IELTS READING – Efforts to save a special bird – the spoon-billed sandpiper S10GT5

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Efforts to save a special bird – the spoon-billed sandpiper

Last year an international team of ornithologists devised a bold plan to rescue one of the world’s rarest birds. Gerrit Vyn reports.

A. At first glance the spoon-billed sandpiper resembles other small migratory birds of the sandpiper family that breed across the Arctic. But it is the only one to have developed a flattened bill that flares out into a ‘spoon’

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at the end, and that makes it special. If it becomes extinct, thousands of years of evolution will come to an end, which would be a real tragedy. The bird’s Russian name, kulik-lopaten, means ‘shovel beak’, which is an apt description of a remarkable structure. The bill is 19 mm long and 10 mm wide near the tip and the edges are lined with sharp serrations, called papillae. Theories have varied as to how the bill functions; one suggestion is that the sandpiper sweeps it through the water in a similar fashion to its larger namesake, the spoonbill. But Nigel Clark, a leading authority on the sandpiper, says the comparison is misleading.

B. Until a few years ago, the spoon-billed sandpiper had never been fully documented, which added to its fascination. But an air of mystery is not helpful if you’re a Critically Endangered species. So the organisation ‘Birds Russia’ decided to produce a photographic and audio record of this imperilled bird with the help of experts round the world. In May of last year, I joined the international expedition to one of the species’ last breeding strongholds in North-East Russia. The primary aim of the two-and-a-half month expedition, however, was to collect eggs from wild sandpipers; those eggs would then be hatched in captivity nearby. Later, the chicks would be flown to the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) headquarters at Slimbridge in the UK, in order to establish a small, self-sustaining population there. These birds would provide a ‘safety net’, an insurance policy against the wild birds dying out.

C. You might wonder why birds like the spoon-billed sandpiper travel such great distances, about 8,000 km in total, from their wintering grounds on the tropical coasts of Bangladesh, Burma and Vietnam in South-East Asia to breed on the low land, commonly called tundra, in North-East Russia, but from the birds’ point of view it is worth it. Though they often arrive to find hostile, wintry weather while they are finding their mates and making their nests, there are relatively few predators there, and the abundance of insects that emerge during the brief but intense Arctic summer creates ideal conditions for raising their chicks.

D. Two main factors are responsible for the sandpiper’s recent rapid decline: the ongoing destruction of stopover habitat on its migration route and hunting on its wintering grounds. The development of new industrial cities is destroying former tidal areas, where sandpipers and other migratory birds used to rest and refuel. Subsistence hunting is certainly a hazard in some Asian countries, where hunters trap birds for food. Conservationists are targeting this problem with small-scale interventions. For example, hunters from 40 villages have been given alternative sources of income, such as cool boxes in which they can take fish to sell at markets, in return for a halt to the bird-netting.

E. Once the expedition team had reached its destination, it was seven days before we spotted the first sandpiper. In the following days, more began to arrive and the males’ song was heard, advertising their patches of territory to potential mates.

As the sandpipers paired up, the song gave way to the quiet of egg-laying and incubation. In total nine nests were found. < The first one was lost to a predators along with the female attending it. This was a stark reminder of the vulnerability of a tiny population to natural events, such as storms or predation.

The team then selected donor nests and transferred the eggs to specially prepared incubators. They collected 20 eggs in all, taking entire clutches each time – it was early in the breeding season, so the females were likely to lay replacements. Then 50 days after our arrival, the moment arrived: I witnessed my first wild spoon-billed sandpipers hatch. I had been lying inside a wind-battered hide for 36 hours when I saw the first tiny chicks emerge from the eggs. Having hidden a microphone near the nest, I could also just hear their first calls. Later, I watched them stumbling through the 15 cm-high jungle of grasses on comically oversized legs and feet. But my joy was tempered by concern. Difficulties on their migration route and in their wintering areas meant that other tiny creatures like these faced immense dangers.

