Sweden Field Course Blog

by Jake Brendish

In the last days of term, the mention of a field trip to Sweden drove me to run through campus like a Sports Direct employee trying to find a sandwich on their five-minute lunch break.

I had always loved what I had seen of the Scandinavian landscape (not to mention the wildlife) and crudely scrawled my name on the sign-up sheet.

We arrived in the middle of August. Our base for the week was Tovetorp Zoological Field Station, an oasis of meatballs and cake at the centre of dense forest. Without leaving the station we were able to see many creatures rarely seen in the UK, including red squirrels and common cranes.

Our outings the first weekend included a trip to the islands and VERY slippery rocks of Stendörren Nature Reserve where, upon losing my footing, I discovered why something very cold is often described as ‘Baltic’.

The scenery was almost perfect, save for a few half-naked Swedes, but was beaten by the almighty Tyresta National Park. The 20kmforest was as picturesque as it was soggy, with narrow trails and a huge variety of flora.

Along our trek, we briefly stopped at Bysljön, a large lake. Though I thought leaving my camera behind would aid me in the park, it instead meant I was unable to photograph the beaver dam on the lake. Dam(n).

At the end of our walk we arrived at Stensjön (“Stone Lake”), featuring an osprey plus nest and a black-throated diver, another bird not commonly found in the UK.

Over those same days, we were also given two demonstrations: bird ringing by the owners of the field station, and bat-detecting, on which I became quite hooked.

Though we had enjoyed our hikes over the weekend, it was now time to get to work. Split into trios by our supreme leaders, we each chose a group of organisms on which to base an ecological project. With an entomologist present, we decided it would be a great idea to study crickets and grasshoppers.

This was a mistake.

While many groups smartly elected to study things like moss, we spent an afternoon wading through long, tick-infested grass and pouncing on poor Orthopterans.

At the end of the day, we were given a talk by a spokesman for the local hunting association, which centred around the philosophies of and regulations imposed upon hunters in Sweden. Admittedly, I expected to very much dislike said hunter, being strongly opposed to what I thought were similar hunting activities. However, I was surprised by how Swedish hunters believe they aid the region’s ecological balance and genuinely seemed to care about the wildlife that they were blasting with their rifles.

I had more than a suspicion I would love Sweden, but was taken aback by the population’s ubiquitous love of nature and how they seamlessly integrated human recreation with natural environments. This is something that has stuck with me and has made me promise to return one day (fika helped, too).

International fieldwork: A week in Sweden

by Anne Boushall

I’ve never been as excited to get up early as I was on the 11th August. 5am was a very early start, but knowing that by the end of the day I’d be in Sweden certainly made it worth it. Once we had arrived, it was a long journey to the Tovetorp field station – a journey that I was mostly asleep for!

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Early morning at the station

Within just a few hours of being at the field station, we had already seen 3 fallow deer, a white stork and a huge anthill!

We also visited a few nature reserves during the week, where we explored the areas, discovering lots of different wildlife, from toads and frogs, to signs of deer and carnivores (thanks to their faeces!), a wide range of spruce and pine trees and some bizarre looking algae and mushrooms. I was even brave enough, or at least hungry enough, to try some of the wild blueberries – like the Swedish locals do!

I learnt about how in touch with nature Swedish people are; even those who live in the cities go out to the woods berry picking, mushroom collecting and even hunting! And the fact that they allow hunting in the first place is quite intriguing. A member of the hunting association explained to us that they believe hunting helps control the balance of the ecosystem and they eat the animals they hunt so nothing goes to waste.

My group project was based on the behaviour of red wood ants. After finding several anthills we decided to record how quickly the ants moved at different times of the day. It was fascinating to see the difference between how little they moved first thing in the morning, when we were all wrapped up in coats and blankets, compared to how quickly they were moving in the hot afternoon.

