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2019. I hoped this one would be better than the relentless endurance test of financial disasters and personal crises that marked 2018 and I wasn’t disappointed. A lot of stuff has happened this year. Important stuff that has served to steer my ship in new directions and set up a path for the future.


I graduated from my MSc in Environmental Management with a Distinction. I wanted a first in my BSc but didn’t quite hit it, so hitting my goal of that top grade this time was amazing.

A huge impact on my life this year has been @Arbtech Consultancy Ltd. Finding their ecological consultancy key skills course and becoming part of the Arbtech community has been life changing. It gave me a straightforward route to start working within ecology as a subcontractor. It provided me with a ready built basis of a professional network and I made new friends.


I learned there is a “bat bug” and catching it has led me on an exciting learning journey in which I have picked up all kinds of knowledge new technical skills, from learning to recognise potential roosts, to analysing sonograms of echolocation calls in specialised software. It has been amazing to finally earn money from ecology.


This has fed into the musical side of my life too. As I’ve learned more about bat acoustics, I have learned more about musical acoustics. Aspects of musical theory I’ve struggled with all my life have started clicking into place as I’ve expanded my background understanding of acoustics. I wrote one of my best songs after a night spent listening to bats over a local lake.


I joined the local bat group, got involved with the Herts Barbastelle project and was involved in the discovery of a local maternity roost of national importance. I have learned new skills and made new friends and contacts, the same applying to my involvement with dormouse and water vole monitoring. A big highlight was the opportunity to handle dormice on a course in Kent.

A massive highlight was getting an interview with Arbtech when I didn’t even apply for a position. I didn’t get the job but the fact they regarded me that highly gave me a massive confidence boost and it led to other skill building opportunities.


I was promoted to a higher pay band and tasked with leading surveyor teams. I was made an accredited agent on my local consultant’s licence and sent off to do my own independent preliminary roost assessments. I wrote reports and I dealt with my first difficult client. My first PRA turned out to be an important maternity roost, which was amazing! Being trusted with these things meant a huge amount and did my confidence a lot of good. I am looking forward to doing more next year. To gaining more knowledge of planning, getting more confident with clients and getting faster and more efficient at completing surveys and bashing out reports.


Arbtech have had an influence on me that extends way beyond ecology. Their director has a special interest in psychology, which means he’s an innovator in his evidence-based tactics in terms of leadership and ways in which staff can increase productivity whilst maintaining well-being. I learned from his blogs and the Arbtech culture document about concepts like Deep Work and Pareto’s principle and this encouraged me to dig really deep into my past failures as an entrepreneur. I realised the end of my pet portrait career was a burnout caused by unsustainable working practices and unrealistic expectations. The unexpected result of this was that a few weeks ago, the artist part of me suddenly, unexpectedly woke up from her sleep and wanted to make art again. I started a new painting and now, using the tools I’ve gained from Arbtech I am planning how I can weave art back into my income streams.


I had an interview with the environment agency. Again, I didn’t get the job but the interview prep had a great impact in encouraging me to broaden my knowledge base and learn more about catchment based river/wetland management.


Musically, it has been an exciting year. I joined Papa Shango in April and have been having a great time with them. They have raised my appreciation for the importance of bringing performance art and showmanship to music to create maximum entertainment.

I developed a great relationship with Spriggan Mist after auditioning for a lead singer position in 2018, where I was one of just two shortlisted. I was not chosen but they were keen to maintain a working relationship with me and I played many interesting gigs with them, in particular Colours of the Oak camp, where once again, I made lots of new friends.


The year has ended with the most unexpected Christmas present after the lead singer role in Spriggan Mist re-opened. Suddenly, overnight my future changed completely as I found myself, finally in a band again. And not just in a band but in one on my musical and thematic wavelength, with a following, who are going places.


It feels like bit by bit the disparate corners of my life and passions are finally coming into place to weave together the varied mosaic of my dream life and I am very excited about 2020!

The landscape north of Welwyn Garden City in Hertfordshire comprises in its woodlands and treelined hedgerows some of the fragmented remains of Great Hitch Wood. During the Saxon period this stretched from Hitchin in the north, over the Mimram valley to Hatfield parish in the south. Figure 1 shows you a small part of this landscape, northward to Woolmer Green.


 Figure 1 –Fragmented woodlands north of Welwyn Garden City, possibly comprising part of the former Great Hitch Wood (Edina Digimap, 2019)


Look closely and you will find in that network of hedgerows, watercourses and woodland edges many potential bat commuting routes traversing the landscape. I don’t know which ones are most important, but bats are long lived creatures of habit, so the long-term stability of this landscape suggests they could have been using the same routes since their post Saxon creation. 