F. The complex rescue plan does give some grounds for hope. Young chicks were flown to WWT Slimbridge last year and again this summer. A high-tech biosecure unit has been built for them there, it is divided in two, with the older birds in one section and this year’s chicks in the other. To minimise the risk of infections, staff change into full-body overalls and rubber shoes and wash their hands before entering. Hygiene is crucial: even a single strand of human hair could harm the chicks by becoming twisted round their legs or bills. The rescue plan’s final stage, once the captive flock has built up sufficiently, will be to fly eggs back to Russia, to release the chicks there. It’s a gamble, but when the survival of a species this special is at stake, you have to try.

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IELTS READING – The annual performance appraisal S10GT4

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How to deal with the annual performance appraisal

The annual performance appraisal can help improve your productivity and provide a foundation for your work priorities. It is, however, critical to have the right attitude and approach. Knowing what areas your superiors

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see as your weaknesses is the most direct way of increasing the likelihood of being considered for promotion, if that is what you are looking for.

Send your boss a summary of your achievements. Reminding your boss of activities, special assignments you did, and projects you were in charge of helps him or her create a more accurate performance appraisal. Consider keeping notes of these on a regular basis to make it easier to provide the data when required.

Create a list of questions you would like to discuss during your appraisal. This one-on-one time with your boss is an excellent opportunity to ask him or her about your role in the company, request any additional responsibilities you would like and clarify your priorities. But it is best to focus your attention around personal and professional improvements, rather than financial considerations, such as an increase in salary.

During the appraisal
Present a positive attitude as soon as you enter the appraisal room. This approach may lead to a more constructive discussion of review items. Avoid taking any negative assessments that are offered as a personal attack, but rather try to take them on board calmly, because if you put the failings right you will improve your performance. A realistic assessment of your strengths and weaknesses can be one of the most beneficial ways of helping you advance in the company.

After the appraisal
Create a list of personal goals based on your performance appraisal. Make the items detailed and measurable if possible. Send this list to your boss so he or she knows you took the appraisal seriously. Use this list to help achieve higher scores on your next performance appraisal. Six months after the appraisal, ask for a mid-term review with your boss to discuss your progress. This session should be more relaxed and informal than the official review. Ask for more feedback to help you improve. Checking in with your boss helps him or her remember your dedication as far as your job is concerned, and may help remove any criticisms before they become a review point on your next formal appraisal.

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IELTS READING – What is it like to run a large supermarket? S9GT5

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What is it like to run a large supermarket?

Jill Insley finds out

A: You can’t beat really good service. I’ve been shopping in the Thamesmead branch of supermarket chain Morrisons, in south-east London, and I’ve experienced at first hand, the store’s latest maxim for improving the shopping experience – help, offer, thank. This involves identifying customers who might need help, greeting them, asking what they need, providing it, thanking them and leaving them in peace. If they don’t look like they want help, they’ll be left alone.

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But if they’re standing looking lost and perplexed, a member of staff will approach them. Staff are expected to be friendly to everyone. My checkout assistant has certainly said something to amuse the woman in front of me, she’s smiling as she leaves. Adrian Perriss, manager of the branch, has discussed the approach with each of his 387 staff. He says it’s about recognising that someone needs help, not being a nuisance to them. When he’s in another store, he’s irritated by someone saying, ‘Can I help you?’ when he’s only just walked in to have a quick look at the products.

B: How anyone can be friendly and enthusiastic when they start work at dawn beats me. The store opens at 7 am, Monday to Saturday, meaning that some staff, including Perriss, have to be here at 6 am to make sure it’s clean, safe and stocked up for the morning rush. Sometimes he walks in at 6 am and thinks they’re never going to be ready on time, but they always are. There’s so much going on overnight – 20 people working on unloading three enormous trailers full of groceries.

C: Perriss has worked in supermarkets since 1982, when he became a trolley boy on a weekly salary of £76. ‘It was less money than my previous job, but I loved it. It was different and diverse. I was doing trolleys, portering, bread, cakes, dairy and general maintenance.’ After a period in the produce department looking after the fruit and vegetables, he was made produce manager, then assistant store manager before reaching the top job in 1998. This involved intensive training and assessment through the company’s future store manager programme, learning how to analyse and prioritise sales, wastage, recruitment and many other issues. Perriss’ first stop as the store manager was at a store which was closed soon afterwards, though he was not to blame.

