Informative Fieldwork Day for biologists at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo

On Thursday 30th June, the LVI biologists went to ZSL Whipsnade Zoo for a fieldwork day, accompanied by Mrs McKernan and Miss Firth. After a rather long journey and a brisk walk to the field site, the history and management of the site was introduced by the Education Development Officer, Chris Pollard and the SSSI Conservation Manager, Ben Poulson. After practising plant identification skills using field guides the girls started collecting data for analysis in school, surrounded by free roaming (and sunbathing) maras. Whipsnade SSSI is a chalk grassland, with specialised and rare plants such as Pyramidal and Burnt Tip Orchids; part of the zoo by comparison is on clay soil, which was used for comparison of biodiversity.

Ben gave a very interesting talk about how the biodiversity of the chalk grassland developed, and how it is maintained through grazing by sheep; the maras reduce biodiversity as they are somewhat fussy herbivores with regard to their diet. Lunch was eaten overlooking the Downs, with only a minor shower to dampen spirits! After another data collection session Chris walked us around the zoo, discussing the conservation issues in some animal species, and the successes – baby elephant Elizabeth resulted in lots of ‘ahhhing’ as she ran from her mother to her auntie!

Once back at school, the girls analysed the data using Simpson’s Biodiversity Index. They found that chalk grassland has a value of 0.91 (max 1.00) compared to the clay grassland (0.65); their data supported the qualitative analysis that the chalk grassland had many more species than the clay grassland; excellent results for their Practical Endorsement.