Helpful Fieldwork Advice

Stirling NNRs

It has been a long winter for those working at home, especially those that normally are able to get out into the field as part of their jobs. But Spring is starting, restrictions are easing, the breeding season is starting soon and colleagues are getting itchy feet and are making plans for the new fieldwork season.

Fieldwork is often why many of us have got into our jobs. Working outside, close to wonderful wildlife, learning more and more detail about the natural world can be incredibly rewarding. But it can also be very challenging. All day in atrocious weather, crippling terrain, malfunctioning equipment, uncooperative wildlife, identification challenges, unusual colleagues and navigational nightmares. It can all go horribly wrong.

So with collegues and team members starting to think about getting out more, I decided it would be useful for their preparation to ask them what field work tips and tales they had that they would like to share. It is obvious that much of this really useful knowledge has been won the hard way. Here are some of the pearls of wisdom that I hope you find useful:

  • Don’t ever get separated from your lunchbox. The first thing I was told in my first job, reinforced the hard way and the best bit of advice I ever got.
  • Don’t start any risky or complicated jobs on a Friday.
  • If you and your colleague have decided to shorten a very long field day by using two cars positioned at the start and the finish, always make sure that you don’t leave the car keys behind locked in the first car.
  • Pick your lunch spot very carefully when working in wood ant country, those comfortable looking mounds of pine needles might not be comfortable for very long,
  • Clipboards can be used to help negotiate safe passage and avoiding nasty injury over barbed wires fences for those with short legs.
  • Put damp face cloths in the freezer before taking them out on very hot days in the field.
  • When at the end of the day you throw a heavy bag into the car make sure it doesn’t hit the fire extinguisher.
  • When in deer country, if you have a particular collegue who is an absolute tick magnet, always make sure you walk behind them.
  • For clear field notes that you can read at the end of the day always use a really sharp pencil, but never keep it in your trouser pocket.
  • When chainsawing never leave your chainsaw helmet up side down at lunchtime if it’s raining, and if you do, empty it before you put it on.
  • Always wear a brightly coloured hat when working on Flanders Moss – then if you fall in a ditch the hat floats on the surface and people can tell where you fell in.

Unfortunately some of the stories and tips were not suitable for public consumption therefore had to be edited. So I won’t be recounting the advice coming from the fieldwork that involved parts of a dead water buffalo or the geological survey and the dead cetacean. I also will not be revealling the recipe for the chocolate cake made for a volunteer bog work party that was so dense it made it onto the risk assessment of the event. And I definitely won’t be recommending the NatureScot senior manager’s suggestion that when staff are approached by irate landowners they should just say that they work for the RSPB.

Happy fieldwork.

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9 Responses to Helpful Fieldwork Advice

  1. Anne says:

    These tips are as delightful as they are useful. I can imagine the backstory of most πŸ™‚ I especially enjoyed the first one – and have experienced the keys in the spare car one!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Phil Graves says:

    Brilliant Dave! I’m looking forward to being allowed out again with the team to hear the unpublished ones! The lunchbox one has been experienced by my wife, Sue, when I walked off with it on a separate project – still married, just!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. damchodolma says:


    Liked by 1 person

  4. Sue Gustafson says:

    You should be a writer for James Corden — brilliant!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ll be sharing these universal tips with my naturalist friends here in the States. “Don’t Get Separated from your Lunchbox” would make a fine book title.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Ladylanders says:

    And ‘don’t forget the oars’, maybe?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Scottish Natural Heritage says:

    Brilliant! Cheered up a day (inside) in front of a laptop

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Brilliant. Laughed out loud at this. Especially the wood ant one because yes I did it in the Cairngorms. Always enjoy the blog but this was a classic.

    Liked by 1 person

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