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Wasp spider (Argiope bruennichi)

The most memorable part of the course for me was when I helped Frankie with her bat project. It was 11.30pm and just the two of us were out in the woods. I was shining my torch around when I noticed eyes staring at us! I immediately held my breath and thought “wolves!”, even though there are definitely no wolves in the south of Sweden. They finally got close enough for us to realise they were only fallow deer! We were both so relieved. There was even an adorable tiny fawn in the group! Not as scary as we thought!

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Wart-biter (Decticus verrucivorus)

I feel that international fieldwork is very beneficial to zoologists and ecologists as it gives us more experience with species that we may never come across otherwise. Before Sweden I thought I was only really interested in birds and mammals but now I find myself interested in insects and other arthropods as well! Sweden is such a beautiful country, with forests and animals around every corner. I’d love to go back there and even live there if I get the chance! It’s an experience I hope to never forget.

The importance of always observing and asking questions and the joys of teamwork

by Timothy Macqueen

Beavers and badgers and bears oh my! Off to a Sweden field course I fly. This summer I got the fantastic opportunity to visit one of the most beautiful and happiest countries in the world Sweden. We spent over a week at the Tovertorp Zoological station surrounded by beautifully preserved Swedish countryside. Over the days we spent there we not only built our practical skills but also learnt experimental design and unique information on how Swedes see nature. This trip’s focus was on observation and building observational skills.

With such a small group of us (just 15) by the end of the trip I felt like I had made 18 new friends. I loved how we banded together and pushed through the rain or one of us would spot something and we would all crowd round, each of us excited to learn what it was. It built a sense of comradery between us all which I am very thankful for, we learnt that its always better to work together than to try do everything yourself.

The experience was not all fun however some parts were challenging. With early get ups and late nights (depending on what animal you are studying). These made me appreciate the real schedule that ecologists have to follow. The early mornings were painful at first but by the end of the week I was enjoying the peace they bring. I also saw just how much more time I had available in each day. I realised the importance of getting the most out of our days there. If I was lazy or procrastinated then I might fall behind and miss a unique opportunity.

One thing that this course really revealed to me was the importance of asking questions. Something that seems so simple actually is the foundation to everything. A special moment for me was on the first morning, we had just finished the bird ringing demonstration and all but 5 of us had gone back to the lodge. I stayed and I asked the demonstrators questions, I asked and asked until I was satisfied. In that short span of around 15 minutes I learnt almost as much as what I had learned in the whole demonstration. By asking questions I was filling in gaps in my understanding and started to understand the subject as a whole. I found the same when it came to designing our experiment, it all boiled down to asking the right questions. By questioning everything we may eventually be able to know everything.

It was challenging and helpful to be given a whole area of environments and organisms and be told “go study something in a way that works”. It made me look at the total range of things and in turn see the interesting parts of all things.

There were some parts of the course that were just plain cool, I especially liked using the bat detector and setting the camera and mammal traps. These are key basic skills for anyone planning on collecting data in the wild and so setting them up has boosted my confidence when it comes to equipment and familiarised me with the techniques used to make them successful. It was a fantastic course and I feel better prepared to study nature in the future.

Benefits of international fieldwork – Sweden 2017

by Lauren Annetts

Finding out that I had a place on the Sweden field trip was a wave of excitement and nerves. I was excited to experience a different country and culture; however, I was nervous to conduct my own fieldwork for the first time.

When landing in Sweden it became apparent how rural the country was, for once I could see more trees than buildings and the roads were small; not ruining the natural landscape. Unfortunately, I did not see much more of the country until we arrived at Tovetorp field station as one thing I am good at is falling asleep in car journeys.

The first few days were spent taking trips to nature reserves and learning sampling techniques. Learning how to ring birds, although it was earlier than I would have liked, was an amazing opportunity to experience. Having learnt about bird species throughout first year it was amazing to be able to see the species I had studied close and learn new species that may be rare or non-existent in the UK.

