Archive for the ‘Field Work’ Category

Over 6th July 21 AS/A2 Biology students (and Dr Paul and I) set off to Snowdonia to study ecology as part of the A2 Biology course. 

North Wales

Staying at a Field Studies Council centre in Betws-y-coed, the first evening began with setting Longworth mammal traps (non-lethal) so that we could get an estimate of the population of small mammals in the centre grounds. After dinner we had a bonfire and a game of football on a pretty muddy pitch (it had rained most of the day whilst we travelled) but it was good fun.

The following day we checked our mammal traps before breakfast. Another school had also set mammal traps but they hadn’t gone to such great lengths to conceal them and subsequently the squirrels had raided the traps and eaten all the bait. 

Wood Mouse

Our traps however were untouched, and yielded 4 wood mice and 3 bank voles.

Bank vole

After letting them go we travelled by coach to Morfa Harlech, a nature reserve with a textbook-quality sand dune system. Walking across the dunes from the sea towards the land allowed us to record the changes in plant and animals species and the local environment, highlighting the process of succession. At the end of the dune system is woodland that was once bare sand but over time has been colonised by successive plant communities.

Sand dunes at Morfa Harlech

That evening the students worked in the classroom to process their results, and then we played another game of football.

Sunday saw us travelling to Penmon Point on Anglesey to study a rocky shore.

Penmon Point, with Puffin Island in the distance

Penmon Point

 Starting at the low water mark we moved higher above sea level, recording the changes in types of seaweed and plants, limpets, barnacles and crabs.

Velvet Swimming Crab

 Rocky shores exhibit something called ‘zonation’ – the distribution of the different organisms is heavily influenced by different local environmental conditions.

On the return from Penmon Point we stopped off briefly at Cwm Idwal, a spectacular corrie (bowl-shaped glacial valley) formed by over 2 million years of glaciation.

Cwm Idwal

The glacier is long since gone, although it has left a crystal-clear lake in its place. Cwm Idwal is special for many reasons, but particularly since it is home to the incredibly rare Welsh Tufted Saxifrage, an alpine plant that is a leftover from the time when Britain was much colder just after the last ice age.

Tufted Saxifrage – a survivor from the last Ice Age.

 The plant clings on to life on the cold backwall of the valley where few other plants can survive.

That evening didn’t see any football – instead the students dressed up as pirates and took part in a treasure hunt and then a piratey sing-song around a roaring fire!

Monday was our last day, but the morning was spent collecting invertebrates from a fast-flowing freshwater stream and then looking for a correlation between the different species and the velocity of the water.

A cased caddisfly larvae from a freshwater stream.

After that, we travelled by train back to London – rather tired but having had a really good trip. The students were amazing – they worked so hard, got really enthusiastic about everything and were a credit to themselves. Well done!

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On 7th February 48 students from Year 11, (accompanied by Mr Bilton, Miss Vine, Mr Pimentao and Miss Gilleece) travelled to Essex to visit the npower-operated Tilbury Power Station. The students study the generation of electricity as part of their course, so this was an excellent opportunity to see where it all happens. The Tilbury site was originally a coal-fired power station, but this year it switched to using biomass as the fuel source, as part of a programme to be ‘greener’ and depend on renewable sources.

Tilbury Power Station

The biomass used at Tilbury is wood pellets, produced from the sawdust and waste of the Canadian lumber industry, so it’s a good use of a material that would otherwise just be wasted. It also has less impact in terms of CO2 production than coal, because it’s not burning carbon that’s been locked away for millions of years.

Properly kitted out in hard-hats, ear defenders and high-visibility jackets the students were taken on a tour of the power station, at one point standing inside a 65m furnace which reaches temperatures of 1500ºC (luckily for the students it wasn’t on at the time…). The scale of the facility is hard to imagine, but it gives you an appreciation of engineering behind the process.

Safety first - hard-hats and ear defenders!

