COVID-19: Thank God for Zoom and MSTeams and adaptable, patient, students and external speakers

My module for MSc Biodiversity Consevation and Ecosystem Management started on 16th March – as the Universities shut down.

Was so looking forward to:

  • learning to make promotional videos
  • students taking us on guided tours of local Nature Reserves
  • external speakers ond Policy and Practice from NP AONB partnership, Natural History Society etc.
  • Trips to Hepple rewilding and Chillingham wild cattle
  • … was going to be my best module ever

But I know my problems of a thwarted module were nothing compared to many, so we girded our loins and got our thinking caps on and wrestled with technology:

Steve Lowe from Northumberland Rivers Trust came to talk to us in person about Northumberland Rivers – and crayfish
Our first technological Zoom success was Adam talking to us about Wildlife Licensing from his home to all of us at home – with students sending questions in on the chat
Actually, this was a different module – Hannah and I are running oral exams for 30 agric students. Huge success. Wish this was their final exam actually – so much better than written exams as you really get a feel for what student knows, can meet them exactly where they are at, give them immediate feedback, they can self-assess and it is practice for job interview . Written exams are not practice for anything – IMO. Recommend them as replacements for modules this summer.
Then I tried to do bird calls using MSTeams – not sure of its success, but we did get the audio to work and the chat to work

More next week

No A levels? Worried about Uni place? Make learning at home an opportunity.

If you are someone who has been to one of our open days and has picked up the link to my blog and are reading now, you probably heard me talk about learning for the love of learning, and how sad it makes me that our school system is geared toward passing exams. Maybe there are opportunities as a result of C-19 while you are learning at home:

  • Alevels are great ways to stress you out, to help you learn mark schemes, and to dampen your creativity and risk taking (IMO).
  • Don’t stop learning – learn to learn, and learn to love learning
  • When you get to Uni, you will have to be more independent, it is not too early to start that now.
  • If you find something interesting, follow your interest, find out more about it
  • Question everything: even if someone you trust tells you something, do not assume it is true, find other opinions, look for evidence. There has been lots of nonsense shared about C-19 e.g. something about sips of water preventing the disease, then there has been info with no real full evidence but some indication e.g. about ibuprofen … Don’t trust any source – find info from lots of sources and weigh it up. See things from lots of points of view
  • Learn to be disciplined, set yourself targets and give yourself rewards for completing (maybe you are good at that)
  • Read around Environmental Science issues. Read government papers. Check out websites of organisations e.g. IUCN, WWF, Environment Agency. Find out what they do. Does not have to be on your syllabus.
  • At Uni you will get much more freedom to choose topics, to present work in different ways, to decide for yourself. There are mark schemes to give you guidance, but you cannot learn them. There is often more than one right answer (tho there are wrong answers)
  • Maybe you can learn with your family – not just on your own. Do projects together. have debates?

Some things we have no control over e.g. whether we go to school and take exams. Things we do have control over are how you are going to use your time. Use it to enjoy your learning.

I know this is not possible for everyone, you all have different situations, but I hope it inspires some of you.

MSc BCEM+ Trip to Hauxley

Must check this against last year’s pic to see how much more is exposed

Had such an amazing “just for fun” day with the MSc students – not just BCEM but also Sam from Ecological Consultancy and Alex from Food Security – we love to welcome anyone who wants to come. Thanks everyone for coming.

It was one of those days where everything seems ridiculously beautiful: the rain stopped, the sun came out the colours and atmosphere on the beach were stunnig. In the waterside bird hides, the golden eye were close in against the shore so we could properly see their golden eyes, and the little grebe was dabbling in the near distance too – with the godwit, curlew, turnstone, redshank etc on the middle island. In the other bird hide there was every garden bird for the beginner (which some of us were) and the fattest ever pigeon. And the lichens at Druridge bay were dripping.

Birds, seeweeds, fossils, peat beds – so much to see. Every stone tells a story
the peat beds from thousands of years ago with aurochs footprints
Theo is telling us about his contribution to the building and painting of Hauxley Nature Reserve
We just sat and watched and watched and watched – then went to a different hide – and sat and watched some more

MSc (Biodiversity) Conservation and Ecosystem Management


Yesterday was open day and a lot of students were asking about our Newcastle University Ecology degrees

There are four Newcastle University Ecology/Conservation/Biodiversity MSc – plus Marine Consultancy. All of which are designed to put you in a good position in the job market, to improve contacts or to prepare you for a PhD. 1, 4 below and Marine Consultancy are run from the Ecology research group (which incorporates terrestrial and marine ecology), while 2 & 3 are run from the Modelling, Evidence and Policy research group

