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Investigating UXO in South East Asia – an exciting trip for Philipp

Philipp at the Mine Action Visitor Center in Quang Tri province

In autumn 2023 SENSE student Philipp Barthelme travelled to Southeast Asia as part of his research on the long-term impacts of the Vietnam War. Here Philipp reports on his visit:

For many people my age the Vietnam War seems like a conflict from a different time. However, for millions of people in Southeast Asia, the effects of the war are still very real today. During the Vietnam War, more bombs were dropped on Vietnam, Cambodia and Lao PDR than during the entire Second World War. As a result, about 20% of the land in these countries remains contaminated with unexploded ordnance (UXO).

As part of my research, I have been looking at historical U.S. satellite images, taken during and immediately after the war. These high resolution (0.6 – 1.2m) images, which have recently been declassified, clearly show the destruction caused by the bombing and herbicide spraying. My research so far has focused on automatically detecting bomb craters in the imagery which could help to better understand the remaining contamination with UXO in Southeast Asia.

View onto the Vietnam Military History Museum in Hanoi

During my trip I presented my research to mine action stakeholders in Vietnam and Lao PDR, as well as researchers at the Hanoi University of Science and Technology. A particular highlight of the trip was my visit to Quang Tri province, the most heavily contaminated province in Vietnam. While there, I learned a lot about the important work of the Quang Tri Mine Action Center (QTMAC) and the many NGOs who are working hard to clear Quang Tri from UXO.

Overall, this trip was a great experience and without a doubt my favourite part of the PhD so far. While satellites are a great tool to look at a place from afar, they can’t quite replace seeing a place with your own eyes. And they definitely can’t replace experiencing the hospitality and eating the delicious food in Southeast Asia. A huge thank you to everyone who supported the trip and to all the people I met. I hope to return soon!

Fried spring rolls (nem rán) and crispy Vietnamese pancakes (bánh xèo)

Philipp is a student at the University of Edinburgh, School of Geosciences and is supervised by Dr Gary Watmough. His project is entitled Impact of humanitarian mine clearances on tropical forest carbon storage and is supported by his CASE partner The Conflict and Environment Observatory.

Another Antarctic Adventure

SENSE student Charlotte Walshaw is spending her second Christmas on fieldwork in Antarctica and has sent us some amazing photos.

These photos are take on the Ross Ice Shelf around Scott base New Zealand’s Antarctic research station

Charlotte’s group then moved to pyramid trough where they are mapping vegetation through multi spectral and hyperspectral drone flights. She has also been collecting ground truth data for her Sentinel 2 dataset.

This is Charlotte’s second visit to Antarctica as she spend a field season there in 2022/23 Charlotte is a student in the School of Geosciences at the University of Edinburgh and is supervised by Dr Claudia Colesie. Her project is entitled Faster, greener, and more competitive? How will vegetation alter in a changing Antarctic?

We hope the rest of the trip goes well for you Charlotte and enjoy spending time in these amazing landscapes.

Here Be Dragons: SENSE Industry Symposium 1st November 2023

The second in person SENSE industry symposium took place in Edinburgh on 1st November 2023. This was part of our cohort building week where all four cohorts of SENSE students were in Edinburgh.

The purpose of the symposium is to connect our students with our industry partners and also to help them think about and focus on life after their PhD by developing skills giving them experience which they can take forward in their careers.

The opening activity of the symposium was a showcase of the work of our Cohort 1 students who are now in their fourth and final year of their PhDs. For this session rather than scheduling a series of talks we invited each student to give a 1 minute pitch and then we had a ‘bus stop’ session where attendees were invited to visit a student for fifteen minutes and talk to them about their work. After fifteen minutes a bell would ring (and yes we had an actual bell) and the groups would move on. Some of the students had brought posters as a visual aid while others used slides or just talked and answered questions. Some feedback on this session

Really good! I much prefer this format to the traditional poster sessions

Loved it! Getting a chance to see the breadth of what the students are doing and to feel their enthusiasm is just so rewarding

This year we were delighted to be joined by Jon Styles and Alex Cornelius from Assimila and the rest if the day was focussed on responding to an ESA (European Space Agency) Initial Invitation to Tender. Assimila are very experienced (and successful) with this and started the session with a presentation from Alex giving lots of information and hints on the processes of responding to an ITT. This is something that many of our students are likely to be involved in during their future careers whether they chose to stay in academia or enter industry. Alex had some really useful information and dos and don’ts like do include block diagrams and coloured flow charts the illustrate your approach and don’t leave uploading your document to the last minute incase if technical problems. Alex also included some interesting EO information in his presentation which was enjoyed by the audience.

