I debated doing this blog over multiple posts; however, even though it means this will be another long one, I’ve opted for just the one (update – actually, this will probably come in two parts instead!). Think of this as a ‘catch up’, or ‘the Story So Far, part 2’.

September 2018: the first month of university.

Four years ago I decided to help myself by trying to do one thing a week that pushed me outside of my comfort zone; over three years this included little things like going to the pub, cinema or navigating the London Underground all on my own, to bigger things like sky diving (video here, incidentally, this was my first time in a plane, let alone throwing myself out of one!) My first few weeks of university pushed me further beyond the confines of my comfort zone than anything else before, it was a whirlwind of emotions.

First there was “the Fear”: what if I failed everything? What if UWE realised they made a mistake and kicked me out? What if I couldn’t balance uni with the rest of my busy life? What if I couldn’t make any friends? What if I get through uni only to find no one will employ me? What will I have to DO at university? What if I am making a mistake? What if… what if… what if? What if’s have been enough in the past to stop me from doing great things, luckily I’m fairly stubborn too, so this time I managed to push through the “what if” with the deciding factor of: “if you don’t try, you’ll never know if you could!”. Armed with my brand new flask, a gift from my partner’s mum for starting uni, I took my first steps.

My lovely invertebrate flask, in front of a sign I had painted for my front door with my favourite Sir Terry Pratchett quote: “Coming back to where you started is not the same as having never left”

The first day was exhausting. I came home that day feeling very much “the odd one out”, most of my fellow students were around the same age as my own children, and despite my ‘alternative’ appearance, I am not terribly outgoing and find it hard to meet new people/make new friends at the best of times. Nor do I live on campus, which I knew would make it harder. We had mostly all joined a Facebook messenger chat group in the weeks before, which had definitely helped break the ice prior to starting, so I definitely recommend that to anyone in a similar position. However, the modules looked exciting and I was really looking forward to getting through the induction side of things and cracking on with the degree, and getting to know everyone.

October 2018: things are starting to settle down.

The first of the field trips was for Wildlife and Society – the lecture that is held up at the zoo one day a week. Off we went to Brown’s Folly near Bath, where I discovered that I was nowhere near as fit as I a) used to be, and b) needed to be! We were split into two groups, half of us spent half the day clearing scrub while the other half had a guided walk of the area, swapping after lunch. It was hard work, but really satisfying and thoroughly enjoyable, making a nice change from lectures and enabling us to chat with some of the volunteers for Avon Wildlife Trust.

The end of October heralded the one field trip I was not looking forward to particularly. Five days in Dartmoor. Don’t get me wrong, I was really looking forward to the actual trip itself, but I really wasn’t looking forward to being away from home. It was while on this trip that I realised how homesick some of my colleagues must have been really; until this trip I hadn’t really appreciated that for many of them this was their first time living away from home (leaving family, friends and pets behind), perhaps in a new city, likely surrounded by completely new people. This trip was my first time away from home (my happy/safe place), away from my pets, family, friends. It gave me the opportunity to get to know my fellow students and some of the lecturers much better and was sorely needed.

Day 1: Haytor.

This is really going to test the limits of my memory, it feels so long ago! The first day was spent at Haytor, where we used ArcGIS to log stages of erosion at random sites and studied the geological features of the area. Geology was not really something that had particularly interested me beforehand, but this activity did help spark a vague interest, and now I find myself looking at rocks and cliff faces with interest and query, even if I do not know much about it yet. I did, however, get to say hello to Dartmoor ponies and even found my very first ever Devil’s Coach Horse (Ocypus olens), which, to my extreme embarrassment, made me squeal like an excited four-year-old girl on Christmas morning with joy.

Day 2: Wembury.

On the coast at Wembury we spent the day measuring parameters of rockpools (size, depth, salinity, temperature, dissolved oxygen, pH and turbidity). We set out quadrats of various sizes to work out which would be the most appropriate size for species sampling of rockpools, and we measured the sizes of limpets to analyse the difference in size and shape of limpets living in the upper and lower rocky inter-tidal locations of Wembury.

In the evening, upon returning to where we were staying, we set out the moth trap for the night and went on a bat walk. This was my first ever bat walk and my first time using a bat detector, but led to it absolutely not being my final one, as I now have my own bat detector and have been on many bat walks locally since, including helping to run one at a local park! I also found a European hornet nest – more happy squealing – and some dead hornets, as well as finding a dead hornet larva one morning, which is now in a jar of alcohol on a shelf at home.

Day 3: Wistman’s Wood

Off we went to Wistman’s wood, where we first recorded the topography of the area then analysed moss and lichen cover in the open and in the woods. Following this, we wandered down to the River Dart to measure the water quality and other parameters. I really enjoyed this part, as it was quite similar to the riverfly monitoring I do for Bristol Avon Rivers Trust, so much so that I unfortunately neglected to take any photos.

That evening we had a good attempt at identifying some of the moths that found their way into the moth trap, then popped out some Longworth small mammal traps at Colehayes Park, and had great fun the following morning learning how to safely handle and release the mice and voles we found.

Day 4: Colehayes Park.

The final day day before heading off back home was spent exploring the area for fungi to identify, monitoring parameters of lentic systems, finishing filling in the various sections of our booklets and looking at what microscopic organisms live in the sphagnum mosses found at Wistman’s Wood.

Overall, despite sometimes feeling lonely and homesick and struggling to sleep as a result, it was a really enjoyable trip. We did and learned so much, but it was also a much needed bonding exercise between us all and we left, I think, with a renewed sense of excitement for the future and comradeship in each other.

This is where I will leave this post for now – it seems year one was definitely far too busy to squish into just the one blog post! Look out for part 3 of the story so far over the next few days!

Published by StudentEcologistBristol

I'm a mature student studying Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Science BSc (Hons) at the University of the West of England.

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