Young Darwin Scholarship
by Sophie Kitching and Adam McKay
For a week this summer, fourteen young people arrived at Preston Montford for a crash course about the Shropshire countryside. From all four corners of the UK, we had an eclectic variety of interests, ranging from moths and birds to generalists. What we had in common was a natural curiosity and a shared passion for the natural world, in all its shapes and forms, as Darwin did.
When we discovered that we’d been offered places on the scholarship, our squeals of excitement could surely be heard as far away as Shropshire. We were also all slightly apprehensive, of course: would everyone else be able to distinguish the 1,850 species of micro moth? Would they know the difference between a Sciurius vulgaris and Calluna vulgaris?
Over the week, along with copious quantities of cake, we consumed a huge variety of knowledge (and a Harvestman!). We hiked across the beautiful myth-imbued landscape of the Stiperstones, canoed along the rather muddy River Severn, and sniffed mink poo on a stick – in case you were wondering, it smells as foul as you’d expect. There was a long list of highlights, including kingfishers on the river, a surprise encounter with a buzzard, a little egret and otters caught on the camera trap. It would be ignorant to not acknowledge the fact that we also saw great crested newts (don’t worry, we didn’t disturb them). When reflecting on the experience, we think of one word- AWESOME!
As well as being great fun, we all learnt a huge amount over the week, over a wide variety of subject areas. We were fascinated to identify and study springtails in considerable depth, which was a first for many of us. We also gained an insight into botany, learning how to write floral formulae while munching on a surprisingly tasty sorrel leaf. Particularly compelling was learning to distinguish different species of bats from the frequency of their echolocation. Other mammal spots included bank voles, wood mice and a common shrew, all of which were caught using Longworth traps, and of which we were taught to identify the sex.
In essence, it was rewarding, fun, and provided a wealth of indispensable experience. Meeting and learning from inspiring experts was something very special, but equally important was the chance to meet and learn from other enthusiastic and knowledgeable young people our own age.
If you’re interested in ecology, geography, biology, geology, conservation, zoology or the future-of-our-planet-ology, then you should definitely apply to come on the Young Darwin Scholarship programme. You never know, you might be the next Darwin!