Our attendees fed back

From an industry perspective I found this interesting (always good to get competitor insights!), and think that the students saw the value in this too.

Helping students (and the rest of us) to understand the tips and techniques to a successful application is invaluable. Many students may go on to more funding applications so coaching in any / all of these things is a very positive thing

Then is was over to the students and industry partners for the rest of the day as they were given a assignment to come up with a response to a ESA open call and had to come up with an idea and present by the end of the day what their idea was, why they had a suitable team to do it. The students had already been assigned areas of expertise based in their particular research areas and after lunch and a bit of networking everyone set to work.

At 4pm after tidying up their presentations and assembling their groups it was time to present to out very own sense dragons made up of Jon Styles from Assimila, Professor Kathy Whaler (SENSE University of Edinburgh Director) and Professor Phil Livermore (SENSE director from University of Leeds).  Each of the dragons gave a score on different areas of the presentations based on the kind of criteria which ESA would make their ITTs (objectives, experience and choose approach).

We had some fantastic ideas from the students and some very well polished presentations.

After some very tight scoring the winners were announced and team Un-scatter were the winners with their proposal for a system which would remove clouds from earth observation images to improve the detection of multi spectral properties.

Of this exercise the attendees said:

This was a good session with just the right amount of time allocated. As a student, with 2 people from industry on our table it was useful to hear about how they approached the problem. Keeping the presentations short was also good.

Having the students basically needing to form a team and deliver I thought was excellent.

The team was really happy to collect their prize and the event ended with a drinks reception and networking session.

We are very grateful to Andy, John and Alex from Assmilia who supported us in preparing this event and also all of the industry partners who attended on the day and the SENSE students for their excellent presentations and group work. The event was organised by Dr Gary Watmough the SENSE Deputy Director for Industry and Outreach assisted by Eleanor Graham the Edinburgh centre manager

New collaboration with Pentland Land Managers Association

Congratulations to SENSE student Lucy Wells who is part of a group at the University of Edinburgh who has received funding for an industrial collaborative project with Pentland Land Managers.

The PLMA is a group of farmers and land mangers representing over 80% of the Pentlands regional park area, working across farms to share knowledge and resources to fight climate change and biodiversity loss on a landscape scale while keeping the Pentlands accessible to the public. Six of the PLMA’s farms are working together to create a combined land management scheme, with an initial focus on carbon sequestration, water quality, and natural flood management. 

Lucy will be working on the first part of the project which will be using sentinel-2 data preprocessed by the EPCC (Edinburgh Performance Computing Centre) and machine learning techniques to make a first baseline of land use in the Pentlands, with Dr Torben Sell in the School of Mathematics. The second part of the project will then use this to explore how land use changes affect flood management. 

This funding came out the School of Geosciences participations in the AIMday Digital Frontiers, organised by Edinburgh Innovations. AIMday® (Academic Industry Meeting day) is based on workshops where challenges submitted by participating companies around a central theme are discussed with academics from relevant university disciplines. Read more about the AIMday Concept. We are very grateful to Stuart Simmons Head of Business Development & Innovation, in the School of GeoSciences for helping Lucy with this opportunity.

Lucy is a 4th year SENSE student at the the University of Edinburgh who is supervised by Professor Casey Ryan. Lucy’s PhD project is ‘The response of savannas and dry forests to global change: disentangling the effects of climate change, land use and changing CO2 using radar remote sensing and fieldwork’.

Research Experience Placement – Roy Schumacher

What are you studying?

I am studying Physics on a 4 year integrated masters programme at Durham University. I have just completed my second year.

Roy Schumacher stood in a field with mountains behind him.

Tell us a bit about the project you have been working on this summer?

