Sunday 18 September 2016

Diary of a Young Darwin Scholar: Days 4 & 5

After three very enjoyable but botany-lite days as a Young Darwin Scholar, George Garnett finally gets his teeth into some plants and spends time in the field with ace botany tutor Mark Duffell

Over to George for the final instalment of his diary: 

Tuesday 23rd August 2016:
Young Darwins learning from the experts
Image courtesy of G. Garnett 
"This was a day of identifying things so I was in my element! A moth trap had been set up on Sunday. We emptied it on Monday, keeping the moths in the fridge. Tuesday morning was spent identifying all the moths that we’d caught using picture guides and keys. This data is then used to study the annual flight times of these species at Preston Montford. These data can be useful in studying population trends in the species and provide an insight into how climate change is influencing the moths’ flight times.

After listening to two interesting talks, one on biological recording and the other on the FSC’s publications department; we prepared to do a Bioblitz of the centre. Present were experts in the fields of Bees/Wasps, Dragonflies/Damselflies, soil invertebrates and of course, plants! 

Centaurium erythraea
Image: G. Garnett
The day was split into a morning and afternoon session. We were given the opportunity to choose what we wanted to study in each session.

I decided to spend the morning session Bioblitzing Bees and Wasps with Ian Cheeseborough. I really enjoyed this. I’ll admit to knowing very little about anything in the natural world other than plants (and I’ve still got a lot to learn in botany), so it was nice to learn a bit about such an important group of insects. 

Highlights were the numerous beautiful Ruby-Tailed Wasps, as well as other parasitic wasps and the fascinating solitary bee species. In many ways identification requires many of the same skills used in botany, so it was interesting to draw parallels. 

Overall, I’m glad I chose this session. It’s sometimes nice to know the identity of the bee or wasp sitting on the plant you’re looking at!

The gall Livia junci 
Image: G. Garnett
The afternoon session was the one I’d been waiting for however: Botany with Mark Duffell! The first half was spent using Stace to identify Juncus species, a group of plants I know very little about. We found Juncus articulatus, J. effusus and J. inflexus, all growing alongside each other in a damp patch of turf near a pond margin. 

Continuing our walk around the pond, we came across Lycopus europaeus and Epilobium hirsutum. We then stumbled across another patch of rushes, all of which we’d already seen, except J. acutiflorus which we duly keyed out. We soon reached a sandy, and in places, sparsely vegetated area on the pond margin where we found yet another rush, the diminutive J. bufonius

This small area also produced two exciting records. Firstly, I spotted a small pink flower in the turf. This turned out to be Centaurium erythraea, the first official record of this species at Preston Montford since 1963! There were around 3 flowering plants, and one rosette that will most likely flower next year. 

Juncus bufonius
Image: G. Garnett
Near to this, Mark spotted an unusual looking rush inflorescence which he informed me was a gall made by Livia junci. This is an invertebrate but it was the first ever record of this species at Preston Montford. No mean feat considering Preston Montford is one of the most recorded locations in Shropshire!

This had to be my favourite day of the course. The Preston Montford campus is really biodiverse and it was a privilege to learn out in the field from people so knowledgeable. Just like the rest of the week, the weather was also fantastic! Thanks to Ian and Mark for sharing their knowledge.

To end the day we had dinner with the Darwin Scholars who come from all over the world and work in conservation. It was fascinating to hear about conservation in countries so different from my own. We then walked around campus with students from Vision England which was a nice end to the evening.

Wednesday 24th August 2016:
As on Monday day, this was a half day. We entered records from our Bioblitz of Preston Montford into iRecord and discussed career plans. Then at lunchtime it was sadly time to say our goodbyes.

I had a great time on the course; I learned absolutely loads and met some really great people. I’m sure that I will continue to gain from the scholarship and am really grateful to the FSC and the sponsors of the scheme (including BSBI) for giving me this opportunity. Thanks also to Angela Munn and Cathy Preston for organising and tutoring the course. 

If you are interested in the natural world and are aged between 16 and 17, I really hope you consider applying for the scholarship, I can’t recommend it highly enough".

Catch up with George at the BSBI Exhibition Meeting in November, when he will be presenting an exhibit about his botanical exploits this year. And many thanks to him for sharing his Diary of a Young Darwin Scholar. 

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