18 September 2021

First real day of fieldwork

 It had started! We had got through the first day of the field trip. That had only been an introduction; we would start properly gathering data on the second day. And we would start with gathering information about sediment transport and flow velocities and suchlike. Martin normally puts a mooring into the estuary on the day when he is in the field with the students, and then he retrieves it on the last day. Students then get the work with the dataset the mooring has produced in the time in between.

It had been interesting to organise it all. By the time I was tasked with organising everything, Martin was properly off work so I couldn't really consult him. I just asked the technicians, and Guy, where about he might want to place such a mooring. From last year's documentation I found out what it actually is he puts out there. So it was an educated guess that I got permission for from NRW. (And from three other organisations involved, if not five.) Fortunately, he largely agreed with what I had come up with. In the end, he placed it a few tens of metres from the location I had proposed…

But I am getting ahead of things. First we had to get there. So we did the usual routine of me signing in the students onto the bus, and meeting everybody else at the parking lot. There we needed to do a bit of logistic juggling to get all the material for the mooring (which is quite heavy) as close to its destination as we could with the School van. And we asked the students to carry all the stuff. They did that without complaining! And it was a fair distance.

Once we got there, Martin put the mooring in while explaining why he put it there, why he oriented it the way he did, what the instruments were he put there, and what he hoped it would measure and how. And when everything was in position, and everything was explained, we walked back to the bus, and sat down for lunch.

Setting up the mooring

We now had a few hours to fill until we could send a subset of the students to the slipway in the nearby village, to get onto one of our really small boats and do a set of CTD measurements. That was the only activity we needed to do during high tide! Most other things require low tide. And for reasons of covid, we now had a coach for transport. So everybody had to arrive and leave at the same time. In non-pandemic times, you can transport each group of students to their own activity! But this year, we needed to make long days in the field, as we needed to use both the low and high tides to their maximum. 

I had sorted a few options for activities during this wait for high tide. From the labs I borrowed a set of identification guides. We could just see what we could identify in the way of vegetation, seaweed and molluscs. But I had also borrowed a set of litter pickers from the council. We could do a bit of a concept transect, collecting marine litter! And see how that would work out. We went for the litter. We first had to think about what sort of hypotheses we would want to test, and what sort of data we would need to do that. The student had some good ideas. And then we set off.

On the first day, we had seen that the wave regime on either side of Llanddwyn Island was quite different, so we split the group into and did two trial transects. Then we got together again, and compared what approach each group taken. If he wanted to take this research further, we needed to have a unified approach! So we blended the methods of the two groups to get the best of both, and then split up into smaller groups to do some more transects to get more data. We could all do one! And then we gathered all the plastic found in one bag and went back to the bus again. The bus drove all of us to the village with the slipway, where we waited until all the CTD measurements were done, and then the bus, now full, could head back to Bangor. Martin and I helped Pete, the technician, wrap up for the day and then we could head home too. The second day was a wrap!

17 September 2021

Fieldwork kicks off

 After the last preparations, the time had come to actually start the fieldwork! And we started early. We wanted to start the trip with a walk through the interesting parts of our fieldwork area, but what we find interesting is often only visible during low tide. And we wanted to start in the field! So our timing was decided by the tides. And low tide was early. So we met on the main campus at 7 AM. By our standards, that is not particularly early; in earlier years I have had to students show up at 4:45 in the morning. I met them at the bus stop and took a register. Because of one and a half years of mainly online teaching, and most students not being particularly keen on having their cameras on, I was unusually unfamiliar with this cohort. But that would change!

We headed for the gate of the woodland where we would enter the land managed by Natural Resources Wales. We would there meet a man who would give us the key to that gate. And then we could start!

I got there before the bus; with my modest car I can take a more direct route. I alerted the rest of the staff, who were already there, to the approach of the bus. We asked the students to get off, after which the bus driver drove deep into the woodland to his designated parking spot. The man from NRW showed him the way, and was accompanied by Dei. Together they would then go and meet us, while we started our walk. And we started on my saltmarsh! I told them about that the saltmarsh was probably the best place in the entire system for finding out about the history of said system. If you go any further inland, you are in an erosive environment. If you go further offshore, you are in the high energy environment where enormous amounts of sediment get reworked everyday. Only in the saltmarsh do you get calmer and relatively undisturbed deposition! And therefore a good sedimentary record. And because the marsh gets inundated every tidal cycle you get marine microorganisms in it, and therefore also marine micro-fossils. And these can help you with your interpretation of the sediments.