Another great experience the field trip gave me was the day to explore Tyresta National Park. Living close to the New Forest National Park back home, I thought I knew what to expect from a national park, however, Tyresta was a completely different experience. I felt so inspired from the Swedish culture and their views of nature and their respect for it. The national park was a completely untouched natural beauty with only positive impacts from humans for once.

The rest of the field trip was left for us to conduct our own projects. At first it was difficult to think of an initial project, having only 3 days to complete it and so many ideas and species to work with it was difficult to narrow down to one.

One of the biggest benefits for international fieldwork to me is the opportunity to work with different species. Although the climate and species in Sweden are like those in the UK, seeing rare bird species and new insect species for me was wonderful. I would have liked to have seen some of the species Sweden are known for such as wolves, moose, and lynx, however knowing they were there and could be near me was thrilling enough as an ecologist.

Although I did not get to experience this myself, another great benefit of international fieldwork is the opportunity of working with students from other countries. To be able to exchange knowledge of species and techniques in unique, but also gives you the opportunity to network and possibility of studying in another international setting.

Overall, the field trip to Sweden was once in a life time. I have come home with new respect for nature and my views of fieldwork have been expanded. I very much look forward to my next fieldwork project where I can use techniques and skills I have learned.

An aspiring ecologist and the benefits of visiting Sweden

by Emma Ashfield

Upon hearing of the opportunity to visit Sweden, I quickly made sure my name was on that list. Many times, I was told “ you won’t see mammals, Devon is the place for that’’. I just did not agree. Devon? I can go anytime but Sweden for me was a once in a lifetime trip. On the 11th August 2017, 15 intrepid ecologist and zoologists made the short journey to the land of fjords and forests. Nestled in a landscape of green and curious Lego-looking houses, Tovertorp field station was home for the week. Welcomed by the delightful smells of fika, we quickly settled in and got down to business.

Our days started early but we were rewarded. Yellow necked mice in mammal traps, storks flying overhead and bird ringing. Mornings quickly grew on you. Nature reserves and national parks came next. From hiking in the torrential rain to visiting lakes teeming with life. Beavers, jellyfish, ospreys and so much more. Binoculars and field notebooks were always out. Constant usage of these helped me quickly identify species, particularly birds, in the field. Noting the weather, asking myself questions about the places we visited and reflecting on the day’s events helped me notice and interact with the environment better. Commenting on human inputs for example, and their purpose, not overlooking them as another part of the environment.

The landscape of Stendörren naturreservat

The landscape of Stendörren naturreservat. Photo credit: Emma Ashfield

Tasked with choosing a research question and placed into groups, we investigated plant species richness in unmanaged and managed areas around the field station. With a group member down, identification had to be fast, accurate and efficient. Identifying species from 76 quadrats helped me improve that once weak skill. I feel more confident in how to pick out key features, being able to differentiate between similar looking species and accepting my final decision. Initial results indicate a difference in the species richness, surprisingly higher in managed areas. Quadrats looking deceivingly sparse had numerous species, including yarrow, selfheal and smooth hawksbeard.

Identifying plant species

Identifying plant species. Photo credit: Emma Ashfield

Evenings were filled with talks, both enlightening and thought provoking. Rewilding Britain sounded brilliant at first, but realising these animals would be living on your doorstep soon brought the drawbacks. Still, bears, wolves and deer’s  are an integral part of Swedish life. Seeing the harmony with wild animals made me sad that we can’t do the same in the UK. For us our needs come before that of natures, which is why Sweden was a bit of a culture shock. Seeing families mushroom and berry picking, picnicking by lakes and spending their summer in the countryside, is a rare sight in Britain

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Common toad (Bufo Bufo) caught by Arron Watson. Photo credit: Emma Ashfield

Taking part in a field course was one of the best decisions I have made and would highly recommend it. For me, I see conservation as potential career and seeing it vary from country to country showed the range of jobs I could pursue. As I saw environments and species I hadn’t encountered previously, working in a foreign country appeals to me. I feel that this would expand my knowledge and access opportunities not available in the UK.

