My time going (Aber)Forward at Pwllpeiran

Guest blog by Damian Osmond

It was during that wonderful time of year we all know and love, exam season, that I received an email asking if I would be interested in working with the university as part of their AberForward scheme.  Looking for any excuse to distance myself from exams, I naturally filled out the applications and wondered idly about whether I’d see anything about the placement I opted for.  A couple of months later, I was stood in the wonderful hills in Cwmystyth, as we discussed agricultural practices with some visitors in what would later be dubbed as “my office”.

Damian hill view

The feeling you’re experiencing now is an odd mix of tranquillity and envy.

On paper, my roles were rather simple; help out with what I could, learn some new skills and assist with analysis and data collection.  However, it did not take long for my responsibilities to expand massively.

I mentioned data collection, this varied from taking grass cuttings, daffodil measurements, so many daffodils…  Sheep weighing and soil core taking, which was nice but rather odd to hear metal striking across all the hills, echoing like thunder.  I also had the opportunity to speak with some visiting school kids.  Now, I’d never worked with children before, but it was staggering just how many questions were asked.  To this day, I have no idea how local wildlife in the hills lead to me trying to answer about reverse scuba octopi, but what I can say is that no day in my eight weeks working were ever the same.

The hardest day there was when we represented IBERS at the Royal Welsh; it was still early into my placement, I had some idea of information to share about moss, peat and water retention but the heat made everything seem much harder than it was. Still, whilst a hard day, it was not the worst, in fact, during my time here I never did have a bad day.

Damian royal welsh

Never did find out if a rolling stone gathers moss.

Although, saying that, whilst not a bad day as such, the one I disliked most would have to be the day I overheard there would be sheep shearing and volunteered possibly too enthusiastically to assist with it.  The work was definitely interesting, and I can now say I’ve sheared a sheep!  (Even got to keep the wool.)  However, sheep are incredibly messy, and after the being avoided at lunch, due to the horrendous smell I had picked up, I had the joy of trying to remove many a sheep’s lunch and half a field from my clothes.

In all my time working with Pwllpeiran, my favourite role was just being part of the team; I was working alongside doctors, a professor, researchers and people with far more experience than myself but I was never treated less than anyone else or just as the temp to shift stuff or run tea.  I joked about my least favourite time there, but I think it has to be when I had to say my goodbyes and leave.  Still, the work done they do there is incredible, I could list all I learned but we’d be here until the next AberForward steps in, but I can’t thank everyone I worked with enough for the chance to be a part of the team, but thank you nonetheless!

Damian

Damian at the wrap up ceremony for Aber Uni’s summer 2017 AberForward scheme, talking about what he’d been up to.  He was one of only two placements out of 60 to present.

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From the old to the new!

by Hannah Vallin

Last year, Pwllpeiran obtained a small amount of funding for additional engagement from the Joy Welch Educational Charitable Trust, thanks to our PhD student Dan putting in the application.  The aim of the Trust is to provide funds for the promotion of educational outreach work.  So, what did we do with the funding?

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The fun begins.

Here at Pwllpeiran we have many useful outbuildings surrounding our office centre. These include field labs for sorting and analysing samples collected from plots; drying and milling rooms; and garage space for the all-important machinery.  However, there was one particularly large space that was becoming a bit abandoned, collecting more and more boxes and cobwebs – it was time to make a change!  On a rare sunny day the whole team got to work clearing out the cluttered room, filling trailer after trailer with old rubbish, and re-allocating stored furniture.  It took the best part of two days to completely empty the space, and then the cleaning began….  Needless to say I made the others get rid of all the spiders!!  After endless hoovering and mopping, the place was clear and clean, and we could start to envision how to revamp the space.  As it is a breeze-block building we decided a lick of paint was needed to brighten up the space; even the floor got a shiny covering of paint.  With the addition of some benches, tables and notice pin boards we had a turned a dusty out-room into a great space to use for multiple events!

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The big clear out – go team go!

As someone who loves to engage and inspire children into the world of science, I am keen to develop educational field sessions held at Pwllpeiran, making use of our newly revamped outbuilding, aka the ‘field classroom’.  Pwllpeiran represents a unique resource for education and research; for the University, local groups, and schools.  Thanks to the funding from the Joy Welch it was possible to purchase some ecology kits, magnifying lenses, vegetation quadrats, identification cards and tables for the new classroom.  With these facilities in place we were ready to invite small school groups to Pwllpeiran, offering the chance to attend organised ecology fieldwork sessions based on interactive learning experiences out in the field, supported by the field classroom back at the centre.

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Finished, and ready for an event!

Since establishing our field classroom, we have had two visits from Plascrug Primary School, and held a session as part of Aberystwyth’s Summer University program.  Both events were very successful, thanks to my trusty sidekicks, PhD students Caroline, Ben and Dan who helped run the sessions!  Everyone, even the adults, had a lot of fun! Wellies and waterproofs on, everyone was ready for river kick sampling to identify fresh hv4water invertebrates and mini-beast hunts in the woods and grasslands.  Our best find was a bright pink and olive-green Elephant Hawk moth, caught by a young pupil who at the age of 10 already knew she wanted to be a zoologist (girl after my own heart!).  Plus, some budding botanists of the future very much enjoyed showing off their plant and tree identification skills.  Not to forget my favourite activity: learning all about super Sphagnum and its role in our pristine peat bogs.  It really has been a great experience to show off the area around Pwllpeiran, but the most rewarding part is seeing first-hand the excitement and inspiration on the pupils’ faces from the opportunity of learning in the great outdoors; priceless! As a certified STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) Ambassador, along with the team at Pwllpeiran, I plan to continue developing our connections and educational outreach work with the local community.

For those of you who keep an eye on our Facebook page (find it here) I am sure you will have seen additional events over the summer, such as our Open Day and the Miscanthus safari tour, also took advantage of our new snazzy field classroom (yes, the name is sticking).  Look out for more events and visits in the future!!