Promoting the importance of cloudforest conservation in Costa Rica through scientific research and media

When: 5 July – 24 August 2017

Where: Cloudbridge Nature Reserve, Costa Rica

What: Cloudbridge Nature Reserve has evolved from a reforestation programme, and now has a strong focus on environmental education about cloud forests; our main objective is to aid Cloudbridge in promoting the importance of these ecosystems, by generating a scientific report, photographs, and a documentary.

Who: Students from the University of Exeter and Falmouth University (FXpedition Society) in collaboration with Cloudbridge Nature Reserve.

Status: Live


In working within the nature reserve, we aim to strengthen the relationship that was established in 2016 by the first expedition with those that work on the reserve. We also strive to ensure that our findings will lead to more specific and targeted management of researched groups.

Through specifically looking at the most effective and efficient way to sample moths it will mean that further research can be undertaken once we’ve left as they haven’t yet been researched. We also want to gain an understanding about the range of species of moth present.

Alongside this, our other branch of research is focused on epiphytes and what is supported by epiphytes, which will enable us to educate others on the importance of maintaining the reserve and reforesting it and protecting similar ecosystems.

Expedition Cloudbridge 2017 Expedition Base Camp

Alex Greene Photography



We are a group of 8 students from both Falmouth and Exeter University, based at Penryn Campus in Cornwall. Collaborating our competence and skills in both fields of science and media, we are venturing to the tropical cloud forest of Cloudbridge Nature Reserve in Costa Rica, to partake in scientific research and to document our results/adventure. Our main research focus will be looking at how Birds interact with Epiphytes – not much research has been done on this and we’re hoping to find out more about their behaviour and additionally learn more about Bird/Epiphyte ecology. Moth diversity will be another big part of our research; our aims are to develop understanding of the abundance and variety of Moth species, and maybe (if we’re lucky) discover new species to science! After 6 weeks of enduring scientific surveys we will produce a scientific report to exemplify our findings.

The project will generate new knowledge of species present at this remote reserve, and could aid further research and more targeted ecosystem management. Discovering differences in epiphyte abundance at different locations within the reserve could give evidence not only about the health of the ecosystem at different stages of reforestation and natural growth, but also how plant species may disperse from surrounding areas to within the reserve.

Building knowledge of species within the reserve could also lead to a greater understanding of how successful the reserve has been at bridging the gap between the adjacent Chirripo National Park and other areas of cloud forest. All of this knowledge is important in understanding how we can protect and rebuild tropical forests and their magnificent biodiversity. Our documentary hopes to give insight into the beauty of the reserve, the importance of cloud forests, and the people involved in the protection and use of this ecosystem. We will be able to discover people’s views on environmental protection, hopefully including students from Costa Rica. We are currently trying to establish links with local students to assist in our fieldwork, because we believe this will be a great cultural exchange for both parties.


Cloudbrighe Nature Reserve, Costa Rica



Epiphyte Research Methodology:

We will carry out abundance assessments to record where epiphytes are present:

  • We’ll set up sampling sites, using the 24 grid squares that the reserve is divided into for bird surveying. We will randomly sample a set number of trees from each site, using line transects. Each tree will be assigned an epiphyte- coverage description of ‘none’, ‘low’, ‘medium’ or ‘high’. Tree measurements will also be taken: species, height, girth. This will help us accomplish the primary objective of epiphyte abundance in different trees and habitats.
  • Once we have an understanding of where epiphytes are present, we will investigate how birds interact with epiphytes. During our preliminary studies, we hope to identify suitable study sites, enabling easy observation of bird-epiphyte interactions at a suitable distance without causing disturbance to birds.
  • When a suitable site is identified, researchers will observe and record visits to assigned plants in a set time-frame and note behaviour (we will try and categorise this into feeding, washing etc.) We may also set up camera traps, enabling greater data collection and identification of birds to species level.

