Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Splitting conservation skills between polar ice cap and North Yorkshire nature reserve

Monday 18 May 2015

A woman who feels at home on a polar ice cap has started a summer job in North Yorkshire. She tells Chris Brayshay about her love for nature
STACEY Adlard goes to the ends of the earth to p-p-p-pick up a penguin. She spends almost half her year monitoring penguins in Antarctica, 8,000 miles from the North-East where she gained a Masters degree in wildlife conservation and management.

“I spend a lot of time counting, measuring and weighing penguins and collecting and analysing diet samples,’’ says the 30-year-old, who has just completed her fourth season working for the British Antarctic Survey, on Signy, a tiny island in the remote South Orkney archipelago, only discovered by seal hunters in the late 19th Century.

For five months of the year, Stacey’s “office” is a hut, perched on a rocky outcrop, surrounded by the iceberg filled Southern Ocean. To get there each day she must first put on crampons and arm herself with an ice axe before trekking three miles over an icecap to reach her study colonies of noisy, smelly and comical Adelie and Chinstrap Penguins.

“It is a life which would not suit everyone: it would not suit a person who needs to go shopping, or out to the cinema, but it suits me,’’ she says. “There is not very much time for doing nothing, very little time for sitting and wondering what to do with yourself. We are working seven days a week and it's very busy. But there are days when you feel you would like to be on your own. I like a challenge. I like something to get my teeth into and it is what I always wanted to do: nothing was going to stop me. I have been fascinated by icebergs, penguins and wildlife since I was little.’’
“I am quite used to being on my own and looking after myself. We carry VH radios so if anything went wrong we can call back to base and someone could come along and rescue you.’’

As for her beloved penguins, she says they all have their own characters. “They are just so funny," she says “If you sit and watch them, there is always something happening. They will steal each other’s pebbles – used for building nests – while one penguin is looking the other way. They are comical.

Last week Stacey started a summer job, using her conservation skills to help run popular Foxglove Local Nature Reserve, at Catterick Camp, North Yorkshire. The British Army’s largest garrison, it's a far cry from the isolated polar biological research station she shares with just seven other scientists for five months every year.

"I go from one lovely place to another," she says. "Although Foxglove is so completely different (to the Antarctic) I am still outside, still with nature; somewhere which makes you feel happy. The birds, plants and trees are different, but I'm still outside and that’s what makes me tick.’’

Stacey’s love affair with the Antarctic is set to continue. “It is so beautiful: it’s not just a big white wasteland," she says. "Where I am, on this Antarctic island, there is a big ice cap in the middle and you are surrounded by an ocean often full of ice and big icebergs.

“On the lower slopes of the island, you get a very dense and vivid growth of lichens and mosses which range in colour from bright greens to orangey-yellow. With the air being so clean, they are all big and bushy. There is a lot of colour and it is so beautiful.’’

Stacey’s road to conservation work started with a BSc Honours degree in natural sciences at Durham University, followed up by a Masters at Newcastle. Her early conservation work included tracking seabirds in the Outer Hebrides, monitoring Grey Seals on the Island of May and working as a volunteer on RSPB reserves in the Inner Hebrides. She spent three summers on the Shetland Islands before moving to South Georgia as a zoological field assistant monitoring Albatrosses, penguins and seals.

“When I was 24, I got a job with the British Antarctic Survey – which is what I wanted - on Bird Island, just off South Georgia. I went there in 2008 and spent two and a half years without coming back. I returned in 2011 and every year since I have spent my winters in the South Orkney Islands. We have telephones and a very slow internet connection and we get three ships calling in each season.’’

Before setting out for Antarctica, Stacey had to pass a crash paramedic course, which included emergency dentistry. “Everyone is very conscious of health and safety and aware that it will be some weeks before there will be a ship calling in,’’ she says. “We all watch out for each other.’’

On Signy, she shares an eight-bed research station with seven other scientists. “Because it is such a small group, it is like a family,’’ she claimed. “You have to learn not to let things get to you; to learn to accept you are not always going to agree with everything. Some things you have to let go. But I am living my dream.”


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