The Year of Fieldwork aims to encourage schools and colleges across the country to celebrate learning outside of the classroom or laboratory, and the lifelong benefits and opportunities that this can provide. Iain Macdonald, from our Biodiversity Team, reminisces on the joys of working in the field, and points to its importance.
Today, I heard that a ‘Year of Fieldwork’ has been launched by the Field Studies Council at their Millport Field Centre. Happy memories! I stayed there once for a few days a long time ago. Now I’d probably moan about sharing a room, but then my only complaint was the shortage of daylight hours for fieldwork.
I do remember looking into rock pools and peering at white shallow trays with unknown things swimming about in them. I think a bar was involved. Most of all I remember being on a blue trawler: struggling to grab slimy species, red, brown and white, with big eyes and spines; seabirds screeching all around; and the smell of heavy fuel oil. Magic!
For me, field work— observing, listening and recording in an attempt to compile knowledge whilst out of doors—started early in primary school. I remember every single time our class went out. I remember a coin tree, which you ran around several times in the hope of finding a coin at its base for keepsake. Life skills passed between schoolmates, and I still pass the same tree – each time leaving penniless!
After learning introductory field identification skills as a student, my abilities to recognise species and habitats led to a job, initially doing more field work for a couple of years. That was the most enjoyable job I ever did. I was paid to walk to places that, well you just wouldn’t go to, unless you were being paid. These were places as remote as you can get to in the British Isles, places I now go to when I’m not being paid.
Apparently that doesn’t happen very often now, not the paid field work, but the learning of field skills whilst being a pupil or student. To interact with nature is surely what we are designed to do? Our ancestors had to know what to eat, without dying, where and when to find it and how to pass that knowledge on. And that skill set is still needed. The number of people who can correctly identify, out in “the field”, some of the smaller green or crawly things is shockingly small. So small, that you can count the “experts” on one hand, without using your thumb. We still need to understand more about the bigger things too, but without learning about field work how can we?
That’s why we must embrace and support the year of Fieldwork, and encourage youngsters to relish the fun of identifying plants and animals. They may not find pennies, but they will have rich memories enduring a lifetime.
See the Field Studies Council website for more information.