My project was in climate modelling, using a model called FAMOUS. The model developed around the year 2000 and is quite low-resolution. The goal of my project was to see whether the model of the carbon cycle in FAMOUS would accurately respond to volcanic eruptions.  To do this we ran simulations over the last 1000 years with simulated volcanic eruptions and looked at how FAMOUS responded to those eruptions. We then compared that data to literature results from similar simulations with other climate models and the ice core CO2 record. We found that while the general prediction (increased carbon storage in the soil leading to a drop in CO2 directly following an eruption) was in line with other results, FAMOUS seemed to be overestimating the magnitude of the change.

Plot of carbon anomalies from soil, vegetation, oceans and atmosphere 1000 to 2000. Produced by Roy Schumacher.

What new skills have you learned while doing this internship?

I would say that I have learned and further developed various skills during this internship. A lot of them are related to computing; for example, using the Unix shell command line interface or improving my data analysis in Python. On top of that there are some more general skills I practised, like working independently or giving presentations for instance.

How have you found working with your research team?

I really liked working with my supervisor (Prof. Simon Tett), as he was very willing to help and generous with his time. I am also very grateful for getting the opportunity to attend the weekly discussions of the wider research group he was part of (The Contemporary Climate Group). It was very interesting to hear about what research other people were doing and listen to the academics discuss amongst each other. Finally, I was also lucky to start on the same day as another REP (NERC) student whose project had similarities to mine and so we were to discuss various aspects of our work.

What has been the highlight of the internship for you?

My personal highlights were the social events organised by SENSE. I enjoyed meeting the other interns and hearing about their experiences. It was also interesting to listen to the PhD students to get some advice and a better idea in general of what it is like to do a PhD.

How has doing this internship changed your plans or thoughts about your future career?

Before this internship I had thought of a career in Climate Science as an option but would have been uncomfortable committing to e.g., a PhD or even a Masters in the field, as I had no idea of what it would be like, coming from a Physics background. After doing this internship I could definitely imagine working in Climate Science in the future and it confirmed that I would enjoy working in a research environment.

Research Experience Placement – Charlie Alvey

What are you studying?

I am studying for a BSc in Environmental Science at the University of Leeds.

Tell us a bit about the project you have been working on this summer?

The project aims to trial monitoring and quantification methods on natural floods management practices (NFM’s) implemented at Fountains Abbey in North Yorkshire. NFM’s implemented include leaky dams, pond creation and afforestation, which aim to combat the economic and environmental issues of sediment accumulation and flooding in the Skell valley river catchment.

A wide variety of monitoring and quantification methods were involved in investigating these NFM’s. I hope to contribute to the ongoing research at the Sorby Fluid Dynamics Laboratory to help answer and prove some of the many questions surrounding this project including; ‘ are heavy rainfall events causing increased sediment inputs into the river Skell? ‘ and ‘ has the implementation of  NFM’s substantially quantities of precipitation and subsequently slowing the flow of water into the river Skell across the catchment ‘. All with the end goal of helping to preserve fountains abbey and resolve issues for shareholders involved in the Skell valley catchment.

Large Leaky dams implemented on the River Skell.
Small leaky dam on the River Skell.

What new skills have you learned while doing this internship?

I learned various skills that were both specialised to the field of data science and practical transferable skills for any workplace. I developed various specialised data science skills. Including learning to use software to process data,  where I used MeshLab to quantify LiDAR models that I conducted in the field. I took part in implemented and manging various monitoring methods including; Turbidity and level sensors, weather stations, cameras, level weather stations and pump and volunteer sampling. I did a A2 CofC course so I could be qualified to fly unmanned aerial vehicles to produce repeat photogrammetric models of NFM’s. This will be very useful for future research possibilities as UAV’s are increasingly used in data science. The practical skills I further developed included; communicating with shareholders, extensive planning, time management and teamwork on a large project with multiple organisations operating on a tight time frame.

LiDAR model of part of the River Skell.

How have you found working with your research team?

I found working with my supervisor Dave and his colleagues Gareth and Helena in the Sorby Fluid Dynamics ab, as well as the wider Skell Valley Project, to be thoroughly insightful and informative. They were all generous with their time and knowledge and answered any question I asked about the project and industry as a whole. I am immensely appreciative to have had the opportunity to work alongside these incredibly skilled professionals doing great work.

What has been the highlight of the internship for you?

The highlight of the internship was an interdisplinary meeting at fountains abbey with a wide variety of professionals working within the Skell valley project, which opened my eyes both the extend of the project and also how important data science is to large environmental management projects.

