My name is Lynsey Ridd and I spent this summer volunteering with the DRY project, undertaking grassland surveys at the Simms Hill site within the River Frome catchment area. At a first glance it seemed like a very typical ecological study, getting to know the site in-depth over the course of the summer, instead I found a crash course in English botany and plant identification, as well as an accidental education in differentiating grasshoppers and crickets.
Every Monday we undertook the same routine, moving through all the mesocosms in turn, and measured the height of the each of the 5 key indicator plant species within the plots and recording the occurrence of pollinators we observed. Each week there was also something new to discover, a new flower or seed we’d not noted before or a new minibeast blocking our paths. The site is beautiful and species rich, full of interesting life including flowers and arachnids that I’d never seen before, such as the oddly photogenic four-spot orb weaver spiders. Especially during warm sunny weather, the work was very relaxed, and I found plenty of time to snap a few pics of all the most interesting individuals.
From Patty I learnt a lot about the work itself, and the botany involved, gaining the ability to identify all five of the key study species and multiple other plants and flowers as well. We discussed the field site and the set-up of plots as well as exactly why everything had been set up the way it had to best study all the relevant factors that can affect, or are responses to drought conditions. As group we also shared our own stories and experiences of fieldwork and scientific research more generally and I really enjoyed getting know the other volunteers and more about why they also wanted to get involved. Patty also ended up teaching me how to better identify and distinguish crickets and grasshoppers, after what was probably a few too many times of me going “Ohh look, an interesting cricket, grasshopper thingy!”. It’s probably surprising how many times I’ve actually used this information since, but whenever I notice one, my inner biology geek can’t help but pass that information on to unwitting family and friends.
From Sarah I learnt a lot more about the wider scope of the project, and in chatting with her, she really impressed upon me how important research projects such this one really may be in the wider world. Grasslands are a major source of income for many farmers and landowners across the world, especially for sale as animal feed and hay. Without a knowledge of how these grassland species may be affected as the global climate continues to change and temperature and rainfall become more variable, the growth of these species, and therefore this source of income will become increasingly at risk. As a university student it also feels really interesting to be part of such a big project, with sites spread not only across the country but also with parallel studies occurring across the world.
I hope to be able to continue volunteering with the DRY project as it continues to develop through the future as I’ve genuinely enjoyed my time with the Simms Hill team so much over this summer. I’m also genuinely looking forward to learning more about the results that are being collected, and discovering any patterns and changes in plant physiology and community structure that may arise from the simulated drought conditions and controls. Most of all, whether you have scientific background, want to develop your knowledge of botany or just enjoy the feeling of being out in the wild, I highly recommend you give this project a go!