Tuesday 30 March 2021

My First Symposium: A Sense of Community

Blog by Kieran O’Malley

These unusual times call for an unusual symposium, so instead of crowding into a room I found myself crowding into a zoom call for the Bat Conservation Trust’s second woodland symposium.

The symposium was a two day event that brought together a variety of stakeholders, from bat workers and researchers to landowners and managers. Being a PhD student that carries out research on a woodland specialist species (the barbastelle bat), I was excited to engross myself in a community of like-minded individuals who all share a common goal; to restore and improve our native woodland, particularly for bats.   

Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the first day of the event due to other commitments (thankfully I will be able to watch a recording of it at a later time). However, the second day provided plenty of intriguing talks and topics to make up for this! The day kicked off with a talk from Ash Murray, a senior reserves manager for Natural England, who presented some interesting results of how bats use woodlands, not just at ground level but also within the often overlooked canopy.

Shortly after this Vikki Bengtsson (Pro Natura) gave a fascinating talk on veteranisation, a process in which cavities are artificially created within trees or stimulated to form by the damaging of live young trees. Given my interest in barbastelles, which often rely on the large number of cavities associated with ancient trees, I found the findings from her work particularly enthralling. It was the first time, perhaps naively, that I had heard of this method of woodland management. However, I quickly came to appreciate that the implications of this work could be potentially far-reaching.

After a short break, we joined a Q&A session with a panel of experts to discuss climate change and conservation. This was a great chance to explore the challenges facing bats, as well as other species, and highlight the actions that need to be taken moving forward. Whilst the many difficulties of the situation were discussed, it was encouraging to hear the optimism from many of our panellists. As Dr Olly Watts, senior climate change policy officer at the RSPB, said “we do finally seem to be moving economic and social life’s towards a way of better green living”, and I think we can take some hope from this. In fact, as was discussed, bats in the UK will fair proportionally well compared to many parts of Europe, with species expanding their range north whilst still retaining their southern populations.

After a break for lunch, George Peterken provided the keynote talk on the long term study of Lady Park Wood on the border of Gloucestershire and Monmouthshire. With the recording of trees at this site starting as early as 1944, it was incredible to hear about the history of this woodland, along with all the ups and downs that have occurred over the years. In particular, I was impressed to learn of the dedication of George and others in the creation of detailed maps that documented the exact position and size of individual trees within the woodland.

I thoroughly enjoyed the symposium, and learned a great deal about the different projects happening across the UK and beyond. Despite having to juggle over 150 participants over zoom, with all the breakout rooms and questions to answer, the symposium was both smoothly run and engaging. I send out my huge thank you to all the organisers and speakers, and I look forward to seeing everyone again at the next one, hopefully this time in person!


Click here to listen to the Woodland Symposium episode of BCT's BatChat podcast, to find out more about the 2020 Woodland Symposium!

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