On Monday our team set out to two different locations for a full day of wolf monitoring. Team Claudia and Stefan accompanied by Lotte set the first record returning to base with no less than eight scats. Our experienced team Sigi and Sylvia brought back the first fresh scat, suitable for DNA analysis. Like detectives on a mission, this set the tone to monitor as many locations as possible.
On Tuesday seven of us set out on an overnight trip to Göhrde, a 2-hour car ride north-east of our base. We were welcomed there by wolf commissioner Kenny at his beautiful bio-hotel, located in the middle of the forest. Once there, three teams walked a total of 75 km over two days (Tuesday and Wednesday) and managed to collect two samples for DNA and 23 for dietary analyses, much needed to assess the current situation of the local wolf pack. One of the highlights was stumbling upon the footprints of both adult wolves and their pups, truly exhilarating to see the evidence and realise you are walking in the middle of prime wolf territory!
In the meantime, closer to our expedition base, Alastair and Silvia joined Timo to check up on camera trap images on a wolf-proof fence put in place at a cattle farm. Lotte and Claudia braved the Naturistenweg (nudist walking trail), but kept their clothes firmly on 😉 Professional as they are, they stayed focused on the task at hand.
Our counter now is at 41 samples, including four good enough for DNA analysis, from five different wolf territories – and the team is ready for more. It is fun detective and wolf citizen science work in beautiful forests of spruce and pine, but also beach and oak, and heathlands interwoven with meadows. Also, there is plenty of wildlife around and between all of us we have seen foxes, roe deer, hare, red kite, cranes, newborn squirrels, a lonesome badger, staghorn beetles and many more.
This Saturday we welcomed our first team of wolf volunteers at the Bremen assembly point. Half of the team are Biosphere Expedition returnees keen to get a taste of new expeditions or returning to familiar ones. The trio Sylvia, Siggi and Pat are true hardcore wolf fans, having joined all four expeditions our work here in wolf conservation in Germany started. The remainder of our team has also been really keen to get into expedition action. So, it’s fair to say we have got a truly motivated team to get the citizen science wolf monitoring 2022 up and running.
After meeting up in Bremen, we drove to the Wolfcenter Dörveden to learn more about (and see) our target species. From there we proceeded to the expedition base at Herrenhaus Gut Sunder for 36 h of intensive training and a series of talks by a great team of experts.
Our expedition scientist Peter gave us an introduction to the state wolf monitoring programme , the priority survey areas and actual field data collection protocols. His assistant Lotte enlightened us about everything you possibly want to know about wolf scats (and more). Expedition leader Malika trained us on GPS and radio use as well as other equipment. Ingrid from the Wolfsbüro underlined the importance of citizen science in gathering long term data on wolf populations to inform strategies for coexistence with a large predator. Theo, the first wolf commissioner of Lower Saxony and an excellent photographer, treated us to a stunning presentation of the Lüneburg Heath biodiversity and how everything in this ecosystem is connected. Finally, this Sunday afternoon we did a first trial in the field to test our newly developed skills along a 7 km hike in pine forests in 31°C. Today, Monday, surveying proper starts in earnest.
We have slight staff overkill on this first full Germany wolf expedition for two years. There’s experienced leader Malika, training An to lead this expedition, our scientist Peter and our founder and executive director Matthias, who happens to be in the area.
There was not a cloud in the sky during the five hour drive up from our German office in Bavaria to our manor house expedition base in Lower Saxony, which sits there like nothing has happened and has done so since 1649. It will probably cloud over by the time you arrive on Saturday, but it should stay warm.
A word about the base: This is run by a charity that involves mentally challenged people as staff, for example those with Down syndrome, who are in the high risk group for Covid. Because of this, management have kindly asked us to wear masks inside when we are with staff, so please make sure you bring enough (for this purpose the thinner medical masks are fine).
We’ll spend the next couple of days getting everything ready for you and report back once more before we meet group 1 at Bremen airport on Saturday.
We have now run two expeditions (Azores and Sweden) successfully without Covid incidences. As a result we are suspending, with immediate effect, all of our Covid restrictions and processes except these:
We still require expeditioners to be fully vaccinated, including a booster vaccination. There is no time limit on when the vaccinations must have been received, as long as expeditioners are fully vaccinated and boostered with a vaccine that is either approved by or under the assessment of the WHO.
We will still require you to perform a rapid Covid self-test at the beginning of each expedition group (test supplied by Biosphere Expeditions).
We will still require expeditioners to bring some additional self-test kits and masks, just in case. How many of each depends on the expedition and this will be communicated to members of each expedition about six weeks in advance.
If this situation changes, we will notify everyone here.
Please also note that our normal terms & conditions now apply again to all expedition signups.
ANSWERS TO FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What constitutes “fully vaccinated”? You are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after you get your second dose of a two-dose or one dose of a single-dose vaccine. Currently, there is no time limit after vaccination on your fully vaccinated status, but this is likely to change soon in most countries.
What type of proof of vaccination do you accept? Any reasonable type. This may be a vaccination certificate on a national app, a letter by a doctor or vaccination facility, an entry in a vaccination booklet or on a vaccination card. All proofs must show your full name, the date of the vaccination and which vaccine you have been given. If your proof is a hardcopy, please bring the original with you, not copies or photos. If you are in any doubt, please send us a scan or photo of the proof for verification first.
I will need to provide a negative test to get into the expedition host country. Do I still have to perform a lateral flow test immediately before the expedition departs? Yes, you do. Everyone will have to undergo a lateral flow test when the expedition first assebles. The reason is that travelling will have exposed you to an increased risk of infection and we want to make sure – as much as this is possible – that we start the expedition infection-free.
