Saturday, 23 November 2013

Take a Bow

Big Biology Day at Stamford School last Saturday was a roaring success for all involved. We weren't entirely sure what to expect but when we got there we were amazed by the variety and quality of the stalls and activities. 

They've been swabbed!

Kids and adults alike queued up outside in the cold to get into Mike Leahy's fantastic Big Red Zoo Bus, and were then greeted with tea, coffee and a large table laden with cakes before they headed inside to test their sense of smell, make a DNA bracelet, dissect owl pellets, test how quickly their brains adapt...

Holly and Heather

We were kept really busy, despite the stiff competition, so we were glad to have help from two new roadies. The swabbing was very popular - even the mayor of Stamford wanted to try, so we can add a mayor's chain of office to our collection of microbial growth. The day's swab plates are on view here.

The Mayor and Mayoress of Stamford
test their sense of smell

It was really good to set up the 'Sex & Bugs' stall in a completely different setting and see how well it worked in a school (and without our trusty companions, The Bees). 

Swabbing the Mayor's chain of office

So our festival year 2013 ended as we unpacked the van (in the dark) for the last time. It has been a pretty amazing experience. 

This may have been our last event, but it won't be the last you hear from us!

Roadie for a day:
Dr Eichhorn gets into the poogame

Karen and Heather

Friday, 15 November 2013

School's Out

The Roadies are getting ready for the final Sex & Bugs & Rock 'n Roll event: Big Biology Day, taking place tomorrow at Stamford School in Lincolnshire.
This year, we've taken 'Sex & Bugs' to three music festivals, Imperial University and the Natural History Museum, so this a great opportunity for us to take our activities to another type of event.

The day has a really amazing line-up and we're looking forward to seeing the other stalls and contributors. We also have competition, as one of the participants is touting the infamous #poogame!

So if you're anywhere near Stamford, Lincs., drop by for a fascinating day! 
You can download the full programme here.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Summer's End

Now the festival summer is over, we've been taking a well-earned break. This is by no means the end - we already have lots of ideas for new activities and different events but before we start planning next steps, we'd like to take a moment to reflect on what we've done this summer. So here's 'Sex & Bugs & Rock 'n Roll' in numbers:

1 - great society to back the idea
2 - science events
3 - music festivals
7 - invitations unfortunately declined due to lack of time
12 - months from the first spark of an idea to choosing ideas for busks and activities.
10 - months to prepare from proposal to the first festival.
14 - days spent at festivals
19 - volunteers working at the festivals
~50 - bumble bees in a colony (approximately)
>5000 happy visitors to our stall!

Monday, 2 September 2013

Back in the Saddle

The 2013 festival season isn't over yet but we're already organising our return to the lovely Wychwood Festival for their 10th anniversary!

The dates are confirmed for 30th May - 1st June 2014 and early bird tickets have just gone on sale. 

We're all very excited to be going back and we're looking forward to developing new, fun ecology activities. So if you're looking for a mellow, family-friendly festival with clean loos, short queues, good music and loads of activities, come and join us on Cheltenham Racecourse!

Monday, 26 August 2013

Meet Me in the City

The 'Sex & Bugs' tent at INTECOL
The BES Roadies made a special appearance at INTECOL 2013 in London last week. 

One of the largest international gatherings of ecologists, the INTECOL Congress takes place every four years and was hosted by the British Ecological Society as part of the centenary celebrations this year.
Georgina Mace and Bill Sutherland
(outgoing & incoming BES presidents)
 identifying mushroom scents.

A mere 18 hours after the end of Green Man Festival in Wales, the stall was set up on the main 'boulevard' in the enormous Excel Exhibition and Convention Centre in Docklands, East London. Our signature blue flowery tent was somewhat dwarfed by the sheer size of the building (which has 100,000 m2 of floor space and two DLR stops) but still attracted a lot of attention.

BES presidents play the poogame.
A picture speaks 1000 words
- even when it's out of focus.

The bees are taking a well-earned break in Frazer's garden and we had swapped the usual displays on pollinators and microbes for posters describing our activities, introducing the team, and showing the amount of work involved in making 'Sex & Bugs & Rock 'n Roll' such as success. 
We also handed out some of our giveaways to conference delegates but as we've now had over 5000 visitors, we've already run out of stickers! And we're still looking forward to Butserfest on 14th September.

On Wednesday we welcomed special guest and science busker par excellence David Price from Science Made Simple and invaded the Wednesday poster session with the 'poogame' and 'magic mushrooms' to demonstrate science busking. BES presidents Georgina Mace (2012-2013) and Bill Sutherland (2013-2014) joined in the fun and tested their years of ecological knowledge with the 'magical world of mushroom scents' and 'whose poos?'.

