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) and the Royal Society of Biology. The aim of the Trust is to provide funds for the promotion of educational outreach work. So, what did we do with the funding?
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!
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 and the Royal Society of Biology 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.
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 water 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!!