Conservation student logs lizards using GPS and encounters deadly snakes

November 2012

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(NOTE: This is an archived press release.)

Logging lizard locations using GPS, encountering deadly snakes and determining the behaviour of a rare falcon species - work experience with a difference for one Writtle College student!

While studying for a degree in conservation at Writtle College, Felix Driver volunteered to carry out work experience with the UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum. He was given a ten-week placement in Cyprus, researching the impact of the British army base - which is used as a stop-off for Afghanistan and Iraq - on the local environment and helping to run environmental projects.

The 23-year-old explains: “I was involved in two major projects while out in Cyprus – a survey of the Fringe-Fingered Lizard and an analysis of a remote cliff-line along the base to determine the behaviour of the rare Eleonora’s Falcon, which only breeds around the Mediterranean.

“The lizard survey involved walking around the outback of the peninsula in rectangular sections. I clocked-up 60km in total and saw several deadly snakes, including a Blunt-Nosed Viper. As I walked, I logged their positions using GPS technology. I uploaded the data and then analysed their population density in relation to the range of habitats.

“The survey of Eleonora’s Falcon involved inspecting the cliffs and logging each sighting to aid understanding of their distribution along the cliff-line, their nest sites and their social interaction.”

Other highlights included an eight-week population count of Greater Flamingos, seeing thousands of White Storks blown off their migration to Africa, participating in a count of Demoiselle Cranes and spotting four different species of snake.

Felix was awarded a £1,500 Peter Kirk travelling scholarship – of which only ten awards are made each year – for the trip. As part of his sponsorship, he wrote a report presenting his findings.

Felix, who is originally from Oxford, became interested in island conservation from three expeditions in the remote Pacific before he started his degree. He hopes to set up conservation volunteering in overseas territories once he has graduated from Writtle College.

He said: “From my work experience in Cyprus, I gained great experience of bird identification, anatomy and behaviour, lizard identification, time management, confidence, problem-solving, dealing with other cultures in the workplace and of course the novelty of working within a British base.”

Alan Roscoe, Conservation Lecturer at Writtle College, says: “This is exactly the kind of hands-on, innovative conservation work we encourage our students to experience and it shows how Writtle students are making a real difference.”

For more information about the Conservation and Environment degree course offered at Writtle College, visit www.writtle.ac.uk