Do I need to bring my own flow tests and masks? Yes, you do. They are easily available from pharmacies, supermarkets etc. and not expensive. Exactly how many tests and masks you need to bring, will be announced at least six weeks before the expedition starts.
What happens when I or someone else on the expedition tests positive? This will depend on the regulations of the country we are in. It may be enough to isolate the person who has tested positive and the rest of the expedition team can continue under a strict and frequent testing regime (this is where the home test kits you will bring with you will come into play, for example). Where isolation within the expedition base is possible, we will offer you the option of doing this. This is at the easy end of the scale. At the other end of the scale is stopping and disbanding the expedition with de-central isolation of the whole expedition team, if local regulations require this or if this is the prudent thing to do. We will always try our best to help you avoid additional costs and hassle, but you must come prepared, adequately financed and/or insured for eventualities and additional costs. For example, as soon as an expedition is stopped or when you are leaving an expedition (voluntarily or because you are required by local regulations to do so), then you must cover all costs yourself. This may include hotel or hospital stays for quarantine periods required by local laws, additional Covid tests, health care costs, missed flights due to quarantining etc. It is impossible for us to predict what the regulations in each expedition host country will be in the future. Suffice it to say that we will have a plan before each expedition starts (and communicate this to you), but you must also think about eventualities yourself and make sure you come on the expedition adequately financed/covered/insured for the example situations described above, as well as any others that may arise. In this context, insurances vary widely and it is up to you to decide what cover, if any, you want to purchase. Because policies vary widely and change frequently, we have no partner insurers or recommendations.
What about getting into the expedition host country? This is still your responsibility. The host country requirements for entry (there is a good worldwide overview on https://infopages.traveldoc.aero/information/coronavirus) will differ from our requirements for expedition participation. It is your responsibility to make sure you fulfil both so that you can firstly get into the expedition host country and secondly take part in the expedition once you have arrived in-country.
Why are you creating all these rules? The end goal is to run expeditions in a safe and responsible environment, especially whilst the pandemic is still with us, and empower all those who are not anti-vaxxers to be able to attend.
Are these rules set in stone? No. The pandemic situation is fluid and changes likely. When we do make changes, we will let you know. The further away in time your expedition is, the more likely changes are. At the moment these are likely to be relaxations, but who know what other surprises the virus has in store for us. We will keep you updated.
Day 7 was half a day in the field and yet, between all of us, we still managed to achieve three dens, several scats and day beds. We wrapped up the field research by a local beauty spot, where everyone met up for cake, soup, tea and coffee to celebrate our achievements by a fire, reflecting on a week that has flown by.
Back at base, we entered data gathered into a laptop and started to clear up. Andrea gave a ten-minute presentation summing up how we have helped her research and thanked us for this. Here’s the final tally: We documented all 24 dens of the study site, collected over 100 bear scats – which was well beyond Andrea’s target – recorded 30 day beds, 8 carcasses and a multitude of other interesting events such as gnawed antlers, encounters with moose, fox, owls and other animals. Andrea’s words of gratitude were not just a polite ‘thanks’. She explained to us how she absolutely relies on our citizen science contributions to carry out significant parts of her work on brown bear ecology in a changing world of climate change and forestry. Essentially, if we were not here to do it, it would probably not get done.
We in turn want to return the gratitude and say thank you very much to Andrea for being so welcoming and patient with us, and letting us be part of her world for an all too short summer week here in Sweden. In the words of Neil: “We’ll be back”.
This is Roland, the assistant expedition leader, taking over from Matthias after being shown the ropes and finding my feet.
It is day 6 of our Sweden bear conservation project and we have now settled into the rhythm of each day of brown bear conservation research. Each day proceeds with quiet confident efficiency. We get up early, gather our research tools, are given our tasks for the day by our chief scientist Dr Andrea, and set off in three teams armed with a list of locations to reach. We get as close as possible by vehicle along remote forest tracks and then it’s on foot after that, negotiating bogs, boulders, tree stumps, steep slopes and forests of varying degrees of impregnability to navigate our way to very specific locations. The location of a hibernation den is indicated by a constant, immovable GPS signal that a bear with a GPS collar left all last winter, unknowingly transmitting its co-ordinates – and usually a range of biometric data too – to Andrea via the mobile phone network. A cluster site is simply a place where the GPS data tell us that a bear has recently spent at least a few hours in one small area. Why? We enjoy the detective work needed to answer this question. It may be where the bear killed and ate a moose calf or simply lay down for a rest for a while – a hollow in the ground and flattened vegetation indicates such a ‘day bed’. Above all, a cluster site gives us the best chance of finding bear scat, which is prized by Andrea for its research value.
So our days are filled with the hunt for clusters and dens – and a myriad of other signs of bears in the landscape, all carefully documented according to Andrea’s research protocols. At the time of writing, we have located and surveyed 17 dens, recorded 23 day beds and bagged up 65 samples of bear scats: all in all a major contribution to the long-term brown bear research project. And we haven’t quite finished yet.
And along the way we have had daily encounters with wildlife: we have spotted owls, capercaillies, a glimpse of an eagle, a friendly fox and occasionally a moose or two wandering through the wetlands.
The final cluster site visited today by Team Christiane/Neil/Roland took little detective work to reveal why the tracked bear had spent five hours there. The massive decaying carcass of an adult moose lay unapologetically scattered in a hollow.
Today is our last day in the field. Half day, actually, because we will spend the other half entering the data we gathered into computers so that Andrea can analyse them – another piece of the puzzle of effective brown bear conservation in Sweden.