FSC | Field Studies Council

Field Studies Council: Bringing Environmental Understanding to All

1982 Penny Johnes, Prof Freshwater Science, University of Reading - FSC Orielton

Like Jo Harris (Spring 2013 issue FSC Magazine), I attended an A-Level biology field course at Orielton FSC, but 15 years earlier, in 1982.

As the granddaughter of a botanist who used to take her A Level students to Juniper Hall from the year it opened in 1948 until well into the 1960s, and the daughter of a senior scientist at the Esso Petroleum Research Centre in Abingdon who had responsibility for technical advice on oil-spill clean-up in Europe, combined with my love of all things aquatic since childhood, I had always wanted to study marine biology at university. At the time, well-intentioned advisors had persuaded me that there weren’t many jobs in that field and that I should instead apply for a place to study Biochemistry where there were more graduate jobs on offer, which I duly did. Then I went on the field course. We had wonderful, inspirational teaching from our tutors, Kingsley Iball and Francis Bunker, and members of the Oil Pollution Research Unit which was based there at the time. I don’t think Kingsley knew what to make of it when first I, then two fellow students introduced ourselves as the children of oil spill experts from Esso Research at Abingdon, and asked to learn more about the oil spill clean-up research ongoing at the OPRU at the time! Of course, marine ecology was at the forefront of our studies and I revelled in it.

I returned from the field course determined to change my UCCA (now UCAS) applications. I’m still not sure, to this day, how I discovered Freshwater Science as my field of study, but 30 years later I still return annually to Dale Fort FSC or Orielton FSC to run a Year 3 module on Aquatic Environments: problems and management and I still use in my teaching some of the data I collected for my A Level project on limpet population age structure and distribution either side of one of the thermal pipes discharging water to the Haven from the Esso Refinery, as it was then. It was my first piece of independent research. Then, as an undergraduate I visited the FSC again, this time at Slapton Ley field centre, studying the impact of land use on water quality in the Slapton Catchment. I presented those findings at the Slapton Research Seminar in 1986, hosted by Slapton Ley FSC under the direction of Keith Chell and his colleagues. I met my PhD supervisor there, Tim Burt, who is FSC Chairman. That research led to my first academic publication in 1989, in the FSC’s own journal Field Studies, and provided a key foundation for the research that I still conduct today. I even joined the FSC Executive Committee for a few years until my research took over so much of my time.

So, when I look back over my career to date, I see how central my involvement with the FSC has been in stimulating, supporting and helping to shape the work that I and my research team undertake. . The classrooms may be more modern than when I first visited Orielton as an A Level student, but the expertise, enthusiasm and commitment of the staff to deliver environmental education for all is unchanged. It truly is inspirational!