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

Thursday, 25 July 2013

You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet

Did you get swabbed at Larmer Tree Festival? Still want to know how gross your festival kit is?
Take a look at our Hall of Shame - the Larmer Tree swabs are on display - just click on the day you were swabbed: Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Hot Stuff

The stall at Larmer Tree Festival -
note the lack of mud...
Last weekend the BES starship ‘S n B n R n R’ landed in deepest and brightest Wiltshire at the beautiful Larmer Tree Festival. The crew nestled themselves amongst an eclectic mix of aging hippies, groovy young families, young beautiful things, posh frocks, silly hats, peacocks, parrots and exquisite surroundings. The sun was hot, the air was still. The exhibit tent felt like a sauna but did not deter over 1600 people coming to chat about ecological science and play with our ecological games. 

‘Who’s poo?’ became something of a festival catch phrase
Peter the Poo expert
and Peter ‘the expert on shiny poo’ Fawdon became worryingly attached to this busk (all in the name of science – honest!). He was ably aided and abetted by Frazer ‘the shades’ Bird and Sophie ‘the dancer’ Dixon who worked their collective charms on the massed crowds waxing lyrical about how much mushrooms smell and taking pictures to capture the event. 

Sophie enthrals visitors with
the scent of mushrooms
The team was led from the front by Captain Emma ‘I need a new festival hat’ Sayer who made sure that we were all kept on the straight and narrow while Sarah ‘Chief Swab Officer’ Pierce made sure that people revealed their deepest, darkest microbial secrets by sampling them for bugs. Many ‘swabees’ returned to be grossed out by the agar plates that showed them what was actually growing on the on their shoes, hands, feet... and hula hoops! 

Its not just visitors who love
'whose poo'
We also had lots and lots of different bees (including a live bumblebee colony) to show people the diversity of pollinators that help crops and wildflowers flourish. Matt ‘mustn’t grumble’ Heard even celebrated his birthday at the stall with cakes and a book about a dead parrot. On the music front, Dexys didn’t play ‘Come on Eileen’, Seasick Steve rocked so hard that he couldn’t understand how the moon got so big and Lau knocked everyone’s socks off with blistering folk tunes played at break-neck speeds. 

The Larmer Tree peacock
keeps an eye on the
backstage area.
Did I say it was hot? What a scorcher... and that was just the ecology...

Post by Matt

Monday, 15 July 2013

London Conversation

I had wanted to help out the Sex and Bugs and Rock 'n Roll team from their beginnings, but I was abroad working for a conservation NGO. Luckily, as I was back on British soils this Saturday, I was pleased to be able to help out at the Natural History Museum London, helping the #BESfest team at @NHM_London's 'Big Nature Day' . 

Thea enthuses a young visitor
We chatted, taught, joked and smelt items that smell like different fungus from 10am-5pm with all the people who wandered into the long row of (many!) societies. Positioned between the earthworm and the orchid society, BES's "ecology is easy for everyone - just step outside" began to get communicated; most people's favourite was the poo game (which common-english-poo is from which species). All you need is a patch of small grass, a small pond or a soil heap and you'll start learning about ecology. People seem to understand this - our efforts and enthusiasm was received really well by grandmas, school groups, families, individuals who lived locally, students, tourists, children and even by excited babies (who at least understood that the event was something to grin about!).

Busy times at the stall
The 25+º sunshine, it being Saturday - at the Natural History Museum - ensured a large amount of foot fall and all five of us were kept busy busy busy, just like the bees we also had on display. The wide range of societies attending, the fabulous knowledge available, the obligatory, London-priced pimms & ice cream stall and the fantastic face-painting team kept everyone smiling. It was a fantastic day and a perfect opportunity for the BES 'face' to be out and about in London. 

The BES' Hazel Norman and daughter
I would urge anyone to seek out ecological or outdoors-based events in your local area. Many are free, easy to attend and I guaranty you'll leave having learnt something new about a species that you walk past every day - no exceptions whether you live in a city or a field! Big Nature Day is just one example of how ecology can be brought to your local area - so watch out for easy-access ecology and environmental efforts near you. The British Ecological Society are helping to nurture and protect natural Britain. A team effort is required so like every society we look to the public for feedback and support. 

A postcard from Holly
Event's like this are perfect for the Sex and Bugs and Rock 'n Roll team, so thank you to the Natural History Museum for a great event and to everyone who attended. Hopefully the team will roll down a road near you very soon! 

Written by Thea Powell, BES volunteer, Mentor and Alumni member of the Undergraduate Fellowship Scheme and Young Ecologist BES group. 

A happy team at the end of a very hot and busy day:
Sophie, Emma, Thea, the Bees, Jules, Sarah and Frazer

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Meet me in the morning

The swab plates from Open Day are now on view in the Hall of Shame. There are some pretty nasty-looking ones!

It seems like we've only just unpacked after Open Day at the OU's Department of Earth Environment and Ecosystems and now we're repacking to make our kit public-transport-friendly for Big Nature Day at the Natural History Museum this Saturday: We're going to do our best to take bees, poo, mushrooms and a bunch of giveaways on the Tube to South Kensington. 

Watch out #BESfest tweets on Saturday!

Scary purple gloves! Emma
with CEPSAR Director
Simon Kelley

Friday, 5 July 2013

Out on the weekend

Amazingly, it sounds like we're in for a perfect festival summer (or perhaps even heatstroke). It's really good to know that our upcoming events are unlikely to be a wash-out - because we're going to be busy this month:
Tomorrow, we're setting up the stall for Open Day at the OU's Department of Earth, Environment & EcosystemsThe following Saturday 13th July we'll be at the Natural History Museum's Big Nature Day and then we're packing up the camper-van and heading to Dorset for five days of fun at Larmer Tree Festival.   

We also finally got a Facebook page - many thanks to Frazer for setting that up! If you're on Facebook, please take a look and 'like' what you see.