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Reflecting on 2021: A Whirlwind Year

Happy New Year Everyone!

I find myself slightly delayed in wishing you all a happy new year as I have started the year off in somewhat of a chaotic fashion, which definitely foreshadows my year to come (in a good way!). I aimed to commence 2022 with a solid plan of action and create some goals that I’d like to achieve, but in reality, life snowballs and sometimes you just have to take every day as it comes. Having said that, I am extremely excited (understatement of the century) about the year ahead of me, and am convinced it really is my year. But before I delve into what’s in store, I’d like to reflect on my time amongst nature in 2021, because it was totally fab.

Image: Nina Herbert, Cod Beck Reservoir, North Yorkshire, 2021.

We started off 2021 in a cold flurry of snow and frost! Snow quite literally blanketed the entirety of North Yorkshire and framed this beautiful rural area in pristine whiteness. I managed to snap some seriously snowy photos for my blog and featured on the front cover of Nature’s Gold Magazine, ‘Issue 05: Winter 2021’. It was such a lovely start to the year as we often don’t experience a lot of snow in this region. Plus, it was P-R-E-T-T-Y!

Images: Nina Herbert, Frost Series, Stockton on Tees, 2021.

Springtime in March and April brought with it the most beautiful clear blue skies and pink cherry blossom blooms. Peacock butterflies and bumblebees took full advantage and soaked up the available nectar and sunny rays. Daffodils and Forget-me-nots littered any available green space on verges and parks, bringing fresh pastel colours to a once bleak, winter landscape. I also finalised the design of my organic tote bags and tees in April, which will be available to buy one day…I promise!

Images: Nina Herbert, North Yorkshire, 2021.

By the time May came around, I was thrust into a bustling bat season, carrying out dusk and dawn emergence surveys four times a week and running on very little sleep for 6 months straight. I gained invaluable experience working as an assistant ecologist, carrying out scoping surveys, writing preliminary bat roost assessments, culminating data and writing licences for prospective developments in and around Yorkshire. I was fortunate enough to spot some sleepy brown long-eared bats during some of my surveys – these are void-dwelling species and often perch on internal beams or ridges and can be quite easily spotted. This little guy below was chilling in a two-storey garage, before emerging for some food later in the evening.

Image: Brown long-eared bat perched on an internal beam, Nina Herbert, 2021.

Unfortunately, in June, a juvenile female minke whale washed up on our local beach, with injuries to its fluke, consistent with some kind of entanglement or boat propeller injury. It was a harrowing sight but educational all the same. As a British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) volunteer, it is something we don’t want to occur but inevitably, it comes with the role. These uncommon occurrences really highlight the problems associated with marine mammals and bycatch, entanglement and ship strike, especially when it occurs so close to home. Unfortunately, strandings are on the rise around the UK, and BDMLR were called out to ~130 cetacean strandings and over 1658 seal rescues in 2021.

Images: Juvenile female minke whale, Redcar, Nina Herbert, 2021.

I spent most of June and July working at the office, watching FLIR thermal imagery videos spotting bat emergences, mapping habitats and physically sat outside someone’s house, barn or garage looking for bats in the flesh. One of the coolest sites I visited was Auckland Castle, where common and soprano pipistrelles had commandeered the chapel and were emerging from a tiny broken pane in the stained-glass window to the north-east of the building. I conducted both dusk and dawn emergence surveys here and it was really interesting to see the differences in behaviour of a maternity roost emerging at dusk, and then re-entering just before dawn. The pipistrelles were seen swarming and would fly up to the access point a number of times, gently landing on the window for a few seconds before dropping back down and flying around again. They repeated this behaviour several times before actually landing on the window and crawling back into the building via the gap. The cracking sunrise at dawn made the 3am wake up call much more worthwhile!

