Wildlife Conservation and Social Media

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I’m coming to the end of my degree in Animal Science and I need your help! Do you know any 18-25 year olds? If so, I would be really grateful if you/they could fill this out for me. This is for my final year research project. If you have any questions then ask them in the comments or email me: cn165@canterbury.ac.uk.

Click on this link here for the survey.

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This photo was taken at Wingham Wildlife Park near Canterbury, Kent

Introducing the Gorillas

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As many of my friends know – gorillas are comfortably my favourite animal. About 98% of our genome is shared with the gorillas. The IUCN Red List of 2013 divides the gorillas, up into four subspecies, the Mountain, Cross River and Eastern and Western Lowland Gorilla.

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Arguably, the Mountain Gorilla has been studied the most, they featured in zoologist Dian Fossey’s infamous study on them from 1966 until her death in 1985. Her story features in the film “Gorillas in the Mist”. Her study centred around unlocking the secrets behind the behaviours of Mountain Gorillas in the Rwandan Mountain Forest. The film showcased her incredible relationship she built up with the gorillas over the period of her study – and told the story as she began to protect them.

 

As this study began to uncover, each subspecies of gorilla has its own unique habitat, feeding schedule and to an extent personality. Over the years we’ve started to investigate other gorilla subspecies in more detail – but until recently it was predominantly just the Mountain Gorilla that had been investigated. Research now centres around understanding the gorilla’s behaviour and how to optimise it in a captive environment.

Take a look at this clip from Gordon Buchanan’s “Gorilla Family and Me” and this incredible insight into the world’s largest living primate.

Grey Seals – a Great British Wildlife Encounter

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Over our summer holiday we took a bit of a trek from our campsite. On the other side of our campsite in Lincolnshire is a nature reserve. Every winter thousands and thousands of seals flock there to mate and essentially create a home for the winter months. We had no idea whether or not the seals still remain in the local area over the summer – so at some point over our holiday we haddddd to explore! Early on in our holiday we were sat on a bench overlooking the coast and we overhead a conversation a Mum had with her son – about the local seals!

British Wildlife is incredible and it always will be but I think it’s always easy to fall under the impression that the only British aspects of wildlife are up in Scotland and ‘down south’ we only have things like pigeons or your average garden bird. So considering that – my hopes weren’t high! We took a path across a marsh area of land – one that even had danger signs about unexploded bombs! Avoiding the sinky patches of mud, we got to the beach. The beach spanned for miles across and there was only the odd human on the horizon! After a couple of false alarms – grassy patches which seemed to look like seals, I decided to go on ahead. I had in the back of my mind that Mum and Dad weren’t going to walk an open beach deserted of human contact for more miles than they had to!

This is what we saw….

 

Mount Erebus’s Tragic Disaster

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Some of the most amazing and unique aspects of planet Earth come in the most extreme and harsh conditions. Mount Erebus, Antarctica’s second highest peak, after Mount Sidley is the southernmost volcano on Earth.  This is one of the few locations on Earth where fire meets ice.

Mount Erebus

Surrounding Mount Erebus is a huge network of hidden caves – some scientists believe that this might be home to an exciting range of plants and animals. This is for a number of of reasons – the main one being that this network of caves are surprisingly hot. Heat of course can help to unlock a huge level of biodiversity. The caves can reach 25 degrees celsius which is incredibly hot for a huge expanse of land surrounded by ice. This kind of heat is called geothermal heat. Geothermal heat led to the formation of vents with a volcanic stream. This then means that an ever more complex network of caves can continue to form. This particular volcano is particularly famous for its active boiling lava lake.

The reason scientists are so excited by this possible new world is through investigation. Scientists at the Australia National University took DNA samples from the cave network and tried to tie this DNA to known species. Some of this DNA wasn’t fully identified. This means that there could well be unidentified species living in these extreme glacial conditions.

This volcano is situated on an incredibly unique island – Ross Island. It’s formed by 4 volcanoes in the heart of Antarctica. For many years photographers and tourists continue to flock to the island to take in some of the incredible scenery.  In November 1979 the world was well and truly reminded of the harsh reality of the icy plains of Antarctica.

Air New Zealand flight 901 crashed into Mount Erebus instantly killing the 257 people on board.

In the years before this event, flights over the Antarctic were an incredibly exciting breakthrough in airborne tourism. At this time – Antarctica was a little photographed section of land full of wildlife all while being an incredibly harsh environment.

In the 1950s the science community had taken a huge interest in Antarctica – but to the general public the Antarctica was simply something of mystery, only something a select few could experience. To open the Antarctic up, Air New Zealand put their new long range aircraft into use. The aircraft may have been capable of longer flights but during the 1970s there were several high profile and fatality incidents involving the aircraft. When the aircraft went down – it was easy to jump to conclusions and say the aircraft malfunctioned but there’s much more to the story than that.