Why peat is so important

David brought along a really fantastic busk, which drew quite a crowd. His busk not only demonstrated the importance of peat, but also showed that with creativity and showmanship, you can transform just about any research topic into a fun activity. The film crew at INTECOL filmed the show, so hopefully we'll be able to post that soon.

David's peat busk draws a crowd

With a special mention at the British Ecological Society's Annual General Meeting and a warm reception by delegates from all over the world, I think we can be fairly sure we've not only demonstrated to festival-goers that ecology can be fascinating and fun - but also shown researchers that outreach work can be really enjoyable too! 

Demonstrating plant-soil
interactions in peatlands

BES Roadies at INTECOL were: Frazer Bird, Emma Sayer, Hannah Griffiths, Will Gosling, Sarah Pierce, Tom Walker, Matt Heard, Thea Powell.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Green is the Colour

Catherine and Iain setting up in the rain
For us, Green Man Festival with the BES roadies kicked off in true style – a morning car journey in a VW polo packed so full with kit we didn’t have room to swing a bumblebee, let alone a cat. However this all added to the fun of the voyage, and as we approached the Green Man festival in the picturesque Brecon Beacons, we knew that an awesome weekend of science engaging, socialising and scattered showers was just on the horizon.

Beautiful green surroundings for
the stall
The team set up our stall in Einstein’s Garden, an area of the festival set aside for  imaginative, creative and informative stalls and showpieces, so the Sex & Bugs & Rock ‘n Roll team were right at home. After a slow start, news spread of our bee colony, kit swabbing and poo games and we were swamped with revellers, all keen to find out more about our science.

As the festival progressed, not only did a steady flow of the people from all age groups come and see us, but it became apparent that we were getting many return visits from our ‘regulars’ too. These ‘regulars’ were mainly bug-hunting extraordinaire kids, who probably spent more of their weekend catching insects for our stall ID than time spent with their families or listening to the music acts. After routine trips into the wilderness, the regular crowd returned with specimens of pond skaters, stag beetles, garden tiger moth caterpillars, bush crickets and countless other fascinating creatures.

Kate, Caitlin and Hannah -
with signed roadies shirt
Other highlights included swabbing the Green Man for microbial life,  dressing up as a giant cockroach only to be attacked by 5-year olds wielding toy swords, and stalking writer Caitlin Moran in order to get a signed T-shirt.

Tom's cockroach suit proved to be
immensely popular
The highlight of the weekend was the Saturday night, when all nine of the roadie team raved it up at the ‘Denture Disco’ – a DJ booth located in a large mock-up open mouth, pounding out tunes in the middle of a field until the early hours. It was immense, and a great way to let our hair down after engaging with what seemed like the entire festival population in the previous days.

Swabbing the Green Man
All in all, being part of the BES roadies was such a great opportunity for PhD students like us to get out there and start engaging with the public about issues that really matter to us. Finally, the ultimate highlight of the weekend was when one member of the team got asked “Is it wrong that I find you weirdly attractive when you talk about poo?” Timeless.

Post by 
Iain Gould and Catherine Baxendale

The Green Man Team from left to right
Back: Iain, Will, the bees, Catherine, Holly, Tom
Front: Helen, Leanne, Kate, Hannah

Friday, 16 August 2013

Radio Gaga

Three roadies were interviewed live on BBC Radio Wales on the Louise Elliot show yesterday. Interviewer Fran Donovan was fascinated by the thought of all the microbes growing on people's festival kit. Emma and Frazer sat nervously in front of microphones at the Open University's audio studio, while Will phoned in from Green Man Festival, where our activities are in full swing in Einstein's Garden

Click on the audioplayer below to hear the full interview on 'Sex & Bugs & Rock 'n Roll'
(it may take a while to buffer) or download the mp3 here.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Children of the Revolution

To be a good scientist you always have to be asking questions. If you want to be a good ecologist you have to be nosey!! What we know about the natural world ultimately stems from ecologists sticking their nose in where it isn’t always welcome. 

By watching plants and animals we have come to learn so much about the diversity of life on our planet and we are only begging to understand the complexities. Be that the relationships between pollinators and plants, weird behaviours of animals or the structure of a honeybee hive. Like all sciences the more we learn about nature the more ecologists appreciate how little we know. So the good news is there is plenty more to learn!!!!!

This is just one of the things Sex Bugs & Rock & Roll is encouraging with our activities. Whether it’s “The magical world of mushrooms” or “whose poo”, it's all about picking things up, getting your face in and having a good old nose about what’s going on. These quick, easy 1-minute games have helped to encourage the curiosity we all have within us and which is so important to science. 

