Thursday, 18 June 2015

Down on the Farm

Ecologists get down and dirty for Glastonbury
Mud and music aside, portaloos are a perennial preoccupation for festival goers. Visitors to this year's Glastonbury, however, will be enjoying compost toilets, and thanks to a team of enthusiastic young ecologists festival goers will be able to dig a bit deeper into the workings of the compost loo.
The ecologists from Lancaster, Cambridge and the Open University will be bringing their stall – Sex & Bugs & Rock 'n Roll – to Glastonbury for the first time this year. Over the past two years they have wowed the crowds at Wychwood, Larmer Tree and Green Man with the fun side of ecology.
Festival goers who drop round to Sex & Bugs & Rock 'n Roll will be able to discover why compost loos pong less than their chemical counterparts, and why you need to take a scoop of sawdust with you when you use the waterless dunnie. A series of jars containing different materials will illustrate how long things take to decompose and how important microbes are to the process.
Continuing with compost, the stall will be hosting a terrarium containing soil, a cow pat and some native UK dung beetles to reveal why we're not knee-deep in the tonnes of dung that animals produce each year. During the course of the festival, visitors will be able to monitor the beetles' progress as they bury the dung.
Rounding off the dung theme, festival goers can play the ever-popular 'Whose poos?' (the #poogame) by matching 3D rubber replicas of animal poos to pictures of the correct animal.

Dr Emma Sayer, an ecologist from Lancaster University, came up with the idea for Sex & Bugs & Rock 'n Roll for the British Ecological Society's centenary celebration in 2013 as a way of making research accessible to everyone, and encouraging researchers out of the comfort zone of the campus and into the mud-splattered crowds of music festivals.
“You don't need a lab coat or a PhD to enjoy science,” she said. “Ecologists love going to festivals and we're certainly used to muddy fields. We're really passionate about what we do, so having a bit of fun at music festivals is a brilliant way of sharing our enthusiasm for ecology.”
Other activities to delight festival goers include 'Magical mushrooms', which uses smell pots to test visitors' sense of smell and demonstrate the surprising aromas that different fungi produce, and 'How gross is your festival kit'.

“We'll be inviting people to take a seat on the 'swab throne' and pick an item of clothing or festival gear they'd like us to swab,” Emma explained. “We plate the swabs on agar gel, label them with the visitor's name or alias, and culture them for a few days. Then we take a photograph of each plate and post the images on the festival 'Hall of Shame' where people can download images of their very-own festival bacteria.”

Sex & Bugs & Rock 'n Roll is just one activity in a national set of events to get everyone to come and take part in the Great British Summer of Science to celebrate 50 years of world-leading environmental science funded by NERC.

Monday, 8 June 2015

That's the way

The Roadies launched the 2015 festival season with a successful but occasionally damp weekend at the lovely Wychwood Festival. 
A full post will follow shortly but in the meantime, here are the first festival photos!

Thanks a million to Graeme, Stefan and Jem for a fantastic festival - we're already looking forward to 2016!

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Back in the Saddle

The roadies are back! And we start 2015 in a different setting. This time the experience wasn’t as loud or covered in mud as usual! No blue tent, dirty wellies or face painting, but still a great bunch of activities for the 120 year 9 Geography students from Urmston Grammar School to enjoy and learn about Food Security. The day included 5 different activities hosted by Lancaster Environment Centre academics covering different aspects of food security including: a discussion on Famine and Food, mark-release-recapture in population ecology with 'Science Hunters', a discussion on Food waste and food miles, Guerrilla Gardening with a seed bombing workshop and us, ‘Sex and Bugs and Rock 'N Roll'. The visiting students took part in all of these activities in groups of 30 over the course of the day.

We had a great team of BES Roadies from Lancaster University, including the old timers: Catherine, John and Eduardo, and 4 first-timers: Erika, Natalie, Rowan and Benita. The Roadies activity started with Catherine introducing Sex & Bugs & Rock ‘n Roll, with the BES Roadies trailer and setting the atmosphere for a dynamic, informative yet relaxed 30 minutes of good old Ecology and science busks, with the rest of the team waiting at the back of the room, primed and ready for the stampede of 30 students.

Favourites like #poogame rapidly caught the attention of the students. I think they all were amazed on how much information we can gather from staring at animal poo! We also had a stall about the importance of pollinators for food security, and at the same time students could jump across the room to figure out which UK species they are similar to.

Our posters and games on the importance of water and soil for food production stimulated a debate among students and even encouraged the participation of teachers, as they tried to figure out how to complete the puzzle by matching different food items to the amount of water needed to produce them.  It was very exciting to see teachers getting interested and taking part in the process. Several came to us with interesting anecdotes on how they approach these topics in school and even suggested to use the “Smoke on the water” poster in their class.

For us, this was a great way to start 2015. Now it’s time to put the wellies back on and hit the road. Wychwood Festival, here we come!

Post by Eduardo