Out with the old – In with the new

Janet and I are sad when the MSc students have received their results and are saying au revoir. Some of them converted to part time because of Covid, but here’s what some of those who stayed to the end had to say:

“As a mature student, returning to study after such a long time away felt like a huge leap into the unknown, but it has been a fantastic experience and transformative in many ways. So thank you!” – Ray

“You were helpful and compassionate – and not crap!” that was apparently a reference to previous experience, not being damned with faint praise. He qualified with “you were fantastic” – Anon please

“It has been a wonderful masters and I feel I have learned the skills and gained the knowledge in biodiversity conservation to a high standard, it has been so much fun and at last I am confident in statistical analysis thanks to you! The modules have been brilliant, your guidance in professionalism such as report writing and potential career paths has been fantastic. It’s been a fab year, I’ve loved it! – Theo

I found a celebratory jumping picture from the olden days when we were allowed out in the field

The Environmental and Earth Science Society

Jake (j.mcpherson2@ncl.ac.uk) was telling me today about this society our undergrads have set up. Looks like fun – if I were 35 years younger! I’m sure Jake would love to hear from you if you are joining us next year and would welcome your ideas

Brief Description of Society Activities
EVEA is an abbreviation of both environmental and earth sciences which we noticed didn’t have their own subject society.  This society aims to provide a link between all the years studying this subject and provide a way for us to socialise together.  We combined the subjects as we found we shared similar modules and therefore spend a lot of time together in lectures.  One main issue we noticed is that there is no link for first years to other years.  Once set up we aim to have a tutoring system in place for all academic years to enjoy.  There will also be the potential for a Ball at the end of the year.




Coming to do our Conservation and Ecosystem Management MSc? What do you need to know?


This is to say hello if you are coming to do our MSc. I hope you are looking forward to it – I know I am. This page will be updated when I know more. New things will be added in order from the top

23rd Sept: I met our outgoing students yesterday and asked for tips for you. Here’s what they said:
– separate your work space from your living space – even if in the same room
– sort out your software: R, QGIS, in advance – also get familiar with Digimap and Endnote
– keep an eye on your emails
– join NHSN and go to talks (not sure how much of a useful option that will be this year)
– set app limits on your phone
– start early on your deadlines
Game Changer: Read Mark Read’s book Productive Researcher – especially chapter 8. it revolutionises your literature review writing

Registration: if you are having problems with or any questions about registering: https://enquire.ncl.ac.uk/will-the-current-it-issues-affect-how-i-register-at-the-start-of-the-new-academic-year – including who to contact

22nd Sept: There will be additional activities in the two induction weeks. Some module leaders will be introducting their modules at this time.
Unfortunately with Covid on the up in the North East, all but essential contact time has been stopped. Essential includes labs and practicals – fieldwork was on the essential list so I am hoping that will still go ahead.
I have heard from some of you that you have received an online registration form which is great news. Systems are being restored.
Induction Timetable is here https://www.ncl.ac.uk/nes/induction/#inductiontimetables
Page down to Postgraduate and it is under the “Agriculture” link

8 Sept: Just heard that you will be able to fully register online. You will also be able to pick up a “care pack” and your hard copy student card on 5th October from campus. If you cannot make this date, there will be other opportunities.

3rd Sept:
The Uni systems are down so communications may be affected so don’t worry if you have not heard anything.

Here are some useful a links to the g Student Experience Page and Infographic



I do not necessarily have your contact details so can’t get in touch to say hello. What I would like to do is to give you an idea of the timetable and what is happening during induction week. This is also not finalised but here’s a general idea.
During induction weeks (starting 5th and 12th Oct) there will be registration and some centrally organised induction. I will do some activities, but anything we do ‘in person’ will be optional. All online activities will also be recorded. Lectures start on 19th October.
– Your first module Forest Ecology with Dr Janet Simkin and we are hoping to get out in the field each Thursday for 3 weeks (weather dependent). The module lasts 4 weeks.
– The week beginning 16th November will be Enrichment/Buffer week. This is effectively to take stock, complete assignments and we can do some careers activities.
– The next two weeks will be either Wildlife Conflicts and Management or Academic and Professional Skills for MSc depending on how comfortable you feel with scientific academic study in the UK
– Then two happy weeks of Data Analysis and Presentation where we have fun playing with data.
– Simultaneous to all this will be the GIS and Remote Sensing Module which will run along in the background.
It is usual that by end of November we have stopped doing fieldwork (I was once asked why and I explained about the weather) so the rest of these modules are field trip free.