Our aim was to get out and spread the word about the good work that ecologists are doing - and it was actually a lot easier than any of us could have expected. People have been fascinated with Sex & Bugs and more often than not wanted more than we could give them. Adults truly understand the importance of what we do and the kids appreciate how cool it is! I would say that every person who visited the tent left with at least one new piece of trivia that will get wiped out down the pub. But the vast majority leave with much more: a desire to find out more, in most cases the answers to questions we the team couldn’t answer!!!

Finally on behalf of the Sex & Bugs roadies I feel an apology is in order. To all the parents out there who brought their children into our big blue tent; it wasn’t your fault, you weren’t to know, you thought this was just another run-of-the-mill activity tent (colouring in, pretty pictures, etc.), but it wasn’t!!!! I bet you had no idea that many weeks on from your fun filled weekend you would still be receiving creepy crawlies and impossible questions. “Do bees sleep?” “What does worm poo look like?” “Can fish fart?” 
The truth is these are important questions that we don’t yet know the answer too. Rest assured Mums and Dads, it's probably how Attenborough and Darwin started and they didn’t do too badly.

Post by Frazer Bird

Monday, 5 August 2013

(Dreams are My) Reality

The title seems appropriate. Two months ago, on the first morning at Wychwood festival, Will and I spent a good hour wandering round in a daze saying things like: "this is really happening", "this is weird - a pub conversation becomes reality", etc. 

Preparing posters about the Roadies' musical summer of ecology, I realised that another 'dream' had become reality without me even realising: the pictures and photos below say it all...

And the first article about our adventures has just been published in the August issue of the BES Bulletin - there's a downloadable pdf here

Original designs vs. finished products. Not a bad comparison!
Posted by Emma

Saturday, 27 July 2013


Busking - with new festival hat
Larmer Tree Festival was a lot of sun, fun, and hard work. The festival site in the Larmer Tree Gardens was beautiful, with trees around the main stage, peacocks strutting around the grounds and hares in the campsite. The shady Secret Garden and Lostwood areas provided a welcome break from being baked in the sun while busking outside our stall. There were quite a few memorable moments for me, not least getting to meet Richard Thompson and Lau after their amazing gigs. 

Lisa the Hymer at the campsite
The experience began before we'd even arrived because I had to drive a rather large classic Hymer camper-van up the narrow and windy road to the site, during which Frazer was certain that he, at least, would be killed (especially with me whimpering from the relative safety of the left-hand-drivers seat every time a lorry came bearing down on us). The camper van was awesome but it felt a bit like driving a bus made for a driver about a foot taller than me.

We four Microbiologists
It would take too long to list all the great people I talked to about Ecology, but a a special mention goes to the four microbiologists who swabbed themselves (because they weren't allowed to do it at work), the friendly BES member who had read about Sex & Bugs in the Bulletin (yay!), the three lads with interesting aliases who were thrilled to find out we were scientists, and the many stall-holders who gave us discounts and free stuff because they loved what we were doing.

Peace and pencils at Larmer Tree
The festival proper ended with us being evacuated from the Arc tent during Rich Hall's Hoedown. We had finally managed to secure seats in the tent, which had been packed every single night of the festival. We'd made ourselves comfortable, enjoying the music and other comedy acts for 2 hours while we waited. Unfortunately for us, the unlucky combination of a fast approaching electrical storm  and a tent supported by two very tall metal structures meant that we only got to see about 10 minutes before having to relinquish the seats and head into the rain.

Safety first and all that.

Posted by Emma

Friday, 26 July 2013

Songs from the Wood

Sophie invites you to the BESfest stall
For me the festival was a breath of fresh air, exactly what my ultrapure-air breathing lungs required after spending perhaps too much time experimenting in the sterility of a trace-metal clean room.

The combination of sunshine, happy people, meowing peacocks and grubby feet amounts to soul food for the average researcher - so gratitude to everyone involved with the Larmer Tree Festival.

Bees and animal pencils
were also very popular
I was really impressed with the festival-goers who, despite blistering heat, stopped by our rather atypical and curious stall touting games such as the ‘Hidden World of Mushrooms’ and ‘Whose Poo?’. These were really well received and it was great fun to see return visitors with a plus-one in tow, enthusiastically demanding their nearest and dearest take the challenge.

It was not only human visitors who came to the tent. Native bumble bees stopped by to check out our hive, and partake in the breaking of bread, courtesy of the pollen granules temptingly lain on the grill-like cover. I also began to suspect that our tent was unwittingly enrolled in a scheme to provide a 24 hour crèche for the money spiders of Wiltshire, that's if my hair was anything to go by.

Great people, great ecology, great fun!

Post written by Sophie Dixon, PhD student at the Open University