Baker Consultants

The Diary of an Ecology Apprentice: Masters Assignments & Relocating Badgers

As Matthew Keough settles into his role of Ecology Apprentice at Baker Consultants, he has still been finding the time to keep up with his ‘Diary of an Apprentice’ and share what he’s been up to in the first months of his Level 7 Apprenticeship.

In my second month as Ecology Apprentice, I started work on the first assignment of my MSc; a group presentation on “Defining Restoration Outcomes”. We were put into groups of four and asked to create and present a 20-minute presentation outlining what is required to quantify the success of a restoration project. I’d never presented longer than a couple of minutes before and so I spent time trying to improve my speed of delivery, as well as my intonation.

 When 17th October came around, presentation day, I was ready! We completed the presentation and were given instant feedback from Mark Nason, one our Ecology lecturer’s at Cornwall College, who thought the content we’d pulled together was great. We also got some peer feedback, with the only negative being the speed at which we were talking, which was admittedly a bit fast. Nerves are to blame for that!

 During October, I also accompanied our Assistant Ecologist, Rae Smith, on site visits and learned about some of the survey techniques we use for various species and habitats. On one site in particular, we are trying to relocate (encourage) badgers from their current sett (home) to a new sett my colleagues have created away from the proposed development area and closer to the boundary of the site. To do this, we used a mixture of peanuts and molasses, yum! Motion activated camera traps are then put outside the new sett and, if we record the badgers entering them, we can safely exclude them from their main one. Unfortunately, we didn’t see them this time, but we did see lots of birds, deer and foxes. The infrared images are fascinating to review and we will continue to feed at the new sett right through the winter.

The following week, I accompanied Rae to another one of her jobs: a hedgerow condition assessment. It was great fun to see lots of new plants, from fungi to lichens, and to start learning about how to identify them and how they help to inform us about the health of an area of hedgerow. I also got an insight into how surveys are done, so I could obtain the data I’ve been using when making habitat maps on QGIS.

 In November, I went on annual leave and travelled down to the south coast with my partner and her family. We stayed in lovely lodges in a beautiful location that had views of the sea, and was only a 40-minute drive from Dartmoor National Park. Having just read Guy Shrubsholes book – The Lost Rainforests of Britain – I was excited to visit a remaining fragment of one myself. So, we set off for Lustleigh Cleave down tight, windy roads. Then, a walk through the lovely village of Lustleigh until we arrived at the forest entrance. It was fantastic! Bryophytes (Mosses and liverworts) and lichens covered every inch of rock and bark, the entire forest was green from top to bottom. The fungi there have excellent conditions for fruiting thanks to the excessive moisture captured in the area, so mushrooms were springing up from every corner. The forest walk takes you along the river Bovey and luckily the rain held off for our two-hour walk. I highly recommend visiting the remaining fragment of temperate rainforest in Devon, to me it is the most beautiful of UK habitats as you can find life at every turn.

 After a break from my desk, but not the ecology subject matter, I was ready to start work again on Monday and get an insight into bat identification. Baker Consultants was one of the first consultancies to use remote recording equipment and data analysis of bats. With help from Rae and books on bat calls, I have started to sift through our files of captured bat data to identify the species of the recorded bats based on sonograms of their calls. It has been great learning these new skills but filtering through 10,000 sound files can be tedious – but then again, some people don’t like mapping!

The Baker Consultants team is highly experienced and we are passionate about what we do. If you need advice related to ecology, surveys or conservation, then please get in touch with us via our contact form on the website, or you can call us on +44 (0)1629 593958 or email us on