Moth Research Methodology:

  • We will also study moth diversity, aiming to find the best method for sampling moths on the reserve. Using the 24 sites, we will survey for moths using different techniques.
  • The Heath moth trap is likely our best option as it is easily transportable and does not run hot or become damaged by moisture easily.
  • We will compare a commercial moth trap with a homemade version, using a simple white sheet and torch method, running the two methods simultaneously, in similar habitats, to analyse as paired data. These trials will be conducted at multiple sites.
  • We may also sample diurnal moths using methods such as beating branches to dislodge the larvae and the use of
    attractants such as food. Conditions such as lunar phase and weather will need to be considered when deciding sampling dates.


Research in reforested areas, especially in biodiversity hotspots, is important for the development of restoration ecology. Humans are having a devastating impact on natural ecosystems, and understanding how we can restore these ecosystems is vital for rebuilding and protecting biodiversity. The project findings could have local, regional and global impacts, by building a better picture of how effective reforestation can be and guiding future research efforts. Our project could also encourage the maintenance of natural areas around national parks, to act as buffer zones by stopping the isolation of species.

Cloudbridge reserve will greatly benefit from this project, as we will be conducting research in under-studied areas, on request of the reserve. We also hope that visitors to the reserve will benefit from speaking with us during their trip, by gaining a greater understanding of cloud forest ecology and the importance of conservation.

The materials generated by our project will be distributed to the reserve, any local collaborators, financial parties and the general public (via social media and YouTube), which will benefit any readers/watchers by increasing their awareness of the issues that cloud forests face and the importance of protecting and rebuilding natural areas.

In the event that Costa Rican students join us to collaborate on our project, we will share with them our knowledge and enthusiasm and provide them with a unique cultural exchange opportunity. We will also equally benefit from this arrangement by learning from them to adapt our research methods and by gaining an insight into their culture.

We hope that our project will also reach people local to Cornwall and the UK, through our fundraising events.

Expedition Cloudbridge 2017 Expedition Base Camp


Student expedition team from both Exeter and Falmouth University, representing a student organisation: FXpeditions.

Lucy Wells
University of Exeter, Conservation Biology and Ecology, 2nd Year

Experience of working on a marine turtle conservation project for an extended period in North Cyprus. Hands on experience with the nesting females and hatchlings, and working with the local public and tourists in outreach activities. Travelled extensively through Europe. Working towards Gold Duke of Edinburgh, and confident at hiking and navigation, for leisure and part of role within the FXU Expedition Society, and gaining First Aid Training through this role. Learning basic Spanish. Have completed work experience at the University of Bristol with a Professor of Sensory Ecology, so have a good understanding of research processes and techniques.

Ellie Brown – Scientific Director
University of Exeter, Conservation Biology and Ecology, 1st Year

In my degree, I am gaining experience in designing and carrying out scientific investigations. Through previous fieldwork I also have used different sampling techniques and have spent time identifying unknown species. I have done a bit of volunteering for Somerset Wildlife Trust and also some Turtle monitoring. I travelled South America and so know basic Spanish and have previous experience of Costa Rican culture. Have undertaken basic first aid. Also I have some experience in map skills and expeditions through completing Bronze Duke of Edinburgh. Undertaken hikes in tropical/high altitude terrain.

Rosa Sutcliffe – Fundraising Director
University of Exeter, Conservation Biology and Ecology, 2nd Year

Lots of travelling experience all over the world. Currently doing intermediate Spanish evening classes at the University and can speak basic communicative spanish. Experience of volunteering with animals includes a wildlife sanctuary, Gweek Seal Sanctuary and residential volunteering with the RSPB. Have volunteered all over the world, at farms in India, teaching English in Cambodia, building a house in Sri Lanka, climbing mountains in the Himalayas. I have completed Silver Duke of Edinburgh and am confident at map reading. Have also got some experience with surveying plants, toads and badgers.

Chloe Pasquill – Health and Safety Officer
University of Exeter, Zoology, 1st Year

I have done a basic first aid course with St Johns ambulance. In my degree, I am currently gaining vital experience for designing and carrying out fieldwork. I have had experience in creating detailed risk assessments and have already learnt many different sampling techniques and observation skills. I have knowledge of many different terrains and cultures though my study of geography in college. I have done some work experience at The Sea Life Centre working with the displays team, looking after the marine species.

