I enjoy music, but until now had never been to a music festival, all those crowds of people, loud noise and camping was not something I thought I could cope with. However I was aware from talking to my colleagues at the University of Reading last year that festivals are not just about music, and often have stands and science activities run by universities and other institutions. This felt like something I would enjoy so I put it on my mental list of ‘things to do while studying for a PhD’. I was very excited to see a call from the Royal Society of Biology and British Ecological Society for volunteers to help run ecology themed activities and bioblitz (an event where you try to identify as many species as possible) at Latitude Festival in Suffolk. I duly applied and a few weeks later was off on a big adventure with my tent and sleeping bag!
I picked up my festival wristbands and met up organiser Penny Fletcher and some of the rest of the team I would be working with the for the next few days – getting introduced to the ‘Big Biology Bus’ – a mobile home decked out with insect photographs and information to be used for activities. The first evening was spent preparing for these activities, cutting out plants for the ‘Power of Plants’ activity where children choose which plants and features to include in their virtual garden made of paper and learn about what makes a wildlife-friendly garden.
Then followed my first night in a tent since my family holidays as a young teenager, it was not a very restful sleep and the portable toilets and showers were as grim as I expected, although better than usual I was told, since we were in the performers’ area. I could have paid for b&b or ‘glamping’ but considered coping with camping to be part of the experience! The day before we officially opened to the public was spent scouting out suitable areas for bug hunts and setting up more activities, including making a butterfly life-cycle mobile from Butterfly Conservation and dragonflies out of pipe-cleaners and lolly sticks – it was good fun!
The day started with opening the moth trap, with expert Marc Botham from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology showing members of the public the moths and other insects trapped in the light trap which was left over night and adding to our species list for the Latitude site. Then it was off to inspect the pitfall traps that colleague Sara Ball had set out to catch beetles and see what other insects could be found on a public bug hunt – demonstrating beating (hitting a tree with a stick to knock insects off), sweep netting (sweeping a net through vegetation) and looking under logs.
Kieron Brown from the Earthworm Society of Britain ran earthworm charming competitions, where the public has to make noise to drive earthworms out of the ground (it is thought to mimic the noise of moles or rain and force them to move upwards to escape). The soils here were very dry and sandy so not many earthworms were found but people still enjoyed learning about them and making lots of noise!
Ladybird expert Helen Roy of the UK Ladybird Survey gave talks on ladybirds and their parasites, accompanied by singing parasitised ladybird David Urry. In addition to craft activities, another event throughout the day was an insect sports day were people chose insect species to ‘compete’ in events such as high-jumping and sprint to see who would win and then see how they measured against them (my long jump was a pathetic 60 cm!). The public were also invited to vote for their favourite insect and could examine some of the invertebrates we had found during our bug hunts.
It sounds like I didn’t really see much else of the Festival, and to be honest I didn’t really! I was much happier hunting for insects and adding to the species list for the bioblitz than going to see the acts, although I did go see a comedy show and listened to Portishead and The Vaccines from a safely muted distance.
After three days of insect activities, bioblitzing and portaloos I was back off home, and sensibly I had taken the Monday off to recover. I had a fantastic experience – challenging, exhausting and fun in equal measure! and would definitely do something similar again. For more photographs and videos check out Twitter and Vine.