Zoology field course at Slapton Ley, Devon (1974)

1974 School Magazine


By M.J. Bohling

If any zoologist was approached and asked to point to the topic he enjoyed most in his two year course, in all probability he would say ecology. Not that ecology is any more fascinating than anatomy, histology or physiology, but it is the subject of an intensive one week course at Slapton Ley, Devon.

Perhaps, as one of the less publicised school trips, the Zoology Field Course has two advantages: no member of staff ever accompanies students on the field course, and the wardens at the field centres arrange the male to female ratio in favour of the males.

So when a group of rucksack-bearing, anorak-clad, urban-dwelling sixth formers from Northwood arrived in rural Devon, spirits and expectations were high. These were rather damped by the weather, the worst the area had experienced all year and, as if this was not sufficient cause for dejection, the warden not only denied us the privilege of an alcoholic beverage, but decided we were to rise early (8 o'clock) and work a full twelve hour day.

In the face of such misery, this imposition on personal freedom and liberty would cause lesser students to grope for their union handbooks, but zoology students are of a rare and loyal stock, and the presence of the large contingent of females seemed to tone down the most militant amongst us.

Coastal ecology, the study of life on the seashore, is a physically demanding course in the best of weathers, but gale force winds and torrential rain made conditions especially difficult, if not hazardous, particularly on exposed rocky coasts.

The working day began with a forty minute briefing on the particular exercise which was to be carried out in the field that day. Departing from the Field Centre at 10.30 a.m. each morning, we made visits to study a variety of different coastal environments, including sandy, muddy and rocky shores, collecting specimens and taking them back to the laboratory for further observation that evening.

Working in close contact with nature, and studying the relationship between the living organism and its environment provided an interesting and enjoyable contrast to drawing preserved specimens at school. Some students may have taken this too far with the establishment of rock pools in their wellington boots. Perhaps Henry' (as we refer to him - to save embarrassment) now regrets his keenness when he disturbed a wasps nest, and was last seen retreating along a lonely country lane with a swarm of angry arthropods chasing him. 

M.J. Bohling


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