A Week in Sweden

by Léonie Dommett

The week I spent at the Tovetorp Field Station in Sweden was one of the most rewarding experiences I could have had and a wonderful addition to my university experience. We were shown beautiful landscapes such as the Tyresta National Park, a virgin forest that has had no human intervention for thousands of years; where trees could grow tall, die and return to the soil unaided or hindered by anyone. Or the Baltic sea where we could see seals swim and dozens of species of birds fly from tree to tree.

Throughout the week the instructors would hold lectures and workshops where we would learn valuable information about practical field ecology. I learned new skills such as bird ringing and being able to distinguish various bats by their call using specialised equipment. I was also taught how to use camera traps and small mammal traps to gain a clearer picture of the wildlife that surrounded the field station. I also managed to collect various plant samples and by the end of the week, I could correctly identify multiple species of plants and trees without needing the help of a book or the internet.

Part of the module involved being split into groups of three and then designing and carrying out an experiment. This was the perfect opportunity to experience what a career in field ecology may be like. As someone who is unsure about what they want to do in the future, this was an eye-opening experience which has helped me to have a more focused and educated outlook when it comes to prospective careers.

Taking part in the field course was also a valuable opportunity for me to hone my teamworking skills and befriend other likeminded people on my course. And keeping a field journal, an important ecological tool, further encouraged me to look at our surroundings in more detail, inspiring a greater appreciation in the world around me.

Seeing the different customs and habits of a foreign country is always a fascinating experience, and Sweden was no different. And thanks to the Swedish custom of being allowed to go anywhere without worrying about trespassing allowed us to see even more of the wildlife and to appreciate how diverse it can be across different habitats like the coast, or a forest, or a town. And I must admit that the custom of Fika, mid-afternoon cake and coffee, was another favourite of mine.

In conclusion, I am immensely grateful that I had the opportunity to practice field work in such a beautiful country as Sweden. I learned many new, valuable skills; made friends that I otherwise would not have known, and I was able to see many new species that I would never have encountered back home. I would recommend it to anyone who is unsure what field work would be like, or wants to improve their skills all while enjoying the beauty of a foreign country, as I believe that the Sweden trip was the perfect experience.

Benefits of fieldwork in an international setting, Sweden 2017

by Megan Stigling

As the plane was landing I was instantly in awe at the sight out the window, it was unreal that there was so many trees this close to a city. I was in Sweden, abroad for the first time and about to take part in eight intense days of early morning mammal trapping and late-night bat tracking alongside 10 other students from Reading University. After driving through mesmerising countryside scattered with idyllic red wooden houses we arrived at Tovetorp field station, our main base for the week. Surrounded by thick deciduous forest, tall grassland and a variety of lakeside habitats Tovetorp is the prime location to observe an abundance of Swedish species.

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View of Tovetorp Field Station. Photo Credit: Megan Stigling

Much to our horror we started off the weekend with a 5.30am bird ringing session where we were shown some of the research currently being completed at the field station. Being able to watch and talk to people that have a career in conservation was eye opening as they gave us an insight into what goes into collecting a large data set. Talking to experienced ecologists has really helped me to understand the dedication required to collect samples efficiently and accurately which will be useful when completing future research.

Over the next two days we were taken to many different nature reserves around Sweden such as the Baltic Ocean and Tore grav where we collected samples and information for our field notebooks. One of my highlights was walking through Tyresta National Park an area of pristine forest, untouched by humans and allowed to grow naturally. It was inspiring to hear about the history of the forest and see how respectful the Swedish people were towards nature and the natural world. The sense of freedom we were given throughout the trip amazed me as we could explore both around the field station and on field trips with almost no restraint. The ability to explore independently and take field samples and photos to investigate back at the field station allowed me to gain valuable transferable research and identification skills.