I have a great interest in landscape ecology. I also have a thing about maps and tracks and “where things lead”, which means bat commuting routes really fascinate me. Over the past year I’ve become increasingly interested in how central Hertfordshire functions as a “bat landscape”. This was partially triggered by a magical evening out in Welwyn Garden City, where on a trip to Black Fan Valley (Figure 2), I found a “bat super-highway” along a wooded escarpment leading from the Mimram to Black Fan Lagoon, shown below in Figure 2.



. Figure 2 - Black Fan Lagoon (Nigel Cox) 


I found a “pinch point” through which the bats streamed in multitudes past my head and legs at touching distance and I stood amidst them, feeling the rush of wingbeats past my face and marvelling at their ability to pass so closely without hitting me . When the rush died down, I followed them to the lagoon to hear them feed. My bat detector sounded continuously for the duration of my visit, with all three pipistrelles, at least one myotis species and a barbastelle noted. As a newcomer to bat work, the sheer scale of activity was overwhelming and the magic of it sent shivers up my spine. I think that was the day I caught “the bat bug”. 


Returning to my “bat super-highway", this brings us back to the topic of ancient landscapes. The tree lined escarpment I mentioned runs along the former eastern edge of the ancient Digswell manor and is probably another relic of Saxon woodland. You can still see traces of the former boundary baulk and it contains some fine veteran trees. Its topography as an escarpment makes it an imposing feature and my theory is that this is an ancient bat routeway that has been in use for centuries.   


That said, there is evidence that bats preferentially forage over waters with plentiful bankside vegetation. (e.g. Russ & Montgomery, 2002; Zeale et al. 2012) so the importance of this commuting route could be evidence for that rather than antiquity. I found scant evidence of bat activity associated with the non-vegetated bank and the lagoon is a recent feature, originating from a sewage works operational in the 1950’s.  


Nevertheless, historical evidence shows Black Fan, which once hosted a hamlet farmstead was always an insect rich wetland area, so I think my antiquity hypothesis still stands. The name “fan” arises from “fen” and the area had a well and several springs. It must have been wet as grazing was restricted to dry seasons. Figure 3, from the 1880’s shows the Digswell parish boundary running from the river valley in the north east, round to the southwest where it enters Sherrardspark Wood where the balk is still extant. 



Figure 3 - Digswell manor showing the parish boundary in the 1890's (Edina, 2019)


In Figure 4 - you can see how the parish boundary and its surrounding grassland today exists as a piece of encapsulated countryside. It is cut off from the woods but is still well connected to the Mimram valley. But where do the bats come from? From the north through Dawley Warren or down the train line? From east and west along the Mimram valley? 



Figure 4 -Digswell parish Boundary in Welwyn Garden City (Edina digimap, 2019). 

Another factor driving my interest in this topic is the presence of barbastelle Barbastella barbastellus in the area. I’m a member of the Hertfordshire & Middlesex bat group and earlier this year we discovered a nationally important, 90 strong maternity colony in a fragment of the former Great Hitch Wood. Those bats and any we find in other remnants will likely move around the landscape via an ancient network of commuting routes. Barbastelle travel considerable distances and I would love to know the routes they follow (that said, they are known to traverse open spaces when it's dark enough, which complicates things!)


I would like to find a way of testing my hypothesis that amongst commuting routes the “bat super-highways” are represented by ancient landscape features that originate from piece meal enclosure. Perhaps it could be a fun idea for a phD? 



References; 

Edina (2019). EDINA Historic Digimap Service, 10.12.2019. 


Hertfordshire Chamber of Commerce (2019) Rare bat found near Stevenage. Available at: https://www.hertschamber.com/news/chamber-news/rare-bat-population-found-near-stevenage


Macnair, A., Rowe, A., & Williamson, T. (2015). Dury and Andrews Map of Hertfordshire: Society and landscape in the eighteenth century. Windgather Press. 


Russ, J. M., & Montgomery, W. I. (2002). Habitat associations of bats in Northern Ireland: implications for conservation. Biological Conservation, 108(1), 49-58. 


Welwyn Garden City Urban, District Hatfield Rural District and Welwyn Rural District (1961). Annual report of the medical officer of health and public health inspectory of the districts for the year 1961. 


Ward, D. (1953). Diswell: From Domesday to Garden City. Welwyn Garden City: Welwyn and District Regional Survey Association. 


Zeale, M. R., Davidson-Watts, I., & Jones, G. (2012). Home range use and habitat selection by barbastelle bats (Barbastella barbastellus): implications for conservation. Journal of Mammalogy, 93(4), 1110-1118. 

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© 2020 by Fay Brotherhood Fine Art & Music, Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, contactfaybrotherhood@gmail.com 

Background photo by Andrew Merritt Photography, 2020.

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