For me, the best part of studying Ecology (or geosciences in general) is getting to go out into the field. While my first year courses took me to Siccar Point (Earth Dynamics), the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (Origin and Diversity of Life) and an estate in Perthshire (Biology, Ecology and Environment), I hadn’t been on any longer field trip yet. But after all the exams, first year Ecological and Environmental Sciences students stay in Edinburgh for another few days to take part in a residential field trip (so we stay in Edinburgh but go out to different places every day). Field Ecology is a second year course but is taught in the end of first year. It is so unlike the other courses I’ve taken throughout the year!
We spent the first two days around Howe Dean Path near King’s Buildings sampling terrestrial invertebrates. Honestly, it’s a fifteen minute walk from Ashworth Labs and you feel like you’re miles away from the city! Other days were spent in Glencourse Burn, Roslin Glen, Silverburn (see picture above) and on the beach in Yellowcraig. I can only recommend visiting those places, be it out of ecological interest or just to enjoy a nice walk. They are beautiful!
On most days, we spent the morning in the field and then went back to the lab to identify our plant samples and invertebrates that we couldn’t identify in the field. Then, we also had to write reports on the things we did in the morning. This was definitely the most stressful part of the day because there never seemed to be enough time to finish a whole report with tables and diagrams and a meaningful conclusion. But I think by the end of the course, everybody had learned to manage their time more efficiently. Apart from the limited time, I quite liked writing the reports, because it really makes you think about your results and you might discover something you haven’t seen before when you were looking at your samples.
We learned to identify the most common orders of terrestrial and freshwater invertebrates, learned how to use a plant identification key and made our own key for trees. But for me, the most important and useful aspect of the course was learning how to design our own studies, which methods to use to answer which question and how to interpret our results. The course really gives you an idea of where to start. Of course, a ten days course could not teach me how to identify each and every animal and plant, but it gives you a lot of motivation and a clearer idea of how to start learning to identify organisms.
This course really gave me a feeling for what the next years on my degree are going to be like. Apart from that, it was a good opportunity to meet some more people on the course and to find out about amazing natury places near Edinburgh that I will definitely go back to next year. It was a lot of fun, and I think everybody was a bit sad when the course was over.
There is another part to the course: I have to do my own ecological project over the summer. We are quite free in which topic to choose. I will write more about it once I have decided what I will actually do! 🙂