The Flight Path

When any crash happens there’s an immediate investigation, right from the engineering of the aircraft to flight paths and cockpit voice recordings. Flight paths were the source of the first bit of controversy. A flight plan was loaded onto the aircraft’s machinery which was different to the one the crew had been briefed about 19 days beforehand. No one said anything.

It’s difficult to understand how something seemingly so simple as changing the route could have such disastrous consequences. Before a crew flies there’s a whole range of steps they need to undertake first. 45-60 minutes before departure the crew gathers to go through planning like air traffic control, weather forecasts, VIPs on board and particular cargo. They also double check maintenance of the aircraft and technical issues. Essentially, it’s all about doing the last final checks.

This particular crew had an additional task. Before departure, they needed to make sure that the programmed flight was correctly stored on the aircraft. They do this in essentially the same way, even today. They input various landmarks, waymarks checking that they’re in the expected location – at the correct duration during the flight. This also means that the aircraft could – in theory, fly automatically, without human input in some areas. The crew had identified the 40 mile wide McMurdo Sound as somewhere where the craft could fly without human input. They had chosen this area because 19 days beforehand they were briefed by flight operations personnel who had walked them through the route – the exact flight down the McMurdo Sound. They’d also been given hard copies of the relevant coordinates, essentially as backup.

The McMurdo Sound

Captain Jim Collins plotted the route using the relevant coordinates at home so he could show his daughters where he would be going – he made no mention of Mount Erebus

Flight planners, on the night before the flight made what they thought was one small correction to the route – tiny and insignificant, simply a small correction to counteract the computerisation of the flight plans. This would be little more than two miles. If you compare that to other flights – two miles would have been the standard level of error on flights of that duration. The actual change – 30 nautical miles, how did that happen? How did one change, seemingly ridiculously small become so huge?

Initially, as flight plans became computerised, they operated in a safe and logical way – there was nothing abnormal about them. This was, until people began to change them! A computer operator keyed a 4 instead of a 6 into the flight plan. This was what introduced the change of 30 nautical miles but no one noticed! This was because the route would  avoid Mount Erebus and travel down the McMurdo Sound. This would appear safer – flying down over an icy plain appeared safer than directly over a volcano.

This change in the flight plan resulted in an end landmark near the Dailey Islands – a small group of volcanic islands. Although the route was arguably safer, previous aircraft hardly ever flew to that point. For 14 months, crews flew this altered route – and everything went smoothly.

After the incident, the airline still upheld their thoughts – that the flight planners and management staff still thought the route went directly over Mount Erebus. This was surprising considering it was common knowledge amongst flight crews and publicity officers that the track ran down the McMurdo Sound.

The aviation industry constantly talks about “situational awareness” – simply that individuals in control of a task should have an awareness of not just the bare bones of the job in hand but other factors which might impact how someone can carry out the task in hand. Through no fault of their own, the crew had lost all situational awareness before they’d even left the ground. Flight planners made a small change – the path went from the McMurdo Sound to right over Mount Erebus. The crew’s minds were programmed for the other route, their pre-flight briefing was geared towards the other route. They were just not prepared for the change that later followed.

This is roughly what their paper flight plan would have looked like.

Tragic Consequences

30 nautical miles, putting in 4 rather than a 6 and communication issues were all that stood between the crew, passengers and death. The plane struck the mountain and in an instant all 257 staff and crew died.
New Zealand and American personnel were involved in the search and rescue operation. The operation was both physically and emotionally draining. The years following the incident, the rescuers have recounted tales of retrieving bodies from amongst the debris. In addition to retrieving the bodies, one of the early goals of the operation was to retrieve both the Flight Data Recorder (FDR) and Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) in the hope they would hold some kind of explanation for the disaster. Controversy followed as some published transcripts didn’t match other versions of events.
Similarly to a lot of other airline disasters, we may never know exactly what happened and the direct actions which led to such tragic consequences. There’s a number of probable issues with the flight – and a number of lessons we can learn to apply to today’s air travel.

Bakewell | Photography

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On our summer holiday this year, we took a trip to Bakewell in the Peak District before heading across towards Lincolnshire. Here’s some of the pictures I took in and around Bakewell. Over the next few days, I’ll post some more images from our holiday!

If you’d like to have a look at some of my other photos then click here. 

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This is overlooking one of the churches at Bakewell

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There were tonnes of birds along the river at Bakewell – and the river was jam packed with Trout!

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This is another view across the river at Bakewell – I think towards Chatsworth

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The weather stayed this kind of slightly sunny – slightly stormy mix for the duration of our stay!

Week 1 – Baby Steps | VMLM 2019

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This is my first training update for the London Marathon in 2019. I’m starting off on an epic journey to the start line (fingers crossed!) in April next year. Over the next 8 months you’ll be finding out about why I’m running London and essentially the progression of my relationship with running! Every week, I’ll be posting an update about how the training progresses. My hope is that when I get closer to April, I’ll be able to look back on these and notice how far I’ve come and have a record of the overall experience. My fundraising page is here. 

