Friday, 14 November 2014

October 2014 for our Devon Wildlife Trust Placement Students

by Hayley Partridge, Jordan Holmes and Daniel Hosking

Roe Deer. Photo: Hayley Partridge.

In their ongoing series of reports for our blog, Hayley, Jordan and Daniel tell us what they have been doing in October. 

Potential County Wildlife Site surveys, lab work, reports and meetings all feature...

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

A placement most fowl

by Sarah Lippett, BSc (Hons) Conservation Biology

Helping with the flamingo catch.
Photo: Sarah Lippett.
Where else can you help with a flamingo catch, paddle about on canoes, learn loads about plants, get brilliant bird I.D skills, do some pond dipping with some school children, hold some ducks and other wildfowl and get to see small song birds up really close? During my placement year I was very lucky to work with the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust at their centre in Slimbridge, Gloucestershire. 

Devon Wildlife Trust Placements, September 2014

A snake skeleton. Photo: Hayley Partridge.
Here's the latest account of placement activity with Devon Wildlife Trust by three of our Conservation Biology students: Hayley Partridge, Jordan Holmes and Daniel Hosking. In September, they investigated potential new county wildlife sites, carried out hedgerow and marsh fritallery larval surveys, did a bit of soil analysis at Plymouth University, and various other things...

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Volunteer with the Plymouth Woodland Project

Based in the School of Biological Sciences, the Plymouth Woodland Project is a citizen science project running a year-round programme to engage the public with woodland ecology and scientific research. 

We are looking for volunteers to help run outreach sessions with schools so we can reach more young people. In return you will receive training, excellent experience for your CV, and opportunities to develop your communication, leadership and taxonomy skills. You'll also have the opportunity to make a tangible difference to children's lives and how they respond to the natural world.

To find out more contact 

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Devon Wildlife Trust Placements, August 2014

by Daniel Hosking, Jordan Holmes and Hayley Partridge
BSc Conservation Biology

In August, our intrepid team of biologists have been finishing off their soil sampling (started last month), and surveying hedgerows, bats, moths, freshwater invertebrates, marsh fritillary larvae. At the Okehampton country show, they explained to farmers and other members of the public how Devon Wildlife Trust can help with conservation work, and started collcting information on potential new County Wildlife Sites. Finally, they have been seed harvesting to improve plant diversity of meadows next year.

Devon Wildlife Trust Placements, July 2014

by Hayley Partridge, Jordan Holmes and Daniel Hosking
BSc Conservation Biology

Here's the next instalment from our three placement students working with Devon Wildlife Trust. In July, they carried out vegetation, hedgerow, bat and river invertebrate surveys, and took soil samples associated with key butterfly host plants. They also took part in events with the general public, for educational purposes and raising awareness about conservation efforts in North Devon.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Devon Wildlife Trust Placements, June 2014

by Daniel Hosking, Jordan Holmes and Hayley Partridge

The three of us have just started a six-month placement with Devon Wildlife Trust. Each year, three students from the BSc Conservation Biology degree are given the opportunity to get valuable experience with the Trust, after an interview process. We started work at the start of June with the North Devon Nature Improvement Area (NIA) team at the Cookworthy Office near Holsworthy. We plan to write regular updates here to give an impression of the work we have been doing.

Marsh Fritillary
(Photo: Hayley Partridge)
Covering 72,000 hectares, the NIA aims to work with local landowners and the community to improve the quality of the River Torridge and restore important habitats, one of which is culm grassland. North Devon holds 35% of the UK’s remaining culm, which is a mixture of wet heath, rush pasture, mire and swamp. Many rare species are found here, including wavy St John’s wort and whorled caraway, and the nationally scarce marsh fritillary butterfly. This species has suffered a population decline of 60% since 1990, which is one of the reasons we will be monitoring this species over the course of the placement.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Lab plus field - a placement in environmental education

By Alina Tarnawska, BSc Conservation Biology

I had always planned on doing a placement year (the option was one of the reasons I initially chose to study at Plymouth) so I wanted to make the most of my 6 months by getting as much different experience as possible. 

