Ecological Ambassadors Scheme

A day in the life of Ecological Ambassador James White… James White is a PhD student at Loughborough University, studying the impacts of groundwater abstraction on macroinvertebrate communities in river systems.

The wide range of pressures that humans place on the natural environment is becoming increasingly evident and the next generation of ecologists are required to safeguard our planet for the future. In recognition of this, the British Ecological Society have established the ‘Ecological Ambassador’ scheme to connect early-career researchers with sixth form students potentially considering an academic career in ecology in the future. The outreach programme was set up to enable PhD students to communicate their research with pupils through exciting ways that involve active participation within the classroom. The overall goal of this scheme is to inspire the next generation A-level students to consider undertaking studies of an ecological nature in the future.

On the 9th October 2015, all ambassadors attended a training day at the British Ecological Society offices in London to encourage us to think about the different ways we could communicate our research to target audiences very different to those we typically encounter during our PhD research. Discussions between the ambassadors highlighted a range of relevant, engaging and exciting classroom techniques that had been developed by the trainees in preparation for the event. Interacting with other ambassadors allowed me to build upon provisional classroom techniques that I had considered, as well as providing an opportunity to learn about exciting ecological topics being researched by fellow PhD students.

My own research focusses on macroinvertebrate communities within rivers and I have always been eager to introduce these exciting organisms to students in the classroom so that they can see the diverse range of fauna found within aquatic ecosystems. In early December, I visited my first college in Tamworth (Staffordshire) and demonstrated some of my research interests to Geography and Biology A-level students by running a workshop on identifying macroinvertebrates from samples that I had previously collected from rivers with very different levels of water pollution. Results from the classroom were compared with those recorded by the Environment Agency to highlight the ‘real world’ applications of such information. I intend to revisit the same college in the future to demonstrate to the students how statistics can be used within ecological studies and show the multi-disciplinary nature of such research. I will also return to my old college in Solihull (West Midlands), where I developed my initial enthusiasm for rivers, in the near future to help students sample macroinvertebrates from a small stream and introduce how the information they collect in the field and laboratory can be used within ecological studies.

I have found informing A-level students about my research to be a rewarding experience and have been grateful for the opportunity provided by the British Ecological Society to take part in the programme. I hope to continue engaging with and encouraging the next generation of river ecologists to highlight the ongoing need for such research and to highlight the range of threats that these systems are exposed to today.