I next stop was a bit of a walk. We were going to the sand flat, not far from where we would put a mooring in the next day. There Martin did most of the talking. His mooring would be keeping an eye both on that very sand, and also on the currents moving it around, so he had a lot to say about it. By the time they reached it, Dei and the men from NRW, Graham, had rejoined us. And from there we walked around most of the area. Further stops focused on the rocks of Llanddwyn island, and on the difference in wave regime East and West of this promontory. We also looked at the dunes. And then we had a break by the main car park; the figure at some students might need to use the public toilets there. And when we were there anyway, we had some lunch. And after that we went into the dunes, where Graham explained about what his organisation does in the area.

Martin sketching something in the sand

We managed to fit everything quite neatly into the allocated time! So when he was done talking, we went back to where the bus had parked. It was time to go back to SOS! There were things we could only show the students on a screen; if you stand in the landscape, you cannot possibly get a clear overview of it. Sometimes aerial photography, or lidar measurements, or that kind of larger scale views were needed. So we presented there what we couldn't show in the field. And then the first day was already done!

Session in our covid-safe lab

Some of us stayed behind for a bit; we still needed to iron out some details about the logistics for the day after. This would be Martin's day, and he had not participated in the preparations, so we needed to do things such as verify that all the things I had assumed correct. And we made it work! So we could all go home, and get ready for the next day. The first proper day where the science would start! The ball was rolling now, and it wouldn't stop rolling for over a week!

13 September 2021

Final sprint fieldwork

 Organising a field trip is always a lot of work! And quite often, a lot of it has to be done at the last minute. In the last week several things happened: we got permission for the fieldwork from Natural Resources Wales, we arranged access with them, we found out where we are allowed to park (not the usual place), we got permission for placing a mooring, we found out about students being ill, Martin came back from having been gone and needed to be brought up-to-date, the handouts needed to be printed, litter pickers needed to be organised (more about that later), we needed to publish the module website and inform the students of exactly where to be when, et cetera et cetera. It is unavoidable a lot of things are done at the last minute! But this year it was worse. And I will be glad when I am in the field and it has all started. It doesn't help much that straight after the fieldwork, welcome week starts, and I need to be prepared for that too. And welcome week as well has a lot of things that need to be organised at the last minute. I imagine I will dedicate a blog post to that as well…

When I am writing this, it is the evening before. I will need to get out of bed really early as we need to use the low tides! Wish us luck…

The cat checks my preparations 

12 September 2021

Project water butt: tested

 I had recently connected my water butt to the guttering of the extension. I did that when it was dry, of course. And it stayed dry for a while afterwards! But then one night I was lying in bed and I saw a flash. And then I heard thunder. And I knew this would make a difference to my water butt! So in the morning I had a look. And it was full! It only took one thunderstorm. That surprised me.

Notice the reflection on the water surface

I am glad it works. And I don't think I will ever have to get water out of the river again. But one thing I need to sort out now is that it drains into the drains! I still have the remaining guttering, and I can put a piece of garden hose in the overflow hole. This chore will have to wait until after the field trip. For now, it will just spill water wherever! That's okay. But it will be nice to have this project properly finished. 

11 September 2021

Late harvest

 When my pumpkin plant started to make pumpkins I was hoping they would grow big. They showed little sign of doing so. And then I had to put the plant outside because I was going on a hike. It didn't seem to like that very much! Some of its branches turned rather brown. But that didn't do anything bad to the pumpkins. It even grew an additional one.

When I had given up hope that the pumpkins would still get big, and I feared the entire plant would soon die, I decided to go and harvest. I got me three pumpkins! Each one the size of a considerable satsuma. Better than nothing. And I also made a start at the potato harvest. I dug up two plants. The harvest was good! These potatoes will keep me going for a while.

I cooked pumpkin so that night. It was enough for two nights! Next year I want to grow them outside all the way. It looks like the slugs don't like pumpkin, and outside the plant will have a bit more space. And then I can keep my conservatory!

The pumpkins

And the potatoes

10 September 2021

Proper mountain bike trails

 Two weeks after trying out my mountain bike on the nearby trails I took things a step further. I had asked my friend Kate if she wanted to show me some trails in the nearby woods. And she did! So we met up on the parking lot. This was going to be the first time in my life I would do a mountain bike trail! Where I had had my debut, the paths had been designed for pedestrians. I was sure this was going to be different! And I imagined there would be easy trails in there. 