Stream gauge in a sediment filled river.

How has doing this internship changed your plans or thoughts about your future career?

This placement has led me to respect and understand how challenging research projects can be. Nonetheless I would consider taking on one in the future and I am definitely interested in pursuing a MscR after my BSc.

Research Experience Placement – Stephanie Hodnett

Stephanie and 3 others in a field conducting research.

What are you studying?

I am currently studying for a BSc in Environmental Science at The Open University, as a distance-learning student. I will be starting my fourth and final year in October 2023.

Tell us a bit about the project you have been working on this summer?

My project investigated how particulate organic carbon (POC) in the Southern Ocean sinks through the water to add to ocean carbon storage, via phytoplankton photosynthesis. This involved analysing in-situ data on particles produced by the phytoplankton that promote carbon sinking to the deep ocean. I also used chlorophyll data from the ESA Ocean Colour satellite dataset, to help answer my main question of how the whole process was affected by nutrient availability in the water. The findings will hopefully have implications for researchers involved in the CUSTARD project, who are investigating seasonal changes in Southern Ocean carbon storage.

What new skills have you learned while doing this internship?

During the internship, my IT and data analysis skills definitely improved, such as learning about and using Linux operating systems, and coding using a Python environment – something which I had never used before. I have developed my presentation skills, by presenting to other placement students and research scientists at the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) where I was based, which also taught me how to target a talk to different audiences with different knowledge bases. The soft skills I have learned and used involved problem-solving, time management and building work relationships, by communicating with my supervisors and speaking to other people in the office. I also developed a good working day routine to make the most of my time, which is some helpful personal insight I will use in future.

Map of 8 day mean chlorophyll from December 2019-January 2020 covering the Antarctic Peninsula and South America. There are high concentrations along the coastlines.
Plot of chlorophyll levels against the depth (down to 200 m).

How have you found working with your research team?

From the outset and throughout the internship, my supervisors Alice and Chelsey were incredibly welcoming and attentive to any questions I had (which, for the first week, were mainly about how to find my way around the NOC building!). They offered me many opportunities to attend talks, speak to people, get involved with data collection and public engagement, and generally gain a huge amount of insight into the academic industry, for which I am very grateful. I massively appreciated their consistent time and support, particularly when they were both busy with their own work, and it was inspiring to work with and learn from them.

What has been the highlight of the internship for you?

The highlight was definitely my fifth week, where I presented to the other REP interns in Edinburgh and Leeds online, and then to 20 or so researchers at NOC later that week. It was fantastic to see what the other interns had been working on, and grow in confidence when presenting to researchers who are experts in their fields.

How has doing this internship changed your plans or thoughts about your future career?

The internship has reaffirmed to me that I want to pursue a career in earth science research, as I found the whole project process very interesting. It has also highlighted the potential challenges that arise with it, which I am glad to be aware of. I definitely plan to conduct a PhD research project, and will likely study for a masters in oceanography or similar first.

SENSE Industry Symposium 1st November 2023

Venue: Prince Phillip Suite, Surgeons Quarter, Nicholson Street, Edinburgh, EH8 9DW

The SENSE Centre for Doctoral Training would like to invite you to a one day symposium involving students, staff and partners of the centre.

The purpose of the event will be:
·       To showcase the work in Earth Observation and environmental science being done by the SENSE Centre for Doctoral Training
·       Explore opportunities for collaboration within the centre.  
·       Network with students, companies, academics and other staff working within the area of EO
·       Explore future directions for research in Earth Observation and environmental science 

Attendance at this event is free however limited to two attendees per organisation.

Please register via Eventbrite:

We look forward to meeting you in November

Dr Gary R Watmough

SENSE Deputy Director for Industry Engagement

Our Firbush Special Guests

In 2023 SENSE was lucky enough to be awarded Skills Enhancement funding by our funder NERC which will allow us to create some additional opportunities for our own students and also open our current training activities to students outwith the CDT. With our field skills trip to Firbush scheduled for June 2023 we were excited to create this opportunity and a few months before the trip launched an application process for this. We were really lucky to be joined by some excellent PhD colleagues from various universities around the UK.

