Thursday, 18 June 2015

Down on the Farm

Ecologists get down and dirty for Glastonbury
Mud and music aside, portaloos are a perennial preoccupation for festival goers. Visitors to this year's Glastonbury, however, will be enjoying compost toilets, and thanks to a team of enthusiastic young ecologists festival goers will be able to dig a bit deeper into the workings of the compost loo.
The ecologists from Lancaster, Cambridge and the Open University will be bringing their stall – Sex & Bugs & Rock 'n Roll – to Glastonbury for the first time this year. Over the past two years they have wowed the crowds at Wychwood, Larmer Tree and Green Man with the fun side of ecology.
Festival goers who drop round to Sex & Bugs & Rock 'n Roll will be able to discover why compost loos pong less than their chemical counterparts, and why you need to take a scoop of sawdust with you when you use the waterless dunnie. A series of jars containing different materials will illustrate how long things take to decompose and how important microbes are to the process.
Continuing with compost, the stall will be hosting a terrarium containing soil, a cow pat and some native UK dung beetles to reveal why we're not knee-deep in the tonnes of dung that animals produce each year. During the course of the festival, visitors will be able to monitor the beetles' progress as they bury the dung.
Rounding off the dung theme, festival goers can play the ever-popular 'Whose poos?' (the #poogame) by matching 3D rubber replicas of animal poos to pictures of the correct animal.

Dr Emma Sayer, an ecologist from Lancaster University, came up with the idea for Sex & Bugs & Rock 'n Roll for the British Ecological Society's centenary celebration in 2013 as a way of making research accessible to everyone, and encouraging researchers out of the comfort zone of the campus and into the mud-splattered crowds of music festivals.
“You don't need a lab coat or a PhD to enjoy science,” she said. “Ecologists love going to festivals and we're certainly used to muddy fields. We're really passionate about what we do, so having a bit of fun at music festivals is a brilliant way of sharing our enthusiasm for ecology.”
Other activities to delight festival goers include 'Magical mushrooms', which uses smell pots to test visitors' sense of smell and demonstrate the surprising aromas that different fungi produce, and 'How gross is your festival kit'.

“We'll be inviting people to take a seat on the 'swab throne' and pick an item of clothing or festival gear they'd like us to swab,” Emma explained. “We plate the swabs on agar gel, label them with the visitor's name or alias, and culture them for a few days. Then we take a photograph of each plate and post the images on the festival 'Hall of Shame' where people can download images of their very-own festival bacteria.”

Sex & Bugs & Rock 'n Roll is just one activity in a national set of events to get everyone to come and take part in the Great British Summer of Science to celebrate 50 years of world-leading environmental science funded by NERC.

Monday, 8 June 2015

That's the way

The Roadies launched the 2015 festival season with a successful but occasionally damp weekend at the lovely Wychwood Festival. 
A full post will follow shortly but in the meantime, here are the first festival photos!

Thanks a million to Graeme, Stefan and Jem for a fantastic festival - we're already looking forward to 2016!

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Back in the Saddle

The roadies are back! And we start 2015 in a different setting. This time the experience wasn’t as loud or covered in mud as usual! No blue tent, dirty wellies or face painting, but still a great bunch of activities for the 120 year 9 Geography students from Urmston Grammar School to enjoy and learn about Food Security. The day included 5 different activities hosted by Lancaster Environment Centre academics covering different aspects of food security including: a discussion on Famine and Food, mark-release-recapture in population ecology with 'Science Hunters', a discussion on Food waste and food miles, Guerrilla Gardening with a seed bombing workshop and us, ‘Sex and Bugs and Rock 'N Roll'. The visiting students took part in all of these activities in groups of 30 over the course of the day.

We had a great team of BES Roadies from Lancaster University, including the old timers: Catherine, John and Eduardo, and 4 first-timers: Erika, Natalie, Rowan and Benita. The Roadies activity started with Catherine introducing Sex & Bugs & Rock ‘n Roll, with the BES Roadies trailer and setting the atmosphere for a dynamic, informative yet relaxed 30 minutes of good old Ecology and science busks, with the rest of the team waiting at the back of the room, primed and ready for the stampede of 30 students.

Favourites like #poogame rapidly caught the attention of the students. I think they all were amazed on how much information we can gather from staring at animal poo! We also had a stall about the importance of pollinators for food security, and at the same time students could jump across the room to figure out which UK species they are similar to.

Our posters and games on the importance of water and soil for food production stimulated a debate among students and even encouraged the participation of teachers, as they tried to figure out how to complete the puzzle by matching different food items to the amount of water needed to produce them.  It was very exciting to see teachers getting interested and taking part in the process. Several came to us with interesting anecdotes on how they approach these topics in school and even suggested to use the “Smoke on the water” poster in their class.

For us, this was a great way to start 2015. Now it’s time to put the wellies back on and hit the road. Wychwood Festival, here we come!

Post by Eduardo

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Keep it Up (Swab Geldof)

Following on from the huge success of Sex & Bugs & Rock ‘n Roll in 2013 the BES Roadies returned with our beautiful blue tent to Cheltenham Race course in May for Wychwood 2014. This years' BES Roadies team saw the return of Sarah, Catherine, Iain and Kate, and first-time Roadies Eduardo, John, Matt and Phil.

