Silwood Park – Doing a Masters in ecology at Imperial College London

I’ve started an MRes in Ecosystem and Environmental Change at Imperial College London about 1.5 weeks ago now, and along with about 100 other masters students doing various other ecology-related courses, am based at Silwood Park, Ascot. It’s about an hour on the train from London Clapham Junction to Sunningdale, and then another 30 mins walk/10 mins cycle from the station to Silwood Park. I.e. it’s not the most convenient place on earth. There aren’t really shops around for emergency buys, nor clubs if you want a night out (if that’s your kind of thing). Though we are technically Imperial students, we’re so distant from the main campus at South Kensington that we’re more or less on our own really.

The Manor House at Silwood Park which we're no longer allowed to enter

The Manor House at Silwood Park which we’re no longer allowed to enter

It sounds perhaps slightly grim, especially if you’re into city life, but apart from the slight inconvenience regarding shops, and the fact that we can’t join clubs and societies on the main campus (and so I can’t really try out random things), I’m really liking Silwood Park. There’s a chicken yard (you can join the chicken club!), an apple orchard, allotments, a pretty grim-looking lake (with just one mallard and one grey heron when we walked by earlier today), surrounded by woodlands and meadows. The campus itself is really brilliant; I enjoyed crashing the bird diversity/abundance point count this morning, and we had a bit of pond dipping yesterday where I caught/saw newts and dragonfly nymphs for the first time (:

A little apple orchard with different varieties of apples

A little apple orchard with different varieties of apples

Silwood Lake doesn't look so bad when you can barely see it though :P

Silwood Lake doesn’t look so bad when you can barely see it though 😛

Smooth newts!! Still in larval form (with their gills)

Smooth newts!! Still in larval form (with their gills)

Lectures are with a mix of courses, and last week was a general Ecology Evolution and Conservation introductory course. This week though, the 7 of us in my course had our own set of Global Change lectures (while some other courses get to do fieldwork *jealous much*), and as much as I dislike listening how we’re screwing up the world in every area (that’s why I dropped Responses to Global Change in Cambridge and did Mammalian evolution and faunal history instead), I did learn some really interesting things.

Apparently a late summer meant blackberries are still available this late in the year :D

Apparently a late summer meant blackberries are still available this late in the year 😀

For example, if we want to stabilise atmospheric composition of carbon, we have to cut down to zero emissions. Not just reduction of 20% or 50% from 2010 levels, or going back down to 1950s level of emission, we have to completely cut it out. Which is practically and realistically impossible.

Graphs from a really simple two-box model of ocean-atmosphere and carbon emissions.

Graphs from a really simple two-box model of ocean-atmosphere and carbon emissions.

I also realised, perhaps somewhat belatedly, that contrary to popular belief that ecology is all about going outfield with nets/transect tapes/quadrats and counting/identifying plants and animals, it’s actually a LOT of math and physics. Equations, modelling, doing gut analyses and constructing giant food webs.

Seagrass monitoring in progress

What I thought ecology involved (people monitoring seagrasses)

An example of the (many) equations that appeared during lecture

An example of the (many) equations that appeared during the lecture by Dr Eoin O’Gorman. Equation apparently describes allometric diet breadth model.

But somewhat terrifying math aside (I’ll confess it’s not one of my strengths), it’s been rather chill and enjoyable. It’s awesome being able to discuss morality in conservation in the bar, and have chickens to feed in the morning.

IMG_9870

Went for a run to Windsor Park, which isn’t too far away. Could say something philosophical here, but nah.

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About Jocelyne Sze

I'm a Nature-lover, aspiring conservationist, and wannabe traveller in search of outdoor adventure.
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