2020 got off to a great start for Year 12 and 13 Biologists as they participated in the first ever residential Science trip! Aimed at enriching certain parts of the A level biology specification, students made their way to Cornwall to visit Paignton zoo, and the well known, popular tourist attraction, come education centre, come charity… the Eden project!

Staying in a youth hostel located on the Eden Project site, and made out of recycled shipping containers, students had a fantastic base to explore the local attractions.

Six hours into the drive and with no radio on the minibus, students and teachers found some ingenius ways to entertain themselves, Mr Burrows writes… “It should have been a very painful journey, but I was pleasantly surprised by how cheerful everyone stayed. There were two standout highlights. The first was going over Notter Bridge (which actually was a bridge) on the way to Paignton Zoo. The second was a biological game, where the students had to try and identify DNA or RNA codons from the three letters on car registrations, before turning them into amino acids and then into a protein. This is very niche and only true biologists will ever understand how much fun we, (mainly me), had!! Our biologists were a credit to the school everywhere we went, and I look forward to running this trip again in the future.”

Here’s what the students have to say about the trip…

Marcus“On the second day of the trip we visited Paignton Zoo, home to over 250 species from around the world. During the day we saw gorillas and orangutans at the Ape Centre, a Komodo dragon in the reptile tropics and giraffes and zebras in the grasslands. Paignton zoo is home to the only short-beached echidna in the country, and even though it was asleep, it was still great to see! Throughout the day we saw how the keepers used various techniques to enrich the habitats of the animals and the passion the keepers had for the animals they looked after was always evident.”

Emily… “We were surprised to find out that although Palm oil is often considered to be very bad for biodiversity, considering its devastating effects on habitats, it is actually the best oil to use when collected sustainably. This is because if we removed the use of Palm oil something would have to take its place. The problem with this is that Palm oil has the highest yield when compared to other oils often seen as much less damaging, such as Rapeseed. As a result, changing the type of oil we use could cause more damage than good, although this is only if sustainable Palm oil is chosen instead.

To make sure that we only bought items containing sustainable Palm Oil in the future, the keeper informed us of an app called ‘Giki’ which, when a barcode is scanned, determines the sustainability and eco-friendliness of a product. Our guide also explained to us the damage mobile phones are causing to the gorilla population. An ore called Coltan is required for mobile devices. This ore is often found in areas where gorillas live and when mines open to find the Coltan the gorillas find themselves displaced. However, the keeper explained that it wasn’t actually the mining that was the greatest issue, this was more the fact that miners are paid very little and not given adequate food supplies or accommodation.

This means they often shoot the gorillas for meat as this is the easiest thing to do in the environment they are in. Our guide encouraged us to keep our phones for as long as possible rather than keep upgrading as this would mean less coltan is mined. She also encouraged us, when we did need to get a new phone, to recycle the one we have so the coltan already mined in our current phones can be used again, reducing the need for mining and therefore the damage to the gorilla population.

Scott… “At the Eden Project, we attended a talk on Biodiversity, explaining what it is, why it’s important and what threatens it. Biodiversity, in general, can be explained as ‘variety of life’, however when being discussed in a scientific context, is often confused as to what aspect or definition is being referred to. Genetic diversity, species diversity and ecosystem diversity are the most commonly referenced. Genetic diversity is the total number of genetic characteristics in the genetic makeup of a species. Species diversity is the number of different species represented in a community, often taking proportional representation and biomass into account. Ecosystem diversity is the range of different ecosystems in an area.

An interesting concept that was introduced to us was how people have calculated the total worth of the world’s ecosystem services as an argument to maintain ecosystems. Forests have competitive market value goods within them: the animals and trees that can be sold. However, forests fill other roles besides providing goods to sell. These include supporting, cultural and regulatory roles. Within these include services such as flash flood prevention, housing pollinators for crops, maintaining soil integrity. The total ecosystem services worldwide can be estimated to be worth 125$ trillion, a price that outweighs the total GDP of 85$ trillion. This can be used to help argue the financial gain in preservation rather than exploitation for natural resources.

Threats to biodiversity include: desertification, the process by which land becomes desert through drought, deforestation or unsustainable agricultural production methods; Climate change, the change in climate patterns which can cause extinction through species not being able to adapt quickly enough, such as more and more turtles being born female due to temperature-dependent sex determination; Poverty, lack of wealth causing people to harvest natural resources from ecosystems at an unsustainable rate; Food insecurity, less reliable access to sufficient quantities of food resulting in unsustainable farming methods; Overpopulation, increased human population results in the effects of each of these factors being multiplied. Smaller threats such as ecosystem fragmentation and dynamite fishing also have an impact (albeit a smaller one) on ecosystems. Building roads or farms across or in ecosystems can fragment them, often causing the deaths of many species’ individuals due to being cut off from resources, or increase the likelihood of being hit by a vehicle or shot by a farmer. Dynamite fishing near coral reefs causes trauma to the corals, destroying them and resulting in the deaths of further species that inhabited the reefs.

Now to conclude; Biodiversity is an important factor in the balance of the world and important for humanity to thrive. However, we keep thoughtlessly taking an axe to nature, unable to see our doom spelled out on the horizon due to the hanging mist of greed in our eyes. Even simple activities such as building a road or farm continue to contribute to the pile of non-human corpses that we close our eyes to. There is still the light of hope however. A light that gets dimmer with each passing day, but a light nonetheless.”

Charlie…”Following the biodiversity workshop, we were given a guided tour of the rainforest biome in which we saw coffee beans, bananas, coco pods and oil palms amongst a variety of other rainforest flora. The guide told us that despite its reputation for being bad for the environment, palm oil is actually by far the most efficient plant-based oil for use in food production, and that rather than looking for alternatives, its best to use palm oil that is produced sustainably.

During the tour, Arshia in particular stood out by showing off his vast knowledge in the production of kopi luwak (cat poo coffee), a practice in which coffee beans are fed to the Asian palm civet before being extracted from its feces and cleaned. The coffee beans are then sold for a particularly high price.

We learnt how vulnerable bananas are to Panama disease, a fungal disease that causes rot in the centre of the plant and eventually prevents the movement of water along the stem, causing the plant to deteriorate and die. Bananas are especially vulnerable as they have no natural resistance to the disease because of the way bananas are produced from cloning, resulting in a lack of variation that means entire crops can be susceptible to the unfamiliar pathogen.”

Emilia…On the last night, we went to Morrisons to get ingredients for dinner, which we decided to cook at the youth hostel. When we were at the supermarket I was in charge of sourcing wraps and guacamole for the fajitas, whilst everyone else searched for the other ingredients. We then travelled back in the minibus to the hostel. I started to cut the peppers, Johan grated the cheese, Izzy cut onions, while Mr Burrows supervised and got the chicken ready. We then started to cook and put all of the ingredients together. Half the group helped to cook, and the half, the clearing up afterwards. The food was very good, and probably the nicest food we had there. I really enjoyed the whole trip especially the second day at the Eden project.”

Sissy…“This trip was a really nice way to bring people together.”