Downland wildlife on the Powell Day walk

By Mary Shotter, Biology Technician

The wooded slopes and rolling hills of the South Downs are a very special landscape and provide a habitat for a wide and interesting variety of species, so Powell Day provided a perfect opportunity to see them at their best in the early spring sunshine.

Not far from the start point in the Queen Elizabeth Country Park, as we climbed gradually along a valley between War and Holt Downs, the browns and greens of the landscape were punctuated by a large patch of bright yellow coltsfoot, one of a few plants with the unusual habit of flowering before any leaves emerge. It is the leaves from which its name derives – when they do eventually unfurl in April they are large and hoof shaped.

Along the track were also patches of Juniper, the berries of which are used for flavouring gin. Once common, it is now a rare sight, due to habitat loss.

The colourful bracket fungus, turkeytails, covered piles of logs besides the chalky tracks. Further along between Buriton and Ditcham, at Coulters Dean, the path turned off the South Downs Way and past a field and grassy bank which was dotted with huge mounds of yellow meadow ant nests. Each one will house between 8,000 and 40,000 ants, feeding their larvae on the roots of Downland plants such as wild thyme. From here the track wound uphill through beech woodland, carpeted with wild garlic, the smell of which became obvious as it was crushed beneath our feet.

On the open grassland of Ditcham Park, skylarks were singing, hovering effortlessly, high above the ground, then parachuting down onto the fields, before ascending again. A lone red admiral butterfly flew past – most red admirals are migratory but a few like this one, will have hibernated and emerged into the early spring warmth in search of nectar. In the more open landscape around Chalton, buzzards and a lone red kite flew overhead, watching as we re-entered the Queen Elizabeth Park and after three hours made our way past yew and pine trees down to the finish.

Bedales, biodiversity and lockdown

Biodiversity

By Cheryl Osborne, Teacher of Biology

Lockdown will be one of those defining moments. We will all remember where we were and what we were doing. For me, it will be the transition from standing in front of a class of children in my lab, to sitting staring at a computer screen on my sofa – an alien world and one that I am not enjoying! However, it hasn’t all been bad. The stillness and quiet has let nature be heard and during lockdown both Mary Shotter, our Biology technician, and I have immersed ourselves in it.

Mary has taken a biodiversity study of the Bedales site, and I have been taking photos of the wildflowers during my daily walks in the vicinity of Bedales. From these walks, I have put together some wildflower quizzes that have been available on the B-More Teams channel. I have really learnt a lot doing this and seen flowers that I hadn’t noticed before. My husband and I have been lucky, living close to school and the Ashford Hangers. The unnerving quiet of a deserted A3, which we walked over daily in those early days, allowed the birds and the rustling of the trees to be heard and heightened our awareness of nature all around.

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Block 3 explore ecosystems for Ecology project

Ecology 1

By Cheryl Osborne, Teacher of Biology

In the five weeks before half term, Block 3 students were engaged in a project for Biology, researching an ecosystem. They chose their own ecosystems, which ranged from rainforests to cold deserts, coral reefs to wetlands. They were asked to identify three habitats within their ecosystem, to look at the biotic and abiotic factors affecting each habitat, and then finally to look at the adaptations of three organisms within each habitat.

The project enabled students to be independent in their learning and to be creative. They learnt research skills and the need to reference the websites that they used. Those who looked at the marking criteria carefully performed really well. The projects were presented as PowerPoints, word documents, posters and even a website (which can be accessed here).

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6.1 biologists hear from leading scientists

Venki-Ramakrishnan

By Mary Shotter, Biology Technician

Biologists in 6.1 travelled to the Apollo Theatre in London to hear a series of lectures by some of the country’s leading scientists as part of A Level Biology Live.

First was 2009 Nobel Prize winner and President of the Royal Society, Professor Sir Venki Ramakrishnan (pictured above), whose many scientific contributions include his work on the atomic structure of ribosomes. Ribosomes exist in their millions in every cell, and are the site where genetic information is read to synthesise proteins from amino acids. He began work on ribosomes in the late 1970s and eventually discovered their complex three-dimensional structure in 2000, with the aid of X-ray crystallography.

Next, Professor Robert Winston – who was the Bedales Eckersley Lecture speaker in 2013 – spoke about manipulating human reproduction, from his work in vitro fertilisation, through to regenerative medicine such as stem cell research and epigenetics, which may turn out to be the most important biological development in the years to come. However, he warned that manipulating the human will always be dangerous, uncertain and unpredictable.

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Science update – Dr Tim Mason lecture and ‘Meet the Scientist’

smallpox-lecture

By Richard Sinclair, Head of Sciences

Last Wednesday there was a 3i/science lecture given by Dr Tim Mason on the subject of Edward Jenner and the development of vaccines.

As with all of Dr Mason’s lectures, this was a rich mix of social history and scientific information and it traced the early origins of the Variola viruses and the evidence for early smallpox outbreaks worldwide.

Benjamin Jesty and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu played important roles in the work that eventually led to Edward Jenner trying out his vaccine on James Phipps. Dr Mason took us right up to the present day, where the smallpox is eradicated worldwide, with only a few samples safely (we hope!) held in labs.

This was a really well attended event and we are once again grateful to Dr Mason for such an excellent evening.

The next evening, 6.1 Biologists visited St Swithun’s, where there was a ‘Meet the Scientist’ evening. Students heard an inspiring talk by a young physicist who described her scientific journey from Cyprus to Germany to England and the trials and tribulations of working on new projects in new countries.

Afterwards, there was the opportunity to meet and hold discussions with a range of scientists – including a surgeon, marine ecologists, neurologist and more – to find out about their own work and hear about their own journeys. It was a useful and stimulating event that introduced students to a range of new opportunities.