July was a particularly comical month in terms of wildlife, as a certain grey seal, (mentioning no names, cough Felicia cough), gave us BDMLR volunteers quite the run around at the Tees Barrage. I had been called to a seal rescue just down the A66, 5 minutes from where I live, to check on a seal that had managed to situate itself slap bang in the centre of the white-water rafting course. The young female grey seal had slipped through the fish pass next to the river Tees and presumably followed some food into the water course. She seemed pretty chilled and content when I checked on her for the first time, and I continued to monitor her for several days, making sure her behaviour didn’t alter too much and that she was feeding. However, concern started to mount when the seal displayed mildly distressing behaviour and was swimming in circles, appearing to be looking for an escape route. Several days past and she did not leave of her own accord, so the Canal and Rivers Trust decided to drain the white-water course as much as they could to allow the seal to escape through the drainage valves and into the river Tees. Luckily, this move, combined with throwing fish to entice the seal towards the exits, eventually worked and our aptly named grey seal, Felicia, was free!

Images: 'Felicia' the grey seal, Tees Barrage, Nina Herbert, 2021.

August came and went pretty swiftly, with bat surveys left, right and centre and not much time to explore outside of a work setting. I did get to try paddle boarding in Abersoch, Wales for the first time though, which was a bonus. I’m definitely a water baby at heart!

But September was the highlight of the year so far and it was amazing! I was finally able to hop on board the Pont-Aven on behalf of ORCA for two weeks and monitor cetaceans from Plymouth to Santander, across the Bay of Biscay. It was an incredible, eye-opening experience, and I was lucky enough to spot species of cetacean I’d never seen before, including striped dolphins, fin whales and a mystery beaked whale! The sunsets and sea views were also stunning and I woke up glorious, mirror calm waters on several occasions – a perfect sea state for spotting fins! One of the highlights on board was speaking to so many passengers, inspiring them about ORCA’s vital work and hearing about their stories and experiences with wildlife. It’s always great to communicate with people who share your passions.

Images: Whale blow and a common dolphin, Bay of Biscay, on behalf of ORCA, Nina Herbert, 2021.

Back on land, October and November brought long, autumnal walks and crisp, darker nights. Bat emergence season was officially over and I could finally catch up on sleep lost through the summer watching bats until the early hours of the morning. I managed to squeeze in the odd beach walk along Redcar seafront at the weekends, and unfortunately many parts of the north-east coast experienced unprecedented numbers of dead crustaceans and fish wash up along the shore. The cause is still unknown but it is believed it could possibly have been linked to acoustic-sonar activities or a toxic spill of some kind. Either way, it was really sad to see thousands of crabs, lobsters and all kinds of fish wash in and out with the tides.

Images: Crustaceans washed up on Redcar beach, Nina Herbert, 2021.

Soon enough, December came around with Christmas on its heels, with a sprinkling of snow and mild, wintry days. I didn’t document much wildlife in the darker months but I am hoping Winter 2022 will open my eyes to new wonders… wherever in the world I may be (wink, wink).

2021 has been a busy year for me. I started a new job as an assistant ecologist, learning a lot about bat and great crested newt ecology, carrying out surveys and enhancing my skill set. It was a steep learning curve but I really enjoyed taking full advantage of the resources around me and learning something new. I also encountered a menagerie of exciting marine wildlife during my adventures to France and Spain, and shared these unforgettable experiences with hundreds of people along the way. 2021 has been filled with lots of little wins, and some really big wins, (one of which is my INCREDIBLE new job… teehee), and I have been able to share these with people around me. My advice to anyone this year would be to surround yourself with people who celebrate with you and support you, because you are worth celebrating! Go and get that dream job, go and travel, go and spend endless hours outdoors in nature if it makes you happy! Just do it!!

I have an incredibly exciting 2022 ahead of me and I cannot wait to share it with you. Keep your eyes positively PEELED for some scenic, breath-taking content on my blog and Instagram page, and just remember to be patient because I will have very limited Wi-Fi where I’m going…

Signing off for now, catch you on the flipside, friends



British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR)

Lost in Conservation

September at Sea: Part I

September at Sea: Part II

Seal Shenanigans: Tees Barrage Fiasco

Teesside Stranding: A Minke at Redcar

Soaring into Bat Season

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