In October 2013 I started a 6 month placement based in Plymouth University LABplus, an open access laboratory for undergraduate Science and Environment students. LABplus is an interactive space where students have access to resources that are specifically designed to facilitate learning of key concepts and principles directly related to their modules and courses. I had decided to split my time between helping develop new resources for the biology students in LABplus, volunteering with The Plymouth Woodland Project and a variety of school events as a student ambassador.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Plymouth Woodland Project film

India Bottomley, from Plymouth University's Faculty of Arts, has made a video about the Plymouth Woodland Project. The project is run from our School by Alison Smith, who features in the video, and who is also doing a PhD on climate change, woodlands and citizen science. Here's the link to India's video. If you like it, leave a comment...

There are regular posts on this blog about Plymouth Woodland Project events and Alison is always happy for student volunteers to get involved. If you are interested, please get in touch with her. It's fun and can make a difference to how someone interacts with the natural world for the rest of their life.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Goodbye conservation biologists

BSc Conservation Biology final year 2013-14.
(Photo: Wai Yi)
Yesterday, we said goodbye to the latest generation of conservation biologists. With the presentation of their final-year project posters, they are now free to live the rest of their lives! Some will be going on to further study (masters courses and PhDs), while others are already having interviews for conservation jobs. A few are not planning any further than a long holiday to recover from their final exams. There are even plans to write up some of the project work for publication in international journals.

The staff would like to wish everyone the best of luck in the future. We will get a chance to catch up on the latest news at graduation in September.

In some ways, it's like watching turtle hatchlings heading down the beach and off to a new life at sea. Just like the turtles, we hope to see them back again in the future (if only to say hello). Unlike the turtles, we don't expect many of them to get eaten by predators before they even reach the water. Sometimes it's good to be human...

Final-year project conference 2014

Max Ward receiving his prize for the best poster
in the final session of the conference. Photo: Jane Beal
Yesterday, we held the final-year project conference. It is the last formal activity on our degree programmes. Each student presents a poster which summarizes their research project. Staff and students can see what everyone else has been up to over the last year and can ask the author questions.

There were prizes for the best posters (voted for by the other students). The winners were: Jessica Alsopp, Max Ward and Chris Kernaghan. Well done to them!

The day ended with wine and nibbles, and various groups headed off afterwards to continue their conversations into the evening. 

In future, we hope to open this event up to the public, to showcase the impressive range and quality of research projects carried out by our undergraduates. Watch this blog for details...

Monday, 3 March 2014

The Global Soil Biodiversity Initiative

by Carly Benefer

Post-doctoral Research Fellow
Centre for Agricultural and Rural Sustainability

I thought I’d use this blog to promote another one: ‘Beneath Our Feet’, the official blog of the Global Soil Biodiversity Initiative (GSBI, If you are interested in biodiversity and how it relates to ecosystem services, you should have a look.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

South American Adventure

Tom Hathway, one of our Biological Sciences students, is currently on the second placement of his placement year. He is blogging about his adventures at

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Feeding 9 billion people, an evening of discussion at the Royal Geographical Society

Peter Smithers

South Kensington is one of London’s cultural hotspots, the block that is bordered by Hyde Park and Cromwell Road is an intellectual  concentrate of institutions that explore, catalogue and interpret the world around us. There is the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, Imperial College, the Victorian and Albert Museum, the Albert Hall and even Baden Powell House HQ of the scouting association. But as I walked the sodium light streets on the edge of Hyde park on a late October evening it was none of these I was heading for. It was that legendary institution that is synonymous with exploration and adventure, the Royal Geographic Society. So what may you ask is a biologist doing at the RGS? 

Life is full of surprises and when I received an email inviting me to give a talk at a meeting on the theme of feeding the 9 billion, my eyebrows did rise a little. I am not a geographer but it was my entomological knowledge they were keen to tap. How real is the prospect of using insect proteins to feed a growing world population? Thats what they would like me to talk about. The meeting would comprise a panel of three experts and a chair, there would be three short talks to introduce the topic then a discussion with questions from the audience. The chair would be Jay Rayner, the novelist and TV food critic and the other panel members were Tim Wheeler (Deputy scientific advisor and director of research & evidence division at the department of International Development plus being  professor of Crop Science at the University of Reading) and Edd Colbert (campaign coordinator for the Pig Idea). Tim was there as a government advisor on food security and climate change, while Edd’s organisation was campaigning for the recycling of food waste as pig feed (just like we used to when I was a boy). So between us we had to sum up what we knew regarding the prospects of feeding the growing world population and then engage in a discussion with the audience.  This sounded like a wonderful opportunity to bring the idea of insects as food to the attention of a wide cross section of the population, so I accepted the RGS’s invitation.  

