerably and the daffodils are slowly moving their way up again.

Finding a biscuit within a hay stack- Keeping a track on the temperature

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Planting a data-logger. See you in six months!

Having had mild weather in December, and with many reporting this winter as the warmest on record, this had us wondering; ‘Will this affect the daffodil growth?’. Probably, So we decided that collecting data from our weather stations on site wasn’t enough- we need to know what was happening in the soil. So on a cold Mid January day, six digestive-biscuit sized data loggers were placed into the soil, taking great care to mark exactly where we had put them. None of us are enthusiastic about spending a day in the future searching the ground  for.. well.. maybe not a needle, but certainly a biscuit in a haystack!

The hope is, that when the data loggers are full in a few months time we’ll be able to gauge if/ how much the daffodils were affected by this unusual warm start to winter. Presuming we actually find the data-loggers that is!

 

New people

It should also be mentioned that the few first months of 2016 has also seen the arrival of some new faces. Dan; having finished his undergraduate degree in Bangor last summer arrived at the end of January and has begun his PhD on the Brignant extensification plots. Mike, recently returned from working in Australia for the past 5 years – has begun working at Pwllpeiran looking into utilising genetic analysis in upland systems. These arrivals have brought a welcome increase in ideas and knowledge to the research hub – though have likely been a contributing factor to the shortage of biscuits in the kitchen cupboard recently!


 

The first of many

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed looking around our blog! If so, feel free to follow us here, or on our twitter page (@uplandresources). We hope to update the blog regularly with updates, fun facts, and discussion from different member of the Pwllpeiran team.. Which hopefully will make you (and us!) more aware of what goes on in our uplands.

Until next time!

Ben