There will be a variety of teaching styles: there will be materials to look at and watch in advance, synchronous online sessions on Zoom, with chats and breakout groups, and Zoom drop-ins. Later there may be physical drop-ins. There is a bit of space for flexibility and we will be interested in your ongoing feedback so we can make adjustments when we need to, to make your experience as good as it can be.
I hope this helps. Nothing is set in stone yet – but I wanted to communicate our thinking so far. Please get in touch if you have further questions: helen.adamson@ncl.ac.uk

Janet has promised me she will recommend a Forest Ecology book for you very soon.

And so the post in not without pictures, here’s Dr Julia Cooper and me enjoying sea kayaking this summer around Coquet Island. I think I thought kayaking was laid back – like decumbent kayaking! One of our former students said I should post a pic of us doing that for future students to see what we do in our spare time!

Students Assessing Sustainability at Nafferton Farm

Remember the ‘olden days’ when we could go to the farm and work in groups with students? Here’s a dim distant record of a memory from February 2020!

This is our “Sustainable Livestock Production Systems” module where I teach grassland. We had a day at Nafferton Farm where the students spent half an hour each at a different ‘station’ learning about sustainable beef and dairy, pigs and feed, stewardship on the farm (I actually no longer remember if it is called ‘countryside’ or ‘environmental’ at the moment without looking it up – ELMS is ok!) and vegetative pasture grassland identification. This last bit was my bit of course and you can see the students fascinated (definitely) by ligules, stolons and patterns, shapes of leaf blades … Students made sustainability recommendations to James, the farm manger.

Freya Lance is the star performer here – it is so encouraging to hear our students recognising that they have to be responsible stewards of the land caring about the sustainability of the processes.

Credit to Hannah Davis for organising the day and to the marketing team for joining us, happily just made it before lockdown.

As we emerge from lockdown the farms should be a valuble resource and outdoor space where we can hopefully work on research projects – but nothing is guaranteed, of course

4th year MEnv presentations – happy and sad times

Another Zoooooooooooooooooom pic! Just how it is these days!

Was lovely to catch up with the MEnvs (Masters in Environmental Science) this week. I confess to finding some things about lockdown pleasant – and I don’t mean that as disrespect to those who are struggling, because I completely understand some people are – but I have enjoyed the peace and the family time. Also, not getting up as early as I used to is on my list of flippant positives.
But – I was very sad not to meet up with the MEnvs for their talks, not to catch up with them properly or go for a celebratory drink afterwards or have lunch with the External Examiner… which leads me to remember Richard Payne who shared our presentations last year and his excited anticipation for his imminent Nanda Devi expedition https://www.york.ac.uk/environment/our-staff/richard-payne/ . You are missed, Richard. Our thoughts are still with his family.
Back to our students, miss you too, but pleased to see you virtually at least. You all handled zoom with professionalism with talks on carbon budgeting on building sites and in business, water pollution in urban nature reserves, low tech environmental monitoring and grazing on bogs.
See you at graduation everyone! I wonder if you will wear gowns …

Student Videos – made in Lockdown

The plan was to receive training and guidance on how to use your phone to produce a short video suitable for YouTube or Vimeo or wherever. To improve communication skills and employability. But the training happened – or didn’t happen – on the very first day of lockdown. Nevertheless, our versatile, enterprising students, armed with the PowerPoint and their inititives got their heads down to produce to a theme of their choice – aimed at audience of choice. Darren, Alastair and Theo, with different restrictions and access to outdoors, gave me permission to publish. Hope you like them.

I don’t know why Theo’s won’t embed, but here’s the link

Recording Wildlife Lockdown Assignment

First year field trips to learn about terrestrial habitat, soil, land use, and river surveys all cancelled because of Lockdown.
One of the replacement options was for students to become familiar with recording Wildlife during Lockdown. So using an app iNaturalist (to join in with City Nature Challenge) or iSpot if not so confident, or iRecord if feeling bold. Students had to aim for a minimum of 10 (recognising some may not have gardens or good outside space) new records and reflect on the process. Really hoping it will build their confidence to identify wildlife and love of wildlife and some of them might just get hooked. I’ll update when I come to mark.

I’m staying with my mum as she is elderly. Her lawn (pictured) has least yelllow sorrel, lesser trefoil, common stork’s-bill, self heal, common dog violet, cowslip, lesser celandine, ribwort plantain, mouse-ear hawkweed … just wondeful. I’m so proud that she hasn’t called in the heavies to spray weedkiller and fertiliser all over it. Just shows how species rich our lawns could be if we stopped trying.

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.