The process of electrical generation is actually remarkable simple. When the biomass arrives it is crushed and then blasted into the furnace where it burns. The furnace is lined with pipes that contain ultra-pure water. As this water heats up it turns to steam. This high-pressure steam is used to turn turbines (converting heat energy into kinetic energy), and the turbines rotate an electro-magnet within a coil of wire. The movement of a magnet within a coil of wire creates the electrical current (thanks Faraday!) and that’s all there is to it.

Generating electricity - what's happening inside?

The students were also able to study some of the chemistry and biology surrounding the issue of power generation. Using conductivity meters the students recorded how many dissolved ions and minerals were in drinking and filtered water. They then compared it to water that had been through an ion-exchamge resin and were surprised to see that there were no ions left at all. This super-pure water (which actually tasted a little bland) has to be used in the power station to prevent damage to the pipes (picture the inside of your kettle..). The students then had a look at the local water quality by pond-dipping and looking for indicator species; species that tell you how clean the water is by their presence or absence. Having found a variety of insects including Common Backswimmers, Damselfy nymphs and Diving Beetles (and even some fish) everyone was surprised to conclude the water so near a power station was actually good quality and supported a diverse community.

Damselfly nymph - this larval form indicates good water quality

Common Backswimmer - this insect swims upside down

The students had a really good time and certainly learned lots about where their electricity comes from and how best to manage our energy resources so that we can live in a sustainable and ecologically-sensitive way. Many thanks too to the staff at the power station for giving us such an enjoyable day!

Big Schools Birdwatch 2012

Posted: February 1, 2012 by Mr Bilton in Animals, Biology, Field Work
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Last week every member of Year 7 and 8 took part in the RSPB’s ‘Big Schools Bird Watch’ event. Having placed hand-made bird feeders around the school the previous week, students spent a lesson outside, armed only with a pair of binoculars, a pencil and an ID guide, trying to spot some of the common (and more elusive) birds in the school grounds.

Birdwatch 2012 - The school ground support a large variety of different bird species.

It was certainly an eye opener, and the graph shows the variety of different species seen. The students were recording the maximum number of any given type seen at the same name. As you can see, we’re very lucky to have such biodiversity in the school grounds and we’re looking forward to comparing our results when we participate in the event again, next year.

If you’re interested in finding out about birds, have a look at the RSPB site http://www.rspb.org.uk/.

Stargazing Evening

Posted: January 12, 2012 by Mr Bilton in Field Work, Physics, Space
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 Jupiter and Jupiter’s Moon Io by Robert Altenburg (left)

After postponing the 2012 Winter Loreto stargazing evening on Wednesday, we crossed our fingers for the weather to help us having a look at the Universe tonight.

Unfortunately the clouds appeared while the telescopes were being assembled – but they were not enough to stop us from zooming in at the night sky.

Those who joined the Science Department last night were able to see what Galileo Galilee saw when he first pointed his telescope at Jupiter, the “king” of the planets, along with its 4  moons, Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto .

Despite the cold, the brave Loreto girls and parents also learnt how to find Polaris (the North star), Betelgeuse and the Seven sisters.

The Loreto College stargazing evening was a success, and we hope we can count on more of you to come along next time.

Thanks to all those who came.

A big THANK YOU  to Setpoint Herts, Ms Ellis, Ms Hyslopp and Miss Vine for letting us borrow their binoculars and telescopes. Without them this would not have been possible.

Dryhill Quarry

Posted: December 14, 2011 by Mr Bilton in Field Work, Geology, Trips
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On the 30th October, Miss Vine and myself took a group of seven budding Geologists from Year 11 on the first Geology Club trip.

Despite a little confusion about the departure time (I thought it was an hour earlier than it actually was…) we were soon underway, heading towards Dryhill Nature Reserve in Kent.

Dryhill was once an active quarry but has since been turned into a nature reserve and also recognised as an area of geological importance.

Once we had arrived the group had the chance to look carefully at sedimentary and structural features at the numerous exposures, make careful observations and then attempt to piece together the geological story preserved in the rocks.

Dryhill is a great location to study folding and the group was able to identify features such as anticlines and synclines and even predict (with some accuracy) what they expected to find at the next exposure. We were even lucky with the weather – the rain held off until we were back in the minibus.

Clearly exposed layers of limestone and sandstone