Year 13 Biology Trip – October 2015

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On the morning of Friday 30Th October a group of seven Year 13 Biologists set off on a coach to the FSC field centre in Preston Montford, Shropshire. Having settled into their rooms in the delightful 18th century Queen Anne country house by the river Severn, they were immediately put to work in the 12 hectares of grassland and woodland that surround the centre.

In that first afternoon alone the students reviewed key ecological terms, carried out random sampling in grassland using both frame and point quadrats, identified numerous plant species using a dichotomous key, recorded their data using frequency and percentage cover, applied the ACFOR scale to their measurements and had begun to evaluate the success of each of the methods used. Following a short cake break, the students then headed back outside to complete a mini-investigation on the effect of changing light intensity on nettle leaf size. With only one ‘nettles casualty’, Year 13 returned to the classroom to complete a Student’s t-test on their results. The day’s teaching concluded with the setting up of Longworth small mammal traps and a short walk by torchlight to lay the traps in the hope of capturing something furry by morning.

Following unprecedented success with the mammal trapping (three wood mice and one vole out of 10 traps) the biologists boarded a coach in the sunshine to Crosemere Lake to study hydroseral succession along a 60m interrupted belt transect. Working in small groups the plant communities were sampled and numerous abiotic factors were measured. Students got the opportunity to test soil pH in the field using an auger, soil moisture was analysed with a soil penetrometer, atmospheric humidity and temperature were recorded using a whirling hygrometer, light levels were monitored with a lux meter and a digital anemometer was used to measure wind speed. Upon returning to centre, data was shared and a thorough analysis of the results began. By dinner time, students had evaluated their methods, drawn kite diagrams to show the abundance of various plant species and had written conclusions of their findings. With the Rugby World Cup final well and truly sacrificed, work continued into the evening with a Spearmann Rank Correlation test on the data collected.

Sunday was equally productive with the students carrying out a pond study using sweep nets to sample the freshwater invertebrate communities at the centre. Year 13 completed their first task with enthusiasm determining the abundance of various indicator species within the pond and measuring the oxygen concentration, pH and temperature of the water. Following a tour around the unique Wetland Ecosystem Treatment System at Preston Montford the students were visibly less keen to carry out the comparative study in the dark water of the eutrophic and hypoxic final swale (affectionately nicknamed the ‘poo pond’ by the field centre staff)! However, credit must be given to all students who, with gloves on, attempted to determine the abundance of invertebrates that were literally swarming in their white sampling trays. A rarely seen rat-tailed maggot was identified by one group and it was very unusual to see red water fleas in such enormous numbers. Sunday’s session ended with one final marathon mathematical review in the form of Simpson’s Diversity Index.

The work ethic and enthusiasm shown by all of our biologists over the course of the three days was excellent and it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience for staff and students alike. The field course has certainly enhanced the students’ understanding of Ecology and it is an experience that we would like to be able to provide for all of our biologists in the future.

A huge thank you and well done to Carrick Anderson, Charley Flowers, Charles Grattan, Archie Herrick, Lauren Mulla, William Smith and Helena Yu.

Mrs Amanda Dungey (Biology Department)