 Hence I found myself walking along the bustling pavements on the edge of Hyde park on a warmer than expected October evening, heading for the RGS HQ.  I arrive at reception and  peruse the exhibition of stunning photographs of Eastern Europe while I await my host. These images are amazing , shot from the air they present that exotic view that we so rarely have the opportunity to see. Images ablaze with crisp symmetries, abstract patterns imbedded in the landscape and intense colours. I wish I had longer to explore these images but my host arrives.  Amy Lothian introduces herself and leads me to a room where Edd is waiting, introductions are made, there is an air of tense excitement in the room. Ed is telling me about the meeting he has just come from at the London mayors office re an event they are planning in Trafalgar square. Jay arrives, a storm of enthusiasm, fresh from his part as the devil in the first British performance of Frank Zappas “100 Motels” the previous night. Tim arrives last having rushed from a meeting with government ministers. I begin to feel that just coming up from Plymouth is a little pedestrian!

We are miked up and wait for the audience to settle down. Amy gives ushers us out and we walk  past the statues of Shackleton and Livingstone who gaze sternly down as we pass into the famous Ondaatje lecture hall. A procession of four that hushes the conversation buzzing around the room. The theaters oak paneled walls exude a sense of history, adding an air of gravitas. The auditorium is not full but there are over four hundred people present and the row of red leather chairs await us on the podium, picked out by bright unforgiving lights. 

We settle into our seats and the auditorium falls silent. The director of the RGS  Dr Rita Gardner welcomed everyone and introduces the evening and Jay Rayner who then introduces us and the topic. Jay  talks eloquently and passionately about food production in the UK and the security of our food supply. He linked unrest in the middle east and the arab spring with rising food prices and shortages,  leaving us with the thought that we are just nine meals from crisis should the UK food supply chain be interrupted.  How long before  riots would erupt on Uk streets once the supermarkets were empty. 
Tim Wheeler then discussed the role of new agricultural technologies, could these solve the problem. He ends on the note that there is no prospect of this happening., we urgently need to explore other avenues.  

I then talk of how insect farming could generate large amounts of animal proteins far more efficiently than farming vertebrates as we do at the moment. Especially if we utilize bio waste streams as feed for them. I also explain how 2 billion people already consume insects as a regular part of their diet and eagerly anticipate these tasty treats and go on to discuss the recent UN report on insects in human diets. I conclude that we need to shift our perception of insects from one of disgust to delight. Following the path that  the UK has taken in embracing sushi. 

Edd Colbert then discussed the use of processed food waste as feed for pigs rather than sending it all to land fill. He outlined the problems that had arisen in the past and the processes that now exist to ensure that food waste dose not pose a hazard in the food chain. 

For the next 45 mins we then fielded questions from the floor dealing with a wide range of questions. These ranged from water security, alternative foods in the USA, insects as animal feed and just why can’t we feed food waste to our pigs at the moment. The evening was concluded by the director who thanked every one present and announced the topic of the next event, Big Data was now on the RGS’s agenda. Member of the audience then approached the podium with questions that had not been aired and many useful contacts were made.  

While feeding 9 billion had been the focus of the evening there was a sudden downsizing of our perspective and feeding the four became a pressing issue. The RGS director and her staff then escorted us to a local restaurant. 
Feeding the 9 billion had been a wonderful opportunity to take part in an event hosted by and in a legendary institution, it had brought a fresh perspective to one of the most pressing issues of our day and had proven to be a most informative and enjoyable evening.
 The entire evening was filmed and can be viewed on the RGS website along with a mass of information dealing with all of the topics discussed.

Edd Colbert, The Pig Idea 

Peter Smithers