Baker Consultants

The Diary of an Ecology Apprentice: Tree Climbing, Badgers & Reptile Mats

March saw work step up a gear for our Ecology Apprentice, Matthew Keough, as he set out on a tree-climbing course with his colleague, Isabel. It was also his first month of the year out on the field, where he surveyed some badger setts and got to work deploying reptile mats. Read Matthew’s latest diary entry below to find out more about his month of March:

My colleague Isabel and I were fortunate enough to be enrolled on a week’s course to learn the ropes of professional tree climbing and aerial rescues. We learnt about tree climbing risk assessments, what pieces of kit are essential for climbing trees safely and how to maintain them, how to tie a 3-knot climbing system, and the current guidance from the Arboricultural Association.

On the first day we sorted out our gear and got straight to work climbing to the top of a twenty-metre-high tree and back down again. For whatever reason, I had it in my head that we couldn’t climb using branches, so I did it purely on pulling and thrusting up the tree with my ropes which was a workout and a half! The first time you get to the top of a tree, and you are suspended by branches not much thicker than your own arm, you gain a lot more trust in trees and learn to appreciate their strength. Looking down from the canopy, you notice the gentle sway of the tree as its branches catch the light breeze, and there’s something relaxing about it as you hover above the ground.

From a mild sunny start, the weather for the remainder of the week was less kind to us and it was physically and mentally draining. One of the trickiest things to learn is something known as a ‘Limb Walk’, where you climb to the top of a tree, identify a good branch, and get two good anchor points above it. You then use your ropes to descend to the branch and proceed to propel yourself to the tip of the branch so you can stand at the tip of it. Isabel took to it better than me; she was rapid at everything! Our assessment was the week after and we were both nervous, but our teacher, James, was great and he taught us all we needed to know, so there was no way we could fail – and we didn’t! We are now certified tree-climbers and I am very excited to use my skills in the field to identify any bat roosts that might be hiding in the trees.

 The following week was back to reality and the start of survey season was coming in fast! My first survey was laying coloured bait for badgers so we could identify which areas are used by different setts of badgers. This entails feeding badgers a cocktail of peanuts, molasses and syrup, along with coloured beads. We look through the badger’s latrines (where they poop!) a few days later and see where badgers from different setts are going. We get to play detective and it’s quite fun (for the most part).

 My next survey outing was my first-time deploying reptile mats. It’s basically a day out doing large scale arts and crafts! We take roofing felt rolls to a site and cut them into 50cm x 50cm squares before spray painting numbers on them. These felt squares are nice spots for reptiles to hide out and keep warm as the blackness of the felt absorbs a lot of sunlight and heats up quickly. We deploy them tactically next to good reptile habitats and on south-facing banks so that if the site has reptiles, they will find the mats and allow us to record their presence and abundance. After two weeks, we will return to the site to lift the mats and count any reptiles, snake species or even slowworms, which use them to bask under. I have been programmed in for lots of reptile surveys this year and I’m looking forward to honing my reptile identification skills over the coming survey season.


Strict guidance from Natural England must be adhered to in order to carry out licensed work with badgers on your site. Baker Consultants is highly experienced and we are passionate about what we do, and we are often called upon to consult on badger setts for planning and development projects. If you need advice related badger protection and survey methods, please get in touch with us via the contact form on the website, or you can call us on +44 (0)1629 593958 or email us on