Rhyse Kaye – Head of Media
Falmouth University, Marine and Natural History Photography, 2nd Year

I have 9 years photographic experience, having worked in various industries from fashion and commercial media, my specialty is in Natural history photography and filmmaking and I am furthering this skill via my degree, I am confident in my abilities to create desired content, with an in depth knowledge of adobe systems. Having worked on various conservation based expeditions from the Galapagos to the Philippines, I have a strong desire to use visual media for conservation, supporting the facts and numbers for a larger audience to reciprocate. I am a keen explorer and adventure seeker, I love to make an informative situation out of just the smallest walks, independently specialising in herpetology. I work with my own and other specimens and DWA category animals on a regular basis.

Jack Burton – Social Media/Connections and Photographer

Falmouth University, Marine and Natural History Photography, 2nd Year

I have 7 years of photographic experience, particularly specialising in the field of nature and wildlife, and now studying a degree in Marine and Natural History photography at Falmouth University. Conversant in the field of photographic post processing and working with Adobe Software’s. I have attended photographic excursions around Europe and Canada, exploring their diverse cultures and biomes. I am a Photo Editor of a University bioscience magazine; writing articles and contributing photographs is a typical responsibility. Experience in surveying – I am a bird ringing trainee for the BTO and spend my summer months contributing to scientific surveys. I have worked as a photojournalist for the Durham Wildlife Trust and have been published on their website. Experienced and competent rock climber and hiker – my usual sport hobbies to keep myself fit and healthy.

Tamar Lennard – Kit Officer
University of Exeter, Conservation Biology and Ecology, 1st Year

Through college and the start of my degree I have learnt an array of surveying techniques and have experience carrying out my own small scale projects and presenting data. Having completed my National Citizenship Service I have gained first aid, fundraising experience and organisational skills through a community action project. Also this course has helped me develop already strong team and communication skills. Travelled to India, Africa and New Zealand of which i have had to manage kit which was needed in the projects I took part in out there. Volunteered in India to work in a children’s home and to carry out some work with the homeless as well as fundraising for the homes out there. Other experience includes A2 dissertation which I completed a research project on how education influences garden habitats.

Sophie Darnton
University of Exeter, Conservation Biology and Ecology, 2nd Year

Through my degree, I’m developing scientific skills such as species identification, sampling methods, habitat surveying, and communicating science. The course is very practical, with a lot of time spent in the field. Last spring I volunteered as a field assistant with the Cornish Jackdaw project, where I was responsible for monitoring all of the chicks in one study site, from hatching to fledging. I gained valuable field experience, and an insight into a working research project. Before university I travelled and worked abroad for 8 years, working in Japan, Canada, New Zealand and Europe, and travelling extensively in Southeast Asia. I visited rainforest in Borneo, Sumatra and mainland Malaysia, and have spent a lot of time hiking in mountainous areas, largely in the tropics and Canada. I’m also a competent rock climber, and have taken climbing trips in the Swiss Alps, Canada, Tenerife and France. I’m currently learning basic Spanish, and will soon be taking a basic first aid course.

Expedition Cloudbridge 2017 Expedition Base Camp

Alex Greene Photography



Pre-fieldwork / preparation – £50
Training – £150 (first aid training)
International travel (flights) – £6400
Subsistence (accommodation and food) – £4536 + £615 (food)
In-country travel – £220
Local counterparts / guides – £0
Field equipment – £200
Insurance – £1000
Medical / health & safety – £1125
Preparation of project report – £50
Dissemination of findings – £100
Other – £200 (outreach materials)
Contingency – £1464
TOTAL – £16110

Grant giving trusts – £5000
Fund raising events & activities – £3510
Commercial sponsorship – £1000
Individuals donations – £6400
Other sources – £200
TOTAL – £16 110


Royal Geographic Society

Lords Mayor 800th Anniversary Awards Trust

FXpedition Society

Gilchrist Educational Trust


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