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Ecological adventures during Biology Week

Posted by on November 21, 2012

Leeson House fieldwork, DorsetAs we start to plan Biology Week 2013 here at the Society of Biology we take inspiration from some of the successes of 2012. Here Nick O’Connor, a teacher at Highcliffe School, describes his A level field course in Dorset

The Year 13 A level Biologists spent a superb 3 days along the Jurassic Coast on the Isle of Purbeck. This was a great chance to study outdoor biology with wellies on! We arrived at with great expectations at Leeson House Field Studies Centre which is set in an outstanding environment nestling in the Purbeck Hills overlooking Swanage Bay.  We were met by our expert Biology tutor, Mr Mike Gould, and he took us through the field trip itinerary.

We spent the first day looking at woodland ecology in the grounds of Leeson House. We also studied the abundance and distribution of lichens (which are a symbiotic relationship between an alga and a bacterium) on old stone work.  Our final practical for the day was to look at the meadow buttercup, Rannunculus repens, and how it is distributed across a ‘managed’ flood alleviation plain.  During this part of the field trip we conducted the formal practical skills assessment of the OCR A level course. This involved the collection of primary quantitative and qualitative data in the field and formal write ups and evaluations under examination conditions. The first day ended at 9.30pm after over 11 hours of teaching and learning!

Day 2 took us to the wild and exposed Kimmeridge Bay to study marine ecology. The sun shone and the wind blew. Whilst the sea was littered with windsurfers we carefully studied the animals and plants (fauna and flora) that inhabit this extreme environment. The range of organisms found was amazing and included a tiny periwinkle (about 3mm long!), Littorina neritoides, that can live in temperatures up to 42⁰C. Although it is a marine animal it has evolved a modified lung to inhabit the splash zone at the top of the beach. We also found a huge array of seaweeds and animals including the green and purple snakelocks anemone and the dog whelk, a raging carnivore! We finished the afternoon off at Kimmeridge Bay with Mr O’Connor’s line caught, home smoked fillets of mackerel cooked over a driftwood fire and served with hunks of tasty bread from the famous bakers called Dragons in Corfe Castle. In the late afternoon sun the perfect end to the transect work gave us the chance to talk about consuming food in terms of food metres rather than food miles as the fish had been caught off the Kimmeridge Bay coastline!

Day 3 and we spent the day in yet more sunshine at Studland beach where we studied the succession of plants across a sand dune complex. We looked at how sand dunes are formed and how the vegetation causes the dunes to become stable as you travel inland from the beach. The tide was very high and was actually causing sand dune erosion before our very eyes! In the dune slacks we also saw the UK version of the Venus Fly Trap, a carnivorous plant called the Sundew!

The evenings were spent writing up the work from each day in the lab followed by a mad few hours in the games room.

Leeson House fieldwork, Dorset


Ellis Day – “Mr O’Connor cooking smoked mackerel fillets over a wood fire on the beach!”

Logan Holliday – “Great to study Marine Biology and I plan to study this subject at University next year”

Emily Allen and Katie Powell –  “Leeson House (aka Downton Abbey) is a great place to stay – like an old manor house”

Phoebe Barnett – “ Littorina neritoides, beautiful!”

Ellie Boddy – “It was great to put theory into practice on the beach”

James Bonney – “The Purbecks and marine ecology – paradise!”

Will Smith – “Ringing birds to look at bird migration was excellent – and part of a global research project”

One Response to Ecological adventures during Biology Week

  1. Nick Ball

    Sounds like a great tiome was had by all!

    The Staff at Leeson House provide an excellent service. I was lucky enought to be invited to a CPD weekend at Harrow House and Leeson house (both in Swanage), Mike Gould and his team of tutors made us (the teachers) very welcome and now I have a group of students who are looking forward to meeting them in the summer when they visit for thier courswork.