Estelle Darko is a student at the University of Birmingham whose research is focussed on forest diversity. Estelle was particularly interested in the forest inventory activities as it is directly aligned with her research. She said of the week:

I found the training to be surprisingly useful and quite relevant to my research so I would consider the funding as having been used well. I was also able to meet researchers in my field who go to similar conferences who I may have otherwise not easily spoken to otherwise so it was effective networking.

Fiona Woods is based at the University of Southampton and is looking at native oyster reefs in the Solent. As much of Fiona’s research is based in the lab and in situ measurements she was really keen to expand her knowledge of remote sensing. As well as gaining knowledge of the technical aspects of the training the best part of her week was:

To be Able to meet other PhDs doing completely different research to myself, and how willing everyone was to share their work and ideas

Fiona was also very interested to hear about the NERC Field Spectroscopy facility and how their equipment was available to hire for free and at a low cost.

Ian Willey is based at the University of Leeds and he has recently started a PhD evaluating woodland creation schemes in the UK, Ian is currently exploring different remote methods in his research but keen to find out more about the potential of using satellite data for this. The best thing about the course for Ian was:

Hands-on experience with equipment, approachability and knowledge of staff/demonstrators, the Firbush setting itself together with the food, structure of the day and facilities. Beyond this, doing activities with other PhD students and having dinner with them everyday helped discussion and created bonds which are great for learning.

Anna Stanforth is also based at the University of Southampton and working on a assessing ecosystem services from local to landscape scale to improve agricultural sustainability and productivity in Papua New Guinea. Anna was really keen to pick up some field techniques and pick up some tips and tricks before heading in the field herself.

My own DTP does not offer anything near this training and therefore being able to tag onto another training course was invaluable. It also helped with networking and generally getting out of my own PhD environment which can easily become a bubble.

Nitin Ravinder is based at CPOM at the University of Leeds working on Detecting Ice Sheet Dynamical Imbalance using Satellite Altimetry and was keen to gain experience of drone flying before potentially taking part in some field campaigns on ice sheets.

Firstly, a big thank you to NERC for the funding and hence the opportunity. Most of the training was a first experience for me. I learnt quite a lot about field work, the kind of planning that goes into one, the kind of adaptability required for completing one, the unexpectedness of it all. I’m hoping to use this knowledge in any future field work opportunity I might get and only build on what I have learnt. I’m confident in being able to take part in field work in more challenging environment that comes with my field of research and I only have this training to thank for it.

Luke Richardson-Foulger is studying at Kings college London looking at  High Latitude Peatland Fires and their Greenhouse Gas Emissions and was keen to gain experience of some of the methods which will be used in his research

Luke particularly enjoyed the drone activities and the ACDP demonstrations and found it very useful to network with other PhDs

Rachel Walker studies at the University of Nottingham as part of the Geospatial Systems CDT and her research focusses on developing a product to assess the success of peat restoration techniques through the integration of geospatial methods and will be using a variety of range of remotely sensed data (hyperspectral, multispectral, InSAR, thermal and lidar) for this.

It was beneficial as my CDT does not offer training on UAV or field spectroscopy and these both directly link to my research. It was also interesting to meet people from the SENSE CDT and elsewhere to find out what they are doing and network.

Safaa’Al Awadhi is based at the School of Geoscience at the University of Edinburgh and is working on Oil spill detection in the offshore marine environment using thermal and SAR remote sensing and was keen to gain techniques to use UAV’s in the safe detection of oil spills. Safaa particularly enjoyed the talks from Calum Hoad and Charlotte Walshaw on their fieldwork experiences>

I liked seeing the PhD students progress and their EO applications in Antarctica and the Arctic. Their talk method had an element of storytelling with lots of  photos and humor which I thought was great.

She said of the week in general:

Thank you for the invitation. As an internationally funded PhD student, it can be isolating not being part of a cohort such as NERC E3 or E4 or SENSE, etc. Being part of the SENSE field training for a week provided some opportunity for shared activities with fellow PhD students and a chance to network with them. I look forward for future similar opportunities.

Thank you to all of those who joined the trip this year – it was great to see everyone getting to know each other and working together in groups. It was brilliant to expand our network and meet new people. Thank you very much to NERC for funding this – we are already making plans for next year’s training and hope to make places available to attend this and other training events.