Kate appeared and pulled a rather sophisticated mountain bike out of her car. I wasn't worried about that; I know the important thing was the rider. My bike might be completely inferior to hers, but that would be insignificant compared to the difference in skill level. But we would see how things would go! Kate explained that in the woods, you have to do some of the routes on the gravelly forestry roads. The mountain bike tracks are not an independent network. But the good thing about that is, that you can pick and choose which bits you want to do and which you want to skip.

We started biking up a gentle hill. So far so good. It was actually a bit of a while before we got to the first part of the actual mountain bike trail. I invited her to go first! I know I was going to be very slow. But it was quite a doable route. She was waiting for me at the end of it, where it ended up on the forest road again. And she asked if I wanted to just do this bit again, or go onto the next section, which was a lot more challenging. But I thought things were challenging enough as they were, so I went for a rerun of the original route. So we did!

When we had done it twice we proceeded to the next section; this one would be the challenging one. Kate said there were sections where she gets off, so I knew I would most certainly also get off the bike. Probably very often! And this track indeed was a lot more rocky. I walked many bits of it. At one point I heard someone behind me, so I quickly got off the track. Two people came past with an appropriate speed. I don't think I will get to that level anytime soon!

Kate was waiting for me again, and we had a little break with water and a snack. And then we went to do the third section. That was indeed a bit in between the other two. I got off the bike several times again!

Then we had to decide what we would do next. She mentioned a rather uneventful look a bit further up, so we did that loop as well. Even though she had claimed it was uneventful, I walked several bits of it! When we had done that loop we had to decide what to do next, and I voted for lunch. It was practically noon. So we biked back to the parking lot and got our lunchboxes out. We sat down in the ruins of the mine mill there. Kate there said that we should go to Coed y Brenin some day as well. She has now seen the limits of my capabilities, and figured that there would be trails that would suit me there. It sounds like fun! She also said I may want to hire a mountain bike at least once, just to feel how much difference a better bike makes. I suppose that is a reasonable suggestion. I didn't feel like the bike was struggling with what we had been doing, but you can't compare until you have tried a different bike too! I remember years ago swapping skis with the woman, and noticing how easy skiing can be if you only have the right kit. And I will never be a good skier, just as that I will never be a good mountain biker, but there is a difference between being pretty much hopeless, and vaguely competent.

So what was the verdict? I had fun! But I don't think I'm made of mountain biking material. I think I should just find some easy trails in the surroundings, where I can have some exercise on the bike. Just as an addition to running! I do not want to dedicate the time needed to get good at this, supposing I even could. I know practice makes perfect, but I just never have had the need for speed. Even on my road bike on an asphalt bicycle path I don't go full pelt; it is way too likely that some unobservant dog walker appears out of nowhere and makes your life difficult. And if I come off the bike and hurt myself, I am toast! I live alone; if I can't look after myself, then who will? And I know this is a rather injury-riddled sport. I have not forgot Martin breaking his collarbone and having to deal with seriously reduced quality of life for about a year! So I think I will bike like I climb; with no talent and no ambition, but quite happy to do fairly safe stuff just to be doing something challenging (challenging for me, that is) in the beautiful surroundings with nice people. Come to think of it; that's pretty much what my approach to skiing was as well…

clumsy selfie

coming down a path (pic by Kate)

On this picture it looks like a normal bike path! It was more challenging than that. But indeed; I am a lightweight for getting off here. Pic by Kate

09 September 2021

Community activities

 I mentioned earlier on that Gerlan, one of the original villages that was later absorbed into Greater Bethesda, nowadays has a plant library. It is placed on a little square, which is the location of a chapel that has been demolished. And I recently got an invitation for an event there! There would be a singer, and there would be cake, and it would just be a nice place to have a chat with other people in the community. So I showed up!

Unsurprisingly, my friend Dani was involved in the organisation, so I saw there. I also saw my friends Caro and Juan and their baby. And Judith who lives in that street too. I enjoyed the music (by Dafydd Hedd, who had a very good set) and the cake in a quiet chat with my friends. There also was a piece of paper on which you could indicate what you thought the community could do with this somewhat odd square. I imagined a silent disco. Other suggestions involved a greenhouse, a climbing wall for children, a green screen, and a skateboard ramp. It sounds like there is plenty of inspiration out there! It is already in use for modest amounts of growing plants, both edible and otherwise, and fruit trees, but there is plenty of space for more. I like it if people use spaces like this to boost the community!

Juan jots down an idea

Dafydd Hedd

Nice cake!

Pics by Dani