Congratulations to Renée McAlister who has recently graduated with a distinction in Ecology MSci. Here she tells us more about the course, her experiences on fieldtrips and how it changed her life.
I have recently graduated with distinction from the Ecology MSci. This course has changed my life. I started university at the age of 47 and I have felt safe, supported and encouraged throughout my time here.
Highlights of my course include the field trip to South Africa where I stood 200m away from wild rhinos, the support and knowledge of the staff and, predominantly, the feeling of elation when analysing data and realising you have found something that no-one else has before. Additionally, the two-week field skills course at the beginning of the third year.
Field trips are imperative to the course – an ecologist gets out there!
We did an amazing array of activities in South Africa. From following large mammals (antelope, wildebeest, zebra) to learning how to triangulate the height of trees. We learnt how to assess the amount of animals in a large game reserve and also to assess the amount of reptiles in a heathland.
There’s also the two-week field skills course at the beginning of the third year, it’s exhausting but exhilarating. I very much enjoyed learning about chalk grassland plants and how they are so important in this local area. Where else would you get to see a wild adder, learn about different types of heather and spend two days gathering data at the beach. I also enjoyed learning about limpets in Wales during a trip early in the first year.
The skills I have learnt are almost unimaginable. Read More →
Our Ecology and Biological Sciences students have the opportunity to go on an optional field trip to South Africa. Here’s a taster of their amazing experience, from being up close to animals on safari to their practical learning experiences in the field.
Today we asked our students to work as consultant for the National Trust at Sheffield park as part of the monitoring of previous river restoration work on the Ouse. Under the supervision of Dr Anja Rott &Dr Neil Crooks, our students set out to
survey the River Ouse aquatic invertebrate and fish diversity. Using standard survey techniques, such as kick sampling, the diversity and water quality of the stretch of river was assessed. More than 700 individual invertebrates were accounted and a total of 24 taxonomic groups identified. This is quite impressive as most of the students were novice, but made up the lack of practice by their enthusiasm and motivation.
The second part of the survey aimed to survey the fish diversity within 3 stretches of the river. Using Electrofishing, students were able to work as a team and capture the different species present. Eel, chub, dace and minnow (to name but a few) were identified, measured and then released.
Teaching has already started for some of us, with the Ecological field skills module. Final year Ecology students and enthusiasts are out in the countryside doing what they like to do best – field work!
We are very fortunate to have a diverse landscape within our reach and today we are off to Ashdown Forest. Ashdown Forest is most probably famous for Winnie the Pooh and Christopher, but it also has fine examples of Lowland heathland and reptiles. All 50 of us met up on one of the hottest days of the summer, and started the day by attempting to set up a reptile survey grid under the critical eye of Dr Angelo Pernetta. After a few tangle with our canes and walking through the gorse, most teams managed to set up the grid appropriately, some using very complex geometry calculations.
final year Ecology students
Lowland heathlands are species-poor habitats, so they are great place to start if you have limited knowledge of plant species and want to get to grips with plant identification keys.
This is what we did, spotting the key Heather species, Gorse and other characteristics plant species, which proved useful for the Heathland Condition Assessment that was done later that day.
As well as the beautiful scenery and the exceptionally warm weather, another highlight of the day was the capture of a young female adder during our reptile survey among many slow worms and lizards.
Renee Mcalister , 2nd year Ecology BSc(Hons), was inspired by the fieldtrip to South Africa. Here’s a taster of her experience on the trip.
Sundownwer on the Kopje
I found the South Africa trip life changing on many levels; educationally, emotionally and intellectually. The beautiful intensity of the work served to underpin the concrete learning experience. There have not been many times in my life when I actually desperately wanted to wake up at 5.30am! To watch the dam change from dark to half-light to light and know that anything might happen – from an African fish eagle swooping in to the sight of a water buck watching its young caper in the reeds. And the dawn shrieks of the ibis were a bracing start to every day.
The camaraderie with fellow students, lecturers and staff at the reserve was warm and fun. The atmosphere between us was supportive and nurturing and laughter was as abundant and hearty as a kudu stew. The teaching was utterly amazing. The staff were incredibly knowledge, incredibly encouraging and incredibly just incredible. It was so well organised and flowed wonderfully.
It was an honour to be able to see African wildlife in such a well cared for environment. And a privilege to share the experience with people who have devoted their lives to conservation.
On my return I found I had changed. I felt that I could possibly become a scientist. I felt that I learnt more in those two weeks than I would over a year in a 20 credit module. Learning by doing consolidates knowledge.
The last two days were dedicated to personal projects where students collected data to answer their own research question. This year studies ranged from the effects of burning on plant biodiversity to behavioural observations of Rhino. This is another great opportunity to put into practice the skills learned during the taught sessions, but also to spend time focussing and enjoying their field of interest.
Overall this trip was another success and students really enjoyed their experience:
“The South Africa field trip has to be one of the best experiences of my life! It has been a huge boost to my academic learning, coming away with a larger skills set and focus for my future career! My personal project involved me being on foot researching southern white rhino, a once in a life-time opportunity. It such an inspirational and incredible trip, I am itching to get myself back to South Africa!”
Daniel Bardey recording white rhino behaviour
“Everything about the module was perfect, there isn’t much more to say, but it has definitely been one of, if not the best experience of my life”
“Great field trip location, staff, good timing and methodical learning process”
Unfortunately all good things come to an end, but before packing our bags and flying back to Brighton, there was a last chance to unwind at the Kopje, one of the highest points overlooking the reserve where we could all admire the sun setting on another successful and rewarding trip…. Until next year!
After 9 days of intensive field work, students were rewarded with a game drive in Pilanesberg National Park. Year on year the objectives are to spot most of the BIG FIVE. This year was a good one with elephant, lion and rhino spotted by everyone. Other sightings included crocodile, hippo, flamingos and Kori bustard.
This year 24 second year students flew to South Africa with Dr Anja Rott, Dr Rachel White and Dr Neil Crooks to take part in the Biology Field trip. All students shared a common interest for wildlife conservation and the great outdoors!
During 12 days at Mankwe Game reserve, near Pilanesberg National Park, students improved their species identification skills and undertook a wide variety of exercises in both data collection and data analysis, ranging from large mammal transects to Vegetation Condition Index (VCI), bird counts, camera trapping and sweep netting for invertebrates – to name just a few. Early mornings were rewarded with fantastic wildlife sightings and beautifully lit landscapes.
Connected to the above activities, the students were constantly learning about best practice for managing a wildlife game reserve, including fire management and anti-poaching.