Don's Diary

August 10, 2001

Sunday

Looking forward to a break after the slog of exam boards. Lug boxes of assorted ecological equipment on to the flight to Kharkov from Heathrow.

At the airport, wonder if I will ever see any of Ukraine during a two-hour "binocular smuggling" customs inquiry. They seemed to think we were trying to flog binoculars for vast profits. Finally arrive at the village of Martova two hours later.

Monday

Day begins with a deep breath - the holiday "chalet" communal toilet, experienced last night, was not a septic dream.

The Gnilushka Valley in eastern Ukraine is home to a staggering range of habitats that underpin a diversity of more than 100 bird species. Steppe marmots sensibly avoid 40C heat (hottest July day since 1830).

We are helping students set up two long-term ecological monitoring projects that the British Council and the Department for International Development are funding. One will look at the effect of vegetation on small mammal distribution and the other at water-quality sampling, using aquatic invertebrates as indicator species. Our translators do a sterling job, although we soon realise the beauty of Latin names for species in this international environment.

Tuesday

Research project on streams under way. First time many students have seen a leech or water scorpions. How can they work to prevent modernisation of surrounding agriculture damaging all of this? In the UK, fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides can dramatically affect stream fauna, while farming right to the edge of rivers has contributed to the decline of riparian mammals such as the water vole.

Wednesday

5.30am. Try out technique for data collection on distribution of marmots. Avoiding the early morning sun guarantees plenty of sightings.

In the evening, excursion in the minibus to see bee-eaters nesting in a disused military quarry. Too much to see and too little time. Back to the chalet to discover we have lost the toilet paper.

Thursday

The teachers and their students undertake data collection on their own. They are enthusiastic and knowledgeable and a real pleasure to work with. Spend much of the day producing methodological documents.

Good news, recycled toilet paper at local supermarket costs 8p for 65 metres. Bargain.

Students organise traditional campfire supper: millet soup, quail's eggs and numerous vodka toasts to environmental protection and anything else.

Friday

Meetings in Kharkov to discuss future funding. Much enthusiasm from the Ukrainian authorities backed up by sadly basic research facilities. Hope that the mix of eastern enthusiasm and western facilities bodes well for the future of this ecologically diverse country. Another two hours of customs procedures before we leave Ukraine. WC in Vienna terminal - heaven.


Ian Todd is senior lecturer in ecology, University of Hertfordshire

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