For the Lancaster-based Roadies, the weekend started with a journey in a moderately packed car with our famous bees safely between Eduardo’s legs (he is the bees knees!). En route we stopped off for a romantic picnic at the picturesque Frankley services before arriving at a rather muddy festival site!

Setting up before the rain hit
Thankfully, we got both the blue tent, located in the new lush Green area of the festival and our ‘palace’ of a sleeping tent up before the monsoon weather set in. Somehow the only things to get wet in the process were the entire contents of John’s bag (oops)!

Luckily, the rain stopped overnight and after a quick run through on Friday morning we were ready to go with our activities, giveaways and busks, including the new posters and ladybird game, alongside the old favourites #poogame, bug hunts, bees and swabbing. We had a great first afternoon in the tent with so many visitors it was a struggle to get out of the tent at the end of the day. Once we managed to get away we went back to the ‘palace’ for a debrief before heading back to the festival site for food, The Real Thing and The Stranglers followed by a bit of Headphone Disco.
Aphid fishing

Over the weekend we had hundreds of keen visitors to our stall to try out the poogame, find out how gross their festival kit is and see our bees. We also had special appearances from La Cucaracha (The Cockroach) and the Ladybird, although it was a little bit too hot to wear these costumes all weekend!

As with last year, we had several regular visits over the weekend from particularly enthusiastic kids who didn’t want to stop bug hunting or chatting about ecology. One boy in particular had to be pulled away from Matt by his parents when we were enjoying dinner on the Saturday evening whilst asking "Are you having dinner in the same place tomorrow?"

Busy times at the stall
A highlight for us was dancing at Craig Charles’ funk and soul DJ set on Sunday, after which Phil and Sarah were lucky enough to meet him backstage! Other highlights included  spending our evenings in the Comedy Tent, especially the audience participation, and Matt’s extraordinary appearance as ‘The Scorpion’. 
With The Boomtown Rats headlining the festival, we were half expecting Sir Bob to rush over to the BES stall, slam his fists on the bee hive bench, and shout “Give us your honey, NOW” (like at Live Aid), Needless to say, he did not, and we didn’t succeed in our attempts to Swab Geldof.

The festival came to an end with an early start on Monday morning before the long journey back up to Lancaster, with us both playing the role of the sleeping children in the back of the car, with Eduardo keeping John company in the front!
Roadies relax at the headphone disco
Clockwise from top left: Eduardo, Iain,
Phil, Kate, Sarah, Catherine

All in all, another great weekend for the BES Roadies!

Post by Phil and Catherine

Friday, 13 June 2014

Don't You Forget About Me

We've been so busy preparing for our recent roadshow at Wychwood that we've completely neglected the blog, so here's a some brief news in anticipation of a full report and photos from Wychwood's 10th Anniversary.

Wychwood was a great success by all accounts, with lots of bug-hunts, a lively twitter-feed, some new activities and our old favourite the #poogame - we're looking forward to becoming a regular feature at the festival.

We're pleased to announce that an article about 'Sex & Bugs' is featured in the most recent issue of Planet Earth magazine. You can read and download the article here.

Finally, thanks to everyone who participated in our BES members' competition. The winners will be announced shortly!

Monday, 24 February 2014

15 Minutes of Fame

We've had some unexpected but very welcome international attention in the last week.
Sean Mattson of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) has written a great piece on 'Sex & Bugs', which is currently featured on STRI's homepage - a pdf of the article (in English and Spanish) can be downloaded here.

And then Christopher Buddle, of McGill University in Canada, got in touch about our recent article in TREE - he has dedicated a whole post to us on his excellent SciLogs blog Expiscor. Thanks Chris!
A preprint version of the paper is now available for download from our dropbox here.

It's fantastic to get such a positive response from people - scientists and members of the public alike - in different parts of the world.

In the meantime, we're starting to organise our activities for Wychwood Festival 2014, where we'll not only be celebrating ecology, but also the 10th anniversary of the festival itself.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Please Don't Tell me 'bout the News

We've been a bit lax with our blogging over the last couple of months, so following demands on twitter, here's a short post with the latest news.

The headline news has to be: 


Of course, we don't mean the kind of tree with branches and leaves, but the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution, where creative public engagement is featured in the latest Spotlight article. Hopefully, the article will motivate other researchers to do some fun public engagement activities!

The paper is already available as a preprint online here. The final version is scheduled to be published in February. It's behind a paywall but you can email us for a reprint.

In other news:


Spotted in Montmartre, Paris. Enter our prize-draw and
maybe you too can make it to France this year
If you're a BES member, you can win your registration to the 2014 Annual Meeting in Lille by entering our prize draw. 

In keeping with the spirit of things, every blog post title since February 2013 is also the title of a rock-, pop-, or folk song. To enter our prize draw, just list the titles of 10 blog posts with the corresponding bands. Full details on how to enter are available in the December issue of the fabulous BES Bulletin