As you may or may not know – I’ve run before, in fact I’ve run 3 half marathons and a 10k timed. Somehow this feels very different. In previous events I’ve been able to almost wing it – I’m ridiculously competitive even though in a physical sense I’m far from gifted! I’ve found that before sheer grit and determination has gotten me across the line – not necessarily because I’ve had any structure in training, or even fuelled like a runner. But, this is where it’s all going to change!!

So far this week, I’ve run 2 x 2 miles and 2.6 miles – that doesn’t seem like a lot but I am slowly breaking my own records! The first run I set a personal best for 2 miles at a mere 28 minutes. The second run I ran the longest I’ve ever done without stopping – 6 and a half minutes covering a tiny half a mile! My plan with this is to go running across various distances setting “baseline” bits of data which then gives me areas to work on. I’ve come to my first realisation that one of the keys to me running for longer will be getting my breath in order. I have a habit of over breathing/breathing irregularly and I don’t think that’s the best habit for long distance running! So the first step to mastering my breath will be to practice a ‘running breath’ when I’m not running, so hopefully the same thing can easily be applied when I’m in motion! I am also hoping that as I get fitter that will also become easier – we’ll just have to see! I will also add that the 6 and a half minutes of consistent running included running up a hugggeee hill that I’ve previously avoided!

This week, I also went to have my gait analysed – it wasn’t necessarily in the plan but somehow we ended up in a running shop, they were offering it for free, so I thought why not! For the non runner, this is essentially where they get you running on a treadmill while videoing your feet. They can then play the video back in slow motion to investigate your stride. It wasn’t really a surprise when I turned out to be an ‘overpronator’. This is essentially when, during your stride your feet don’t hit the ground in a flat fashion – almost like you’re 10% penguin! I’ve also always known that my ankles are quite mobile and when I was a proper kid, I had lots of investigations for a multitude of reasons but i was also very hyperflexible! Ironically – with my metal spine I’m far from flexible, but thankfully I still have a bit of that left!! My first run with specialist shoes came when I ran for 2.6 miles. That run wasn’t particularly fast – I think I my muscles might be feeling the effects for over 6 miles in a week! I think for a long time that’s the most I’ve run in a shorter period of time for ages!

I’ve also started to investigate running nutrition – normally I’ve run with basically nothing and maybe the odd jelly baby, but I’ve also invested in a couple of energy gels – I’ve never had one before but we might as well go and try them out! As my training progresses, I’ll post some recipes and foods that are really helping to fuel the extra miles!

From my next run, I’m also going to start a training photo challenge. During every run, I’ll take a picture on that run so by the end of the training I’ll also have a photo record of my experiences. I’ll post the pictures on here but also on twitter @WildlifeClaire with a hashtag of #PhotoMarathon.

In more ways than one this week has really been about conquering things I’ve been scared of and going way out of my comfort zone! I’m not sure when my next run will be but it will be before the end of the week – it would be great if I could beat 10 miles for this week!

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This is some of the stats from my longest run of the week so far – I’m totally aware some people might call this walking – it’s a marathon not a sprint! 🙂 

TOTAL MARATHON MILES SO FAR: 6.6

 

I’m Running the London Marathon! | VMLM 2019

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I am about to embark on an epic running challenge. I’m running 2 half marathons and a full marathon in the space of 8 months! Over the next 8 months, I’ll be posting training updates, recipes, fundraising updates and more to to my website. All the updates will be added to my dedicated London Marathon page on this site here.

Over the next 8 months or so I will be fundraising for two amazing charities – the Youth Sports Trust and Make a Wish Foundation UK. I’ll be posting more about these amazing organisations later, but for now, here’s my fundraising page. 

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Animal A-Z | #ThrowbackThursday

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The animal kingdom is amazing with millions upon millions of different species, from the ordinary to the extraordinary. For this throwback, here’s an Animal A-Z guide I wrote as an ultimate guide to the wonders of our animal kingdom. From the Yak to the Vampire Squid- you’ll find out about all the great species of our planet.

You can download the book on the Amazon Kindle store, or get a paperback version here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Animal-Z-Claire-Nicholson-ebook/dp/B01DFEAXEK/ref=sr_1_8?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1533974679&sr=1-8&keywords=Claire+Nicholson

The Humboldt Penguin | Photography

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This penguin nests on rocky coasts and islands – they feed on their surrounding waters. Although this penguin can inhabit slightly hotter climates than the Arctic, they’re highly influenced by colder climates. This is because the cold, nutrient rich movement of the sea, flowing from Antarctica is vital for the plankton and krill levels. These then foster high levels of fish – which of course the penguins feed off of!

These penguin photos were taken at Wingham Wildlife Park near Canterbury, Kent.