More MSc students- out and about – on bogs

This is two different bogs on two different days – Jamie is on Coom Rigg National Nature Reserve and SSSI in the middle of Kielder Forest a couple of weeks ago. We are working with Marjorie in Natural England to develop a model to measure temporal and spatial change in bog quality using satellite images. Here he is is collecting data for its development and his dissertation on this pretty high quality bog.
Sam is on a restored bare peat site, where we are working with the North Pennines AONB, on a replicated block experiment, testing phosphorus and lime requirements used in restoration. She came for a fun day out adding to her plant ID skills. She learnt, as it turned out, how to identify very dried up moorland mosses – among other things.
We watched a golden plover circling over us in the morning. This then became 10, then 20 and soon there were nearly 200 plover gathering and calling before they spent the rest of the day feeding on a patch of heather 100 yards from us. Wonderful – golden plover might be my favourite bird.

MSc dissertation students – out and about – on grassland

Lisa has the privilege for her CEM dissertation to be assessing the methods of recording the rare and beautiful plants of Teesdale. She has met with the legendary Margaret Bradshaw and pretty legendary John O’Reilly of Ptyxis ecology to develop the project, which was John’s idea acutally. Here we are enjoying a perfect, sunny day up near Cow Green reservoir last week. She found yellow saxifrage, Scottish asphodel (my fave) and hoary whitlow grass (her fave). I love my job anyway, but days like this are absolutely divine. Thanks Lisa

Graduation this year

Well graduation was proving to be a bit of a damp squid tbh – but that changed when I met up with Freya (forgot to take a pic – but colleague Julia got one) and Toby (remembered to take a pic, but with no thought to a beautiful background of arches or statues – oh well, who doesn’t love a red pillar box?)

Freya (Agriculture) and Toby (Environmental Science) have both been amazing inspirations and a strong overcomers to get to where they are and it has been such a privilege to share their journeys and I’m so pleased I got to see them at their graduations. Toby is off to Northumbrian Water and Freya to Velcourt to start the next part of their lives

here is Freya winning this years best Agric student – with Lynn who won it last year at the Great Yorkshire Show, with another inspirational, influential promoter of sustainable agricultural systems, my colleague and friend and SoilSister, Dr Julia Cooper

Undergraduate Dissertation Posters

I don’t know when I have had such a good group of undergraduate supervisees. It is always good to supervise projects, but these 4 hard-working, independent, resilient dissertation students all pulled it out of the hat – despite the struggles with Covid-19

Sarah and Sacha worked with Forestry England to answer questions that were important to them and that they don’t have the resources or the skills to answer otherwise
Emily identified data from Orca herself, and to be honest, pretty much independently produced a high quality dissertation and poster with very little input from me
And similarly, Robbie contacted and visitied and interviewed agro-forestry enterprises across the UK (well mostly in the south) – and we are now hoping to dip in to agro-forestry at our Cockle Park Farm.
And all of them our now starting new exciting jobs, in conservation, sustainability and the environment

Farnes Trip

One of my favourite places in the world and one of the best things to do, is a boat trip to the Farne Islands. Dr Janet Simkin and I were not allowed to go to the Farnes with our students so we went on our own – well, together on our own.

Only 8 on the little (Billy Shiel) boat, instead of the usual 30, so this was amazing. The mist came down just as we were coming back to land and it was the most exciting, choppiest, lowest visibility I have experienced. We had no idea whether we were heading for Seahouses or Denmark.

We saw sandwich terns (no Artic terns), puffins, guillemots (including bridled), razor bills, kitiwakes, gannets … and other gulls. Seals of course – but the dolphins who had been displaying yesterday and the last few days chose to stay hidden.

(If you notice a better quality of photograph, it is because Janet took all but one of them!)

Predominantly guillemots on their crowded cliff edge. Many of them have left for the open sea now. Love the in-flight pic, Janet
On the harbour while waiting for the dolphins to not appear – we had to be content with a close up of a starling
Link to Billy Shiels boat trips

It is never too late – keep fighting!

Jo came to us as a mature student to study Countrside Management a few years back. It was not always an easy time for her, but she was intelligent, determined, resilient and good company too. I saw this on her LinkedIn account and asked if she could share it, and she said she was pleased to encourage others in a similar position. I hope it inspires and encourages someone else

Bird (and Plant) ID course for MSc students

Mark Whittingham is on the left. I think we were watching the pied flycatchers here

I’m not sure how many pics of us looking at birds in the woods I can include, but this is us with Prof Mark Whittingham – birder (though I suspect twitcher in fact) extroirdinaire and a skilled communicator of his knowledge and enthusiasm.

What a wonderful week the students had with him and with Dr Janet Simkin learning how to identify these species. Sadly I couldn’t get out on the plants days – I snuck along for the final bird day. My personal bird highlight was watching the many nuthatches at the top of the trees, but the variety of bird species around the small cottage and pastures before we entered the woodland was phenomenal: lapwings (probs my absolute favourite – with golden plover), spotted woodpeckers, song thrush, mistle thrush, blackbird, swallows … and others I’ve forgotten.

Mark told me he absolutely loved working with these guys, and it was the best student group he had ever had – partly cos he had actuallydone some proper birding. Thanks for giving our students an amazing experience, Mark.

What happened to me on my return to the office?

Why did I leave it so long before venturing back into my office?
– Was it because I was being extra careful to not spread Covid? Maybe.
– Was it because I actually quite liked being at home? Maybe
– Or was there another reason that meant I left it as long as seemed reasonable? Maybe
Watch the video to find out. I call it, “Bananas”

Don’t let it put you off the Masters course. I put them in the compost.

Bioblitz in the Drummond courtyard

Hands up who knew there was a courtyard behind the Drummond building. One person claimed to have worked at the Uni for 20 years and never knew it was there

Our first Uni bioblitz with staff from the Uni and from EricNorthEast (environmental records). So for Covid we kept it contained in the courtyard – turned out it was a great place – despite some dubious “wild flower” species

Gordon and Melissa checking the pond – for mosquito larvae as it turned otu
Roy sweepnetting in the no-mow vegetation
Alana, Ling and Sam learning from Janet
Recording our species, looking for insects enjoying the day. Thanks so much to Katy and Melissa for organising a wonderful afternoon

A recce of Benshaw Moss with Northumberland Wildlife Trust

No reptiles under that one either

Duncan and Alice took me round their recent acquisition: Benshaw Moss – what a site! I liked it immediatly as I could see dry heath, wet heath, bog, acid grassland – a great range of habitats with potential for improvemnt. But then they showed me the calcareous grassland, the calcareous flushes and the weird iron rich flush and I was bowled over

So a great place for collaboration – for field trips and student projects and hopefully a bioblitz in the autumn

the weird iron rich flush
The waterfalls and calcareous grassland

So much potential – I’m looking forward to seeing what they will do with it and to working with them on student projects