  1. (Biodiversity) Conservation and Ecosystem Management – for which I am DPD – the ‘Biodiversity’ part of the name is going, but not because we don’t teach it, rather to simplify the title:
    • This is probably the most practical of the courses, developing ecological knowldege alongside field skills (Phase 1 & 2 survey, species identification) and desk skills (e.g. GIS, use of R), making contacts and underpinned by rigorous yet pragmatic research skills.
    • Statistics are taught assuming less confidence than the other programs, using an R interface for ease, but incorporating use of R code for those with more confidence or who wish to progress to a PhD.
    • Links with local ecological and conservation employers are strong with frequest talks and visits. We encourage dissertations which respond to topical questions asked by these employers.
    • My blog gives you a good idea of some of the things we do. Dr Janet Simkin and I love all areas of wildlife and conservation, but we both particularly enjoy botany.
  2. Ecology and Biodiversity. I can say less about these programs as they are outside my research group, but:
    • Ecology and biodiversity is very rigorous in terms of research relating to the subject. Excellent for policy as staff have much experience in this field. Statistics and modelling are also strong along with GIS and remote sensing. Please also check the website for the modules. If you know you want to do a PhD then this or Wildlife Management will give you an excellent start.
  3. Wildlife Management
    • Wildlife Management is also rigorous in terms of research relating to the subject and statistics and modelling, GIS and remote sensing but it incorporates more aspects of wildlife (particularly species). It has more of a global wildlife content than any of the other programmes. Please also check the website for the modules.
  4. Ecological Consultancy
    • This gives you all the skills you need to be an ecological consultant. GIS, Phase1 and Phase2 survey, EIA. The dissertation is in the form of a consultancy project with a client.

Environmental Science Offer Holders Day

Had fun meeting the potential students and their parents today at Open Day. My ‘lab’ is usually on the moor, but stepped out of my comfort zone, with help from colleagues from Earth Science – especially Dave Early teaching technician – and student ambassadors, who were rewarded with trays of leftover food to take home.

Prospective students brought tapwater from their homes with them to test it for nitrates and compare with the 50ppm threshold. Most were pretty low – the highest nitrate levels were found in Ascot and the lowest in Edinburgh. What can this mean?

Hepple wilding project begins

So proud to be involved as Lucy and Walter Riddle, with Mary Gough from Northumberland National Park, embark on a wilding project at Hepple Whiteside that aims to enhance biodiversity and ecosystem services while respecting the socio-economic needs of the local community.
Ray, for his MSc in Biodiversity, Conservation and Ecosystem Management dissertation is looking at Remote Sensing to create effective baseline maps to enable further monitoring to be efficiently completed.

Watch this space. This is going to be great!

We walked the site, beautiful even in mid-January, get the feel for the landscape before the Wilding project starts

News from Korea- Study Abroad student, Robbie

One of the hats I proudly wear is Study Abroad co-ordinator for students in the Environmental, Agricultural and Social Sciences – and I have recently taken on the Biology and Marine Biology remit too. I volunteered for this because I wanted to improve the opportunities for our students to go abroad. Robbie Brett, Environmental Science student, is in the first group of students to go out since I took on the role, so I have muddled through a bit (sorry if I wasn’t sure how many credits you needed, Robbie – next year I should know better). He has shared his amazing experiences and photos and said I could share them too:

Bukhansan National Park: “The sheer number of people in Seoul can get very overwhelming and at times I would begin to miss the green open spaces of my home back in the UK. North of Seoul however there is a national park where you can go walking in the forests and mountains, climbing up to 800m. Here you can escape the crowds and enjoy incredible views over Seoul.”

Cycle from Seoul to Busan: “On the Chuseok National holiday, 4 friends and I decided to cycle the four rivers path from Seoul to Busan, covering over 600km in just four days. Despite being an incredibly tough cycle, it definitely consolidated great friendships and was a perfect way to see more of the country. After an incredibly tiring, eventful ride, we arrived in Busan with high spirits, enjoying a swim in the Sea of Japan and some much-needed food.”

Nightlife: “Seoul probably has the most varied nightlife of any city I have ever visited, with a host of options across the city on any day of the week. The main reason I chose to live in Hongdae as opposed to in university accommodation is due to the fact there are many restaurants and bars, as well as clubs, making it much more social. One of the first places my housemate took me was The Playground, a park where hundreds of internationals hang out on a Friday and Saturday night to meet other people and enjoy the incredible street performers.”

Travel: “Seoul is incredibly well located and connected, with many countries just a few hours away on flights often costing less than £100. I enjoyed a trip to Jeju island, climbing Korea’s highest mountain, swimming in the Sea of Japan and enjoying local cuisine such as black pork and abalone. Having sorted my student visa, I went to Tokyo to watch the rugby world cup final and explored a new city. For the rest of this semester I have lined up trips to Hong Kong and skiing in Korea before spending my two and a half months for Christmas holidays travelling around the Philippines and South East Asia.”

Missed their graduation – but was their for their presentations!

Was feeling sad to have missed their graduation, but found a photo of Julia Cooper’s (back right) Sustainable Agriculture and Agriculture and the Environment MSc Students that I thought was worth posting. Coming from all around the world with so many different experiences and stories to tell – such an inspiring and humbling group of students. I’m so pleased to be able to share their journey a little – to help with their dissertation design and stats when asked – and I always love seeing their presentations at the end of their time with us.

Proud to be SFHEA

Very pleased to have achieved Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. Very grateful for the support from former line managers, Drs Andrew Beard and Liz Stockdale and current line manager, Prof Mark Whittingham – and from Head of School, Prof Rob Edwards. I do not take for granted how brilliant it is to have line managers I trust, can talk to and share a joke and a even a tear with.