Lower Sixth Biologists Discover the Isles of Scilly

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Last month, 12 Lower Sixth biologists, accompanied by Mr Florey, Mrs Pardoe and Dr Stone, spent four days on the Isles of Scilly carrying out A level ecology coursework.

Following a less-than-desirable 5am start, the pupils arrived on St Mary’s, the largest and most populous island. Shortly after docking on the quay, the group hiked to Old Town Bay, a beautiful sand and rock beach near Hugh Town.

Low tide meant that it was optimum time for the biologists to acquaint themselves with the ecology of the rocky shore ecosystem. Given just 20 minutes, the pupils were to collect as many species of flora and fauna that they could find, before Mr Florey and Mrs Pardoe gave excellent explanations about how to identify different species of seaweed and ‘shelled’ animals.

Following the longer, more scenic footpath around the headland, the pupils made their way to their home for the next four days: the Garrison. Having set up camp, they soon set up pitfall traps to sample the invertebrates in the hedgerows, before enjoying a familiarisation stroll around the local town and an evening meal in the Scillonian Club.

On day two, the pupils spent the morning carrying out an extensive survey of the rocky shore, using their identification skills to carry out a transect study of the beach with systematic sampling, using belt, frame and point quadrats, and stratified sampling of the low, middle and upper shore.

There was also the chance for opportunistic sampling of some of the most biodiverse and amazing rock pools.

Back at camp, the pupils set about dealing with the large amount of data they had collected; plotting graphs and kite diagrams and calculating statistical tests. The final task was to empty the pitfall traps, record the species found within, and mark any woodlice captured with a tiny dot of white paint.

By day three, the group had become accustomed to the very friendly birds around the campsite, with one song thrush in particular hanging around and eating out of the pupils’ hands. At night, hedgehogs rummaging through the camp occasionally disturbed sleep, and the dawn chorus of birds waking at sunrise proved a delightful start to the day.

An action-packed day ensued, with a group spending the afternoon snorkelling with seals off St Martin’s island and the remaining pupils taking a boat to Tresco, before travelling across the island and visiting a bird hide. After lunch, they embarked on systematic sampling of the sand dune ecosystem to study succession.

On return to the campsite, the team emptied their pitfall traps and counted the number of woodlice found for the second time, before noting the proportion they had re-captured. A clever calculation later and they had an estimate for the population of woodlice living around the camping field.

The pupils’ final morning on St Mary’s was, like all others, filled with bright sunshine and a cooling sea breeze. After departing camp, the group made a final stop to the Garrison Wall, where they carried out an investigation into the biodiversity of the wall flora and took random samples to compare the inland-facing wall to the seaward wall.

Fieldwork completed and data analysed, they walked into town for some free time, which included souvenir purchasing and ice cream consuming, before boarding the ferry for the return to school.

Over the course of the four days, the Lower Sixth biologists managed to complete three core practical activities and cover the theoretical and practical fieldwork aspects of most of the ecology A level topic.

The pupils were hard working and a real credit to the school and the Science Department look forward to visiting this unique and biodiverse location in the future.

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