Count hay while the sun shines

As part of their biology field course, 4 teachers and 38 A-level pupils from Queen Elizabeth School, Kirkby Lonsdale, visited Colt Park meadows on Ingleborough National Nature Reserve in the Yorkshire Dales to learn about ecosystem ecology. Dr Sue Ward met the students on site to explain why Lancaster University is working here, in collaboration with Natural England and DEFRA.

Species-rich grasslands such as the ones at Colt Park are valued for their plant diversity, for insect pollinators and for the uptake and storage of carbon and other nutrients. The experimental plots at Colt Park were established over 20 years ago, and include a range of different types of land management such as fertiliser and manure application.

Our work at the Lancaster Environment Centre uses this field site to look at how best to manage such grasslands to maximise multiple ecosystem benefits alongside viable farming practices.

Sue demonstrated how CO2 fluxes are measured using a portable gas analyser, and gave a tour of the long-term experimental plots. The students commented on how good it was to see for themselves how the addition of fertiliser dramatically reduces plant diversity.

Tanya St. Pierre, from Natural England and the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust, explained how to survey vegetation diversity, and the students measured the number of different plants from their own quadrats laid out on the meadow.

Anna Waters, Head of Biology at QES, said “Our day at Colt Park has really brought ecology to life and has given our students an insight into research and careers in the environment as they complete their UCAS applications”.