Another highlight was being able to undergo a research topic as part of a group in any area we were interested in. We choose to research the impact of plant length on grasshopper and bush cricket species richness and abundance. Around the field station we found many species that are extremely rare in the UK such as the Wart Biter bush cricket which can only be seen at five sites throughout the UK.  I have never been particularly interested in arthropods but after spending time observing them in the field I realised that their colours, patterns, and behaviours were all unique between species and even between individuals.

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Large Marsh Grasshopper. Photo Credit: Megan Stigling

Upon reflection I have been able to take away not only new practical skills such using a camera trap but also a new prospective of what living with nature can look like. I have gained a new appreciation for Orthoptera and will use this experience to widen the range of species I am familiar with. Altogether visiting Sweden was an experience I will never forget and I hope to transfer all that I have learnt and experienced into my future studies and career.

 

Sweden field course 2017: A biologist’s reflection

by Charlotte Rose

In August I had the opportunity to visit Sweden on a biodiversity field trip, with a focus on group research and field methods. We spent the first couple of days visiting picturesque nature reserves to give us an idea of the many species and habitats that are abundant in Sweden. During our visits we kept a field journal of the species we had seen, and the field methods we used. This was very useful as it improved both my identification and observational skills.

The first afternoon we went to Stendörren nature reserve on the Baltic sea coast. It is a spectacular reserve that is home to grey seals, so we spent most of the time observing them from the shore. Stendörren also has a different sub-species of long tailed tits than we have in the UK, which is paler, lacks the black eyebrow stripe and is found throughout Scandinavia and northern Russia, I enjoyed seeing these as long tailed tits are a frequent visitor to my bird feeders at home so it was fascinating to see how their appearance can vary.

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Stendörren nature reserve. Taken by Charlotte Rose.

My highlight of the week was the trip the Tyresta National Park, a few years ago a portion of the park burnt down and it was really interesting to see the ecosystem regenerating. Throughout most of our time in Tyresta it was just Megan and me, as we managed to get lost (she has the misconception that it was my fault!). We had a delightful trip to a different lake, however, it was not worth the extra 5km and we don’t recommend this for anyone next year. Eventually we re-joined the group at the correct lake and saw an osprey’s nest!

Some of the most interesting wildlife seen during the week was within the Trovetorp field station grounds, our base for the week. My favourite were the wart-biter bush-crickets as these can only be found in five sites in England, so it was amazing to see so many at the same time.

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A wart-biter bush-cricket at Trovetorp field station. Taken by Charlotte Rose.

The latter portion of the week was dedicated to a group research project. Our group decided to do a project on the peak activity times of various bat species in the area. We detected 13 bat species at the field station, which was remarkable because we only have 17 resident species in the whole of the UK. My favourite bat was the northern bat because they are not present at home and so is was an experience we could only have while researching abroad. We discovered different species have distinct activity times, and we hypothesised that this is due to their diet, for example the northern bat exclusively eats the ghost moth, and so the bat’s peak activity time needs to coincide with the moth’s.

One of the main things that stood out to me throughout the week was the Swedes’ connection to nature; they have a philosophy of allemansrätten, or ‘freedom to roam’, which allows you to walk and camp wherever you like so long as nature is respected.

From this field course I have gained a better understanding of practical field methods and teamwork. It was a fantastic experience, and I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in ecology and biodiversity.

My Small Snippet of Sweden

by Zoe Richards

Even with all the (very) early mornings, the university course to Sweden was one of the best trips of my life. Situated on Tovetorp Field station, my week was spent surrounded by idyll landscape, the quietness of nature refreshing to the harsh noises of a busy town.

Even from the plane journey the views of vast forests covering such a large part of the country got all of us students excited. We knew before the plane wheels touched the ground that this trip would be filled with a diverse array of wildlife at our fingertips and an exciting adventure . However, being told later that afternoon that we would be getting up at 5am the next day did cause a few smiles to turn into frowns.

This new day was filled with several different activities. 5am called for bird ringing, where we could learn about the work they do on the field station monitoring birds and their migration patterns. Small mammal trapping was also fun, as although we had to get up at 5am, it was funny watching Joanna struggle with trying to corner a little mouse in a big bag.

