I admit I wasn’t throwing arms up in delight at spending a week of my hard earned sabbatical looking at cattle dung – let alone sifting through it by hand. As it turned out though in a weird sort of way, I quite enjoyed it!
I had offered to help Gillian and Fiona with their ongoing study looking at the effects of commonly used parasiticides on dung invertebrates. Quite a lot of research has been undertaken on certain chemicals and their effects on inverts are known, but for some of the more commonly used products, often those recommended as being alternatives to the less wildlife friendly, it is surprising how little is known about their effects on the soil and invert community. Scary stuff.
In practice this meant sitting on a cliff top for seven hours a day shuffling between carefully laid out ‘pats’ counting and recording maggots - ugh - you’re probably saying and you’d be quite right, a small number of the pats were very sticky and a bit smelly (you quickly get a feel for ones that are going to be less pleasant to delve into), but generally cow poo after it has matured for a few weeks is ok and user friendly. Our open air ’laboratory’ was stunning, with research sites located at Ardnave, Smaul and here at the Oa.
View from the poo – The Oa in all its stunning beauty
Not much fancy equipment required, the kit included a bulb planter, ice cream tubs and of course surgeon’s gloves. We did get through a few pairs of those.
expensive scientific equipment at the ready
The dung pats had been collected and then, complete with the respective chemicals being tested for the effects of (plus control pats), grids of 12 pats were laid out in the different locations; we did not know which pat had received what treatment.
- it took about 15 minutes to ‘do’ a pat.
Pats were protected by wire to prevent trampling
Here’s Fiona who is doing all the fieldwork having a right mucky birthday – we did have cake but next year she deserves to have her birthday off the job!
Fiona measuring vegetation height surrounding the dung pat
Too busy counting maggots to admire the views around Ardnave
I know I know, you’re eager to see the actual maggots – next post!