Saving the sand lizards

Recent Environmental Science graduate Angelica Plumb shares her experience of working on a project to monitor and help create new homes for sand lizards.

Having missed out on fieldwork opportunities as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was keen to jump on board with as many opportunities to make up for missed time during my third and final year at Bath Spa University. As an Environmental Science student, I was delighted when staff members from the biology department informed us of an exciting opening to take part in something known as the Quarry Life Awards (QLA), where we would be investigating sand properties for sand lizard breeding in Dorset with the hope of informing the creation of receptor sites elsewhere, if successful. The QLA is both a scientific and educational competition that runs on an international scale, it raises awareness of the ecological value of quarry extraction sites owned specifically by Heidelberg Cement, who funded this project.

We went on our first site visit in April 2022 where I, alongside other students and members of staff, had an induction at Masters Quarry (the receptor site) before we were able to begin our research. From here, we visited four locations where sand lizards were known to breed and collected data at six sites per location with local sand lizard experts.

Going to a number of different locations around Dorset was both exciting and interesting, and gave us an insight into what working in the field as a research assistant is like. From each location and each site, we collected data including sand/soil temperature, vegetation height, distance to nearest cover, patchiness, air temperature, cloud coverage and took sand and soil samples. We also used a device known as a ‘Tinytag’ that we placed within the sand at the sites. They measure temperature and levels of humidity. I had never collected data in this way before so for me, it was a very valuable experience.

"Going to a number of different locations around Dorset was both exciting and interesting, and gave us an insight into what working in the field as a research assistant is like."

Another opportunity that came alongside participating in this project was to apply for a paid 75 hour placement as a laboratory assistant to help with the sand analysis, communication, and even contribute to the final write up of the report. Myself and a fellow Environmental Science student applied for the role and were both given the opportunity to share the role on a 37.5 hour basis each.

Since beginning this laboratory assistant role, we have devised and successfully used a method to look at the capacity to hold water by the samples, graded the colours against the Munsell Soil Colour book, used graded sieves to sort the sand particles into size categories, calculated the percentage of organic matter and worked out the density of sand cores, alongside helping with the communication of the project via the official QLA website and on social media.

This experience has really complimented my academic interests while also allowing me to gain valuable skills and an insight into this type of industry. I would recommend for anyone to jump on board and participate in projects such as this one while they’re at university as they’re valuable on your CV and will be a memorable experience.

Disclaimer: The Bath Spa blog is a platform for individual voices and views from the University's community. Any views or opinions represented in individual posts are personal, belonging solely to the author of that post, and do not represent the views of other Bath Spa staff, or Bath Spa University as an institution.



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