Sara’s Story

“Science outreach is so important and something I passionately believe in. This is about making science available to all, it is about inspiring the next generation of ecologists and researchers, and showing people what opportunities there are in the world for them!”

Thornton outreach grant 1

Dr Sara Thornton of the University of Leicester successfully applied to the Outreach grant in 2019. She and Dr Sarah Cook used the funding to create Into the Swamp, an exhibition in Leicester city centre (2-7 April, 2019) that took you into the swamps of Borneo, through the photographs and stories of field researchers from the University of Leicester and Borneo Nature Foundation.

“Peatlands cover only 3% of the Earth’s land surface but they contain twice as much carbon as the world’s forests and four times the amount of carbon currently in our atmosphere,” Sara explains. “The tropical peat-swamp forests of Indonesian Borneo are some of the most important habitats in the world and are home to the world’s largest remaining orangutan populations.”

Thornton outreach grant 2

However, peat-swamp forests in Indonesia are facing numerous threats from human pressures such as drainage, burning and conversion to agriculture and plantations (e.g. palm oil and paper pulp). “This has significant negative consequences to biodiversity, livelihoods of local communities and our chances of combating severe climate change,” Sara says.

This exhibition took visitors on a journey of what it’s like to work in peat-swamp forests, their ecology and beauty, the threats they are facing including experiences of the catastrophic 2015 fires and haze, and why peatlands matter to us all. It also showcased the work being done by local teams and researchers in Indonesia: from restoration work and re-planting in burned peatland areas, to biodiversity surveys in the swamps.

Not only did the funding from the BES provide the researchers with new learning experiences and career directions, but inspired younger generations too.

“The week after the event, I heard that one of the teenagers who had visited the exhibition had decided that he wanted to study environmental geography at university because he found what we had done so inspiring.”

Thornton outreach grant 3

Dr Thornton and Dr Cook were interviewed by BBC Radio Leicester twice, and the exhibition was a great success.

“This event was only possible because of this award. The BES outreach funding is unique as there are few other funding avenues for these type of events.”