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