D: Despite the disappointing start, his career went from strength to strength and he was put in charge of launching new stores and heading up a ‘concept’ store, where the then new ideas of preparing and cooking pizzas in store, having a proper florist and fruit and vegetable ‘markets’ were trialled. All Morrisons’ managers from the whole country spent three days there to see the new concept. That was hard work,’ he says, ‘long days, seven days a week, for about a year.’

E: Although he oversees a store with a large turnover, there is a strong practical aspect to Perriss’s job. As we walk around, he chats to all the staff while checking the layout of their counters and the quality of the produce. He examines the baking potato shelf and rejects three, one that has split virtually in half and two that are beginning to go green. He then pulls out a lemon that looks fine to me. When I ask why, he picks up a second lemon and says: ‘Close your eyes and just feel and tell me which you would keep.’ I do and realise that while one is firm and hard, the other is going a bit squashy.

F: Despite eagle-eyed Perriss pulling out fruit and vegetable that most of us would buy without a second thought, the wastage each week is tiny: produce worth £4,200 is marked down for a quick sale, and only £400-worth is scrapped. This, he explains, is down to Morrisons’ method of ordering, still done manually rather than by computer. Department heads know exactly how much they’ve sold that day and how much they’re likely to sell the next, based on sales records and allowing for influences such as the weather.

G: Perriss is in charge of 1,000 man-hours a week across the store. To help him, he has a key team of four, who each have direct responsibility for different departments. He is keen to hear what staff think. He recently held a ‘talent’ day, inviting employees interested in moving to a new job within the store to come and talk to him about why they thought they should be promoted, and discuss how to go about it. ‘We had twenty- three people come through the door, people wanting to talk about progression,’ he says. ‘What do they need to do to become a supervisor? Twenty-three people will be better members of staff as a result of that talk.’

H: His favourite department is fish, which has a four-meter-long run by Debbie and Angela, who are busy having a discussion about how to cook a particular fish with a customer. But it is one of just 20 or so departments around the store and Perriss admits the pressure of making sure he knows what’s happening on them all can be intense. ‘You have to do so much and there could be something wrong with every single one, every day,’ he says. ‘You’ve got to minimise those things and shrink them into perspective. You’ve got to love the job.’ This is what Perriss certainly does.

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IELTS READING – How to get a job in journalism S9GT4


How to get a job in journalism

You can get a good qualification in journalism, but what employers actually want is practical, rather than theoretical, knowledge. There’s no substitute for creating real stories that have to be handed in by strict deadlines. So write for your school magazine, then maybe try your hand at editing. Once you’ve done that for a while, start requesting internships in newspapers in the area.

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These are generally short-term and unpaid, but they’re definitely worthwhile, since, instead of providing you with money, they’ll teach you the skills that every twenty-first-century journalist has to have, like laying out articles, creating web pages, taking good digital pictures and so on.

Most reporters keep a copy of every story they’ve had published, from secondary school onwards. They’re called cuttings, and you need them to get a job — indeed a few impressive ones can be the deciding factor in whether you’re appointed or not. So start creating a portfolio now that will show off your developing talent.

It seems obvious – research is an important part of an effective job hunt. But it’s surprising how many would-be journalists do little or none. If you’re thorough, it can help you decide whether the job you’re thinking about applying for is right for you. And nothing impresses an editor more than an applicant who knows a lot about the paper.

There are two more elements to an application – your covering letter and curriculum vitae. However, your CV is the thing that will attract an editor’s attention first, so get it right. The key words are brevity, (no more than one page) accuracy (absolutely no spelling or typing errors) and clarity (it should be easy to follow).

In journalism, good writing skills are essential, so it’s critical that the style of your letter is appropriate. And, make sure it conveys your love of journalism and your eagerness to do the work.

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