After a hearty breakfast, we set out on a trip to 2 different nature reserves, one full of dense forest, slippery hills and insects galore, the other much more barren, with large (also slippery) rocks surrounded by the Baltic sea. Although too afraid to take a dip like some brave people, I did experience the chilly waters when our ‘help me don’t slip of the rocks’ bus didn’t go to plan.

Although both beautiful in their own right, these nature reserves paled in comparison to the beautiful Tyresta National Park, with its burnt forest, many lakes and untouched scenery. The park also contained multiple different species, however unlike the people who were amazed by the Osprey and its nest we saw at one of the lakes, I was much more excited by the little red squirrel that ran across our path on the way back.

Even though by the time we had reached the mini vans by the end I felt soaked through (the weather did not care that we were walking a very hard path and we had expensive equipment in our bag) watching my friends tripping up on roots and rocks coupled with the beautiful views really made it a great day.

Unfortunately after that, all the fun stuff had to come to an end. The real reason we came to Sweden had to start. We were (against our will I might add 😉 ) put into groups chosen by the lecturers and told to think about what topic we would like to choose for our research project. After a few failed attempts, we decided on bats and with my new love for the creatures thanks to our bat detecting nights, I went into the data collection for this very happily.

With table tennis every night, singing Disney in the mini vans and seeing wildlife in their natural habitats I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to Sweden. My only complaint is that I can’t go again next year!

Allemansrätten: exploring Sweden’s wilderness

by Libby Polkey

 The journey begins, 7:30 sharp. Sat on my suitcase, I’m hyped for the wildlife highlight of my summer; a field trip in Sweden!

Soon enough, we arrive at Tovetorp field station. Bathed in a brilliant orange sunset, our new home looks every bit the idyllic wildlife retreat. A bird calls, and everyone rushes out of the van. Nestled between a stunning expanse of broadleaf forest, meadowland and flowering grassland, our base is a prime location for viewing Sweden’s wildlife.

The base is also an ideal location for many of the week’s activities. Every day is action-packed, and usually begins at sunrise. Over the weekend, we spent the majority of our time on field trips. We visited Tore Grav Nature Reserve (otherwise known as the ‘ice hole’), Stendörren Nature Reserve (an area of coastal and archipelago landscapes), and Tyresta National Park. When visiting each location, our task was simple- to make detailed observations of our surroundings, and collect samples. In doing so, we further understood the ecology of each environment.

Upon our return to the field station, we attempted to identify species we’d spotted, and write about our experiences in a field notebook. The notebooks were designed to guide us in our efforts to record scientific observations. However, I also appreciated the personal aspect of writing handwritten notes, sketching fauna and flora, and reflecting upon each day.

From Monday to Thursday, we designed and executed field experiments at Tovetorp Field Station. The group project required us to carefully consider our experimental design and scientific method. In addition, the days were supplemented with lectures and other exciting activities. For me, a personal highlight was setting up the camera traps. Our group managed to capture two animals- a deer, and an unidentified species of Mustelid!

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time in Sweden. Visiting areas of natural beauty, meeting my peers, and most importantly, tucking into a delicious Fika every afternoon has been a real treat!

Upon reflection, I feel the greatest take-away from our time in Sweden has been experiencing Swedish culture. The Swedes have a strong relationship with nature. Whilst the average citizen does not have a comprehensive understanding of the ecology on their doorstep, they appreciate its existence nonetheless. They have an intimate connection with nature, and are keen to utilise areas of countryside for a host of outdoor activities, such as walking, berry-picking, and even hunting.

Over recent decades, a rift has formed between Britons and Britain’s nature. This sense of disconnect has serious implications for the future of our countryside, and troubles me greatly. However, I remain optimistic that through education, and encouraging children and adults alike to engage with nature, we may once again appreciate our countryside. I believe that the Swede’s connection with nature is admirable, and that we should aspire to such a relationship.