Biology, ecology and biomedical science at Brighton

University of Brighton biosciences blog

lake with cloud reflection

Field Council placement weeks three and five

Up on a hill in the Yorkshire Dales… I am feeling at home and enjoying every moment in this beautiful landscape, each day is a learning opportunity and a chance to appreciate what is around me. Driving here we passed rolling hills, cross-crossed with dry stone walls and speckled with various species of sheep and cow, including Yorkshires iconic Swaledale sheep, Dale’s shorthorn and Highland cows.

As the road climbed higher and higher, I finally got a view of the tarn surrounded by deciduous woodlands, the building just peeking out at the opposite end of the tarn. FSC Malham Tarn is in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, the center is situated at 1,316ft with a rich history dating back to at least 350 years.

Now I am here at FSC Malham Tarn, each day is a learning opportunity, I am practicing skills I developed on my degree course and learning so much as the weeks progress. I have always been fascinated by botany and plant ecology, which Is a skill that is very useful when assisting teaching grassland surveys to the students, but it has also given me the opportunity to practice and improve this skill, identifying more plants such as Eye bright, Ragged-Robin, Grass-of-Parnassus, Common reed, Marsh cinquefoil and so many more. As well as new skills in survey techniques, mammal and invertebrate identification and brushing up on important geography knowledge.

I am constantly learning more about the local flora and fauna and the importance of the local habitats. The estate itself dates back to the 1700’s, when it was built as a hunting estate, there remain signs from its rich past, from canon on the front lawn to Darwin’s toilet seat in the attic, the building has been a place of learning and exploring for centuries. Also, the famous Pennie walk goes through and behind the estate, so regular hikers and walkers pass by on their adventures.

Did you know the word ‘tarn’ means a small mountain lake, surrounded by steep slopes? You can see the way the landscape has been carved and scrapped by glaciers, the movement and deposition of debris forming this shallow lake. The surrounding scree slopes showing the aging landscape and succession from bare rock to woodlands below. This truly is an incredible place, the tarn and tarn moss (bog/wetland area) are SSSI and RAMSAR sites, protected for their unique habitats. Host to unique marl formation (rock and calcium carbonate), important invertebrates, mammals, plants and avian visitors, these habitats are providing a rare refuge. For species that include the tarn otters, wetland bird species such as tufted duck, great crested grebe, brown trout, Exmore ponies, Roe deer and a whole showcase of invertebrates, including common darter dragonflies and much more!

I have already been given so many opportunities to improve and gain more field skills. I was able to attend a grass identification course, fungi identification course, we dissected seed heads of False-oat grass, learning the intricate structures of the inflorescence. And the wide range fungal forms and how to identify to species level by looking at gill structure and spores. I also was able to assist and lead bat walks (using the bat detectors), in which we use the detector to identify bat species by the different frequencies of their echolocation calls. We spotted the Common Pipistrelle, Soprano pipistrelle and the Noctule bat. Other habitats I have been able to assist teaching in are freshwater streams (or called a beck in Yorkshire) with kick-sampling and invertebrate identification, drumlin measuring, calcareous grassland surveys and more. 

Assisting the tutors in teaching all ages of students is amazing, from KS1 to university students and adults of specialist courses, seeing people connect and understand these important habitats in incredible. So far, I have assisted with ecology courses, geography and geology, biology and with the younger students we began their nature friendly schools journey, which aims to introduce wildlife and interacting with nature to their everyday classes, so this included green art and tree I.D.

Having inner city students visit and see this landscape for the first time is brilliant! Hearing the lads shout out in amazement at identifying their calcareous grassland species, or the students becoming enthused by interacting with freshwater species during kick-sample surveys; is wonderful and so important for them. Creating equal opportunities for everyone to learn from nature is vital in combatting climate change, as lack of access and knowledge part of the issue that adds to the synergistic effects of climate change. The importance of everyone having access and interactions with wildlife becomes more evident in teaching people the need to protect these habitats.  

I am really building upon my science communication as well as learning new field skills. Last week I led a group of A-level students through the Tarn moss bog, explain how the bog formed, evidence of succession occurring and the flora and fauna it has become refuge for. Along the walk I pointed out various moss species, lichens (comparing city species and thinking about indicator species), round sundews, heather, Grass-of-Parnassus and more. This was also a brilliant chance to discuss the introduction of Exmore ponies to the Tarn moss as conservation measures and how we can use indirect sampling methods to show a species presence. Looking at tracks and feces left behind by more cryptic species. This also came into discussion when explaining why the small mammal traps might not have been successful, to a group of disappointed A-level students standing in the rain. We discussed the possibility of trap shyness and trap happy individuals and the abiotic conditions that might influence the survey. But we also were able to use the pellets from a short-eared owl (found earlier in the day) as an indirect sampling method, paying attention to the fur and small bones inside.   

Days off are spent exploring the surrounding landscape, from visits to Clapham beck, Ingleborough caves and Malham cove. Malham cove is the remains left behind from an ancient waterfall, creating a vast cliff edge. The limestone pathway on top highlights how water infiltrates through the bedrock cracks and vertical lines through the stone. As water from the surrounding watershed percolates down, it runs through a series of underground caves until the bedrock below becomes saturated or is no longer permeable. Here, at the base of the cove is a beautiful resurgence point where the water re-surfaces from these underwater caves.

On another adventure, we visited the Ingleborough caves at Clapham, the cave is a sparkling wonder of stalagmites and stalactites, rainbows of mineral deposits and fossils of fan coral and gastropods. These show caves have been open to the public for 100’s of years, with Victorian candle graffiti above our heads as evidence of previous visitors. Past the point we could access, the cave systems continues to stretch for over 14 miles, with some caves still unexplored!  

I hope that gives a taste of some of what I have been up to so far on my placement here at FSC Malham Tarn, I’m off to help the geography students in measuring drumlins at the Ribblesdale drumlin field!

Ella Scott • September 23, 2021


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