Eco Experience at Slapton Sands

It all began with a 5 hour journey.

As we stepped onto the coach and greeted all those familiar faces, we speculated on what ‘Slapton’ had in store for us. As heartwarming as the name sounds, we grew weary in the anticipation of discovering what our week at Slapton would offer us. Soon enough, or 5 hours later, any sign of anxiety was flushed away by the sight of glistening white sand  accompanied by azure waves. Moreover, the spectacular scenery was hardly limited to the beaches, but rather expanded to the endless deep woods, which enclosed our path to the Field Centre.

The Slapton Field Centre met our high environmental expectations. From recycling bins in every corner to compost loos, the Field Centre helped us put into perspective the impact of our daily routines. Not only were the toilets flushed by rainwater, the building was heated by geothermal energy, each building coated with solar panels and each piece of cutlery was biodegradable.

We began the next day with a hearty breakfast — knowing that all the produce was local and had a low carbon footprint. The staff from the Field Centre gave us a briefing on what we would be investigating that day: we would first look at the effect of sunlight on the abundance of invertebrates in Slapton Woods and then move on to find out more about the species living in the nearby stream. Not being a great fan of ecology, I was apprehensive about the day, although Iwas ready to be proven otherwise.

Slapton Woods arelargely only used bystaff and students from the Field Centre, meaning that much of the forest life was leftalmost completely undisturbed. We sampled leaf litter for invertebrates abundance on a hill in the woods by randomly selecting a location, laying down a quadrat, shovellingthe leaf litter into a tray and counted the number of different organisms present. This may sound rather tedious, but I was surprised that working with friends to count insects was actually fulfilling. The highlight for my group was the “pooter” which involves using a tube to suck an insect into a plastic container, yet it seemed like most of the time the insect became stuck in the tube.

The stream ecosystem was also just as fascinating as the woodland, if not more so. We sampled some areas of the stream and, as a total from all the groups, caught 361 freshwater shrimp, 30 stoneflies, 31 caseless caddis as well as one large dragonfly. Although more on the disgusting side, this dragonfly really was an example of a “hidden species” in the water that can’t be seen with the naked eye.

Back at the Centre we discovered some more statistical tests and testing methods for soil moisture and organic composition. The time outdoors had not only prepared me well for my IA, but was also a good method of revising the much-forgotten ecology terminology and concepts from last term. And can there really be any better place to learn ecology than in protected Nature Reserve?

The Slapton team embraced us with open arms. They provided us with delicious food and supported us with consistent mentoring. We could not be more grateful for their patience and diligence in aiding each student with their challenging investigations. And what more could we have asked for; finishing our Biology coursework before the term had even begun?

 

by Anamika Pillai and Aaron Gruen

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