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Field Studies Council: Bringing Environmental Understanding to All

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Going the extra mile

On the seventh of May this year, tutors Sarah Etherington and Michelle Savage along with Jonothan Oldham (from Flatford Mill Field Centre) boarded a plane to Astana in Kazakhstan to spend two weeks teaching preparatory university students Ecology. Read on to find out more about their adventures.

The trip was part of an ongoing project in partnership with University College London and Nazarbayev University, Kazakhstan. This project is now in its second of five years and aims to introduce ecology and fieldwork skills to Kazakhstan’s future scientists.
Having declared independence from the USSR in 1991, Kazakhstan is a new country with great prospects due to its wealth of natural resources, including oil, coal and precious metals. This opens doors to future development which needs to be undertaken with awareness of environmental issues and the importance of conserving the natural landscape.
Much of Kazakhstan consists of Steppe, a fragile habitat supporting many unique plant and animal species; including Pulsatilla flavescens and the Saiga antelope. This makes it all the more important to introduce a culture of conservation while this habitat is relatively undamaged.


Kazakh students doing fieldwork

Each group of around sixty students attended a five day field course in the Burabay National Nature Park in the Akmola region in the north east of Kazakhstan.
Students spent three and a half days learning fieldwork techniques. This involved studying a lake edge, comparing a woodland and grassland ecosystem and surveying water quality and invertebrate biodiversity in two lakes. They also learnt basic skills such as plant identification, use of quadrats, field sketching and terrestrial invertebrate sampling. Data collected was analysed using statistical tests and the students also heard a lecture by local park employees from the conservation department. This sparked a lively debate during which students made suggestions relating to raising the parks profile and public awareness of environmental issues.
The final day and a half was spent putting their newly learned skills into practice by planning, carrying out and presenting their own investigation in small groups.
“The students learnt a huge amount in a short amount of time and it was clear that their environmental understanding had increased. One student said that she was now thinking of pursuing a career in conservation which is fantastic!” Said Sarah.

Staff from the Nazerbayev University also enjoyed their experience:
“It was one of the most interesting fieldworks I have ever experienced. FSC staff provided informative and comprehensible knowledge about the surrounding habitats of Burabay National Park. They organised a convenient program for all of the students covering everything from woodland investigation to comparing two lakes. Looking forward to meeting them again in the next academic year”. Yeldar Baiken Teaching assistant, Nazarbayev University.

Sarah and Michelle would especially like to thank Richard Dawson and Janet Jones at FSC head office for overseeing and organising the trip; Jonathan Oldham for sharing his experience and knowledge; all the staff and teaching assistants from Nazerbayev University; ecologist Til Dietrich for his invaluable help in identifying plant and animal species and all the staff at Epping Forest for enabling them to go.
Epping Forest Field Centre staff are committed to sharing their knowledge and expertise as widely as possible and also learning from variety of experiences to ensure that we always remain at the leading edge of environmental learning outside of the classroom.

Saturday, June 23, 2012