I recently applied to volunteer for a small organisation called NatureSpy and was thrilled to be chosen to attend a training day. NatureSpy are a social enterprise based in Wales that focus on studying and monitoring wildlife and work closely with communities to educate and involve the public with local projects. To me, we seemed a perfect match! Even better, they are currently running a project on the North Yorkshire Moors (not too far away from me) and were seeking a few volunteers to help set up and take down camera traps and to sort through the footage captured. The ambitious aim for this project (as you may have guessed from the name) was to film the first proof of wild pine martens living on the Yorkshire Moors. One of my favourite British mammals!
I set off early in the morning by train from Nottingham, and after 3 changes finally arrived to meet Hannah & James (co-directors of NatureSpy) at a station in Yorkshire. I was pretty eager and the car journey was full of questions and conversation about their projects, the pine martens, the organisation and all sorts. We arrived at the site to meet two other volunteers and after a quick safety talk and explanation we set off into the forest. It was quite warm and bright out at that time so I left my coat in the car – something I would later regret!
James and Hannah are graduate wildlife biologists and although I was originally surprised at their young age – I soon realised that their knowledge and passion was thorough. James is an expert with the camera traps (NatureSpy actually run training courses in and qualifications in camera trapping). Myself and the other volunteers didn’t have any real previous experience in using them so we were all interested and ready to learn. Animals will often take the easiest route through uneven ground like that of the forest floor and you can sometimes spot their natural paths. We used this information, along with locating a good place to leave bait (tinned fish!) to choose suitable trees on which the cameras could be attached and chained. The height was adjusted; any tall grass or low branches that could obstruct the view or trigger the camera were removed; the camera settings were checked; it was all secured and we were good to go!
After an initial demonstration, we took it in turns to set up the next five camera traps which were spread out throughout the forest. We were careful to leave them in non-conspicuous places as previously a few have gone missing – possibly due to illegal poachers or hunters finding them. NatureSpy do work with the Forestry Commision but the fewer people that know the exact location of the camera, the better.
Due to the fact that I don’t yet have a car, days out in the wild like this are a really special time for me and the only real chance I have to go to new places, like this forest, are through volunteering with various organisations. I have to admit that as we trekked both along the trodden paths and through the undergrowth, I was rather easily distracted! The forest was beautiful and alive; I found beds of heather buzzing with inverts, wild raspberries and blackberries tangled on my jeans and huge foxgloves towered over me as we walked along. We even saw a beautiful brown hare lolloping across the path a short way ahead of us – the closest I’ve ever seen one in the wild (and not through a car window). Even the sudden thunder and pouring rain couldn’t dampen my spirits – although it did dampen my clothes quite a bit!
It was an amazing day and I completely enjoyed myself. Although I later heard from NatureSpy that I wasn’t after all deemed suitable to be involved in the project, I was grateful for the opportunity to learn more about it and try my hand at camera trapping. Unfortunately this means I don’t have the chance to go through any of the footage we might have captured but the training day has certainly whetted my appetite to see the natural behaviour of local wildlife when there isn’t anyone around to see them! I’m definitely looking to invest in a camera of my own soon. Previously camera trapping by NatureSpy has brought up wonderful footage of brown hare, roe deer, foxes, badgers and birds – as of yet no pine marten but I wish them the very best of luck for the future and I hope to hear something similar to the recent news from Shropshire soon!
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