Ducks, Drones & Dancing – Firbush Field Skills May 2023

Even the ducks were keen to join the training

So after last year’s very successful Firbush field skills trip we thought we really couldn’t top it but how wrong we were. In June 2023 24 SENSE students and some special invited guest students (more about them later) headed north to the beautiful University of Edinburgh field skills centre at Firbush point on Loch Tay for a week of field skills training, outdoor pursuits and cohort building with staff from the School of Geoscience.

Collecting data in the field is very important when working with satellite data as it is often used to validate what we can see from the air and track down the locations where the data has been collected. Very important when dealing with data from vast areas.

The forecast for the week was looking good so the group were in high spirits when they arrived. First on the agenda was some outdoor activities including paddleboarding, sailing, windsurfing and orienteering before dinner and an introduction to the first two days training activities.

Drone operation led by Tom Wade (Airborne Research and Innovation) assisted by out fantastic demonstrators Liz Poulsom (E4 DTP) and SENSE students Charlotte Walshaw and Calum Hoad. Calum, Charlotte and Liz all use drones as part of their PhD research and have experience of using them in the field. Before we started Tom explained the process of risk assessment for flying drones and then everyone was able to get some experience of flying some of the smaller Mavic 2 & 3 drones. After everyone had a chance to try out the drones it was time for the team challenge – come up with a short drone flying sequence with a commentary and an entertaining accompaniment. The teams really rose to the challenge with some excellent flying and some inventive dance routine accompaniments although team ‘Mavic Mike’ was the overall winner.

Day two of the drone training was focused on more complex drone operations such as demonstrations of collecting Lidar data from the surrounding forests and how to use a ranging station to record the points you are flying over. Calum and Charlotte also gave a talk in the evening about how they had used drone work in their field research – Charlotte in Antarctica and Calum in the Canadian arctic – hint watch out for bears.

We were also joined by Alex Merrington and Craig Atkins from the NERC field spectroscopy facility which is based at the University of Edinburgh. Field spectroscopy relates to the measurement of the optical characteristics of a surface and provides quantitative measurements of radiance, irradiance, reflectance or transmission. Analysis of specific areas of the spectral data can infer properties of the sample material, and various indices exist to quantify various parameters. The students had a chance to collect some data and then analyse it. FSF were also able to introduce their service which allows NERC funded researchers and PhD students to borrow equipment at no or very low cost to use in the field.

Our final activity was delivered by Harry Carstairs who has recently completed his PhD with the Mitchard group. Equipment for this was much more low tech in that included a tape measure and clinometer for measuring the height of trees. The challenge was to take a 20m radius section and measure the forest biomass. Harry is more used to the exotic location of the forest of Gabon for this type of field work but being a good field scientist had remembered an essential bit of kit for the students – midgie nets! The groups were given a few hours to do this and a few instructions so it was really interesting to see the different methods used and results they came up with. A great team building exercise as well as learning.

Day 4 of the training saw a change of team as we were joined by Mikael Attal and Alan Hobbs from the school of geosciences who was demonstrating the Acoustic Dopper Current Profiler (ADCP) and Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS). The ADCP is used extensively by the Land Surface Dynamics group to investigate river velocity, turbulence, and erosional and sediment transport potential. It sits on a small craft which is towed behind a canoe and was taken in transects across the loch to give some information about what is happening under the surface. Mikael also gave a talk in his research which is part of the Land Surface Dynamics group and the students were particularly interested in his work on landslips.

The group was also joined during the week by team ice Anna Crawford, Bea Ricinos Rivas and Dan Goldberg from the glaciology research group who gave talks about their research. As a interdisciplinary centre SENSE covers a wide variety of topic areas we like to give our students opportunities to find out about areas of interest out with their normal research areas.

The week’s training ended with some more outdoor activities, another swim in the loch, a games night and then after another hearty breakfast the group headed back to Edinburgh on Friday morning a bit tired but happy with lots of new ideas and some new connections. It had been a great week in a fantastic location and a chance for the SENSE students to spend some time together and get to know their fellow students and staff a little bit better. Thank you so much to Tom, Liz, Charlotte, Calum, Harry, Alex, Craig, Alan, Mikael, Anna, Bea, Kathy and all the Firbush staff for an amazing trip and a really big shout out to Eleanor and Dan who worked so hard to put the week together. 

Oh and also to mention a very exciting spot of a beaver near the centre – it seems word of the training got out!