Suffolk set to inspire the next generation of conservationists

Dr Nic Bury carrying out some field research

Dr Nic Bury carrying out some field research - Credit: Archant

The wonderful and diverse natural environment of Suffolk will act as an outdoor classroom for students starting on a new degree course in the county this autumn.

Dr Bury wants his students to study the Deben saltmarshes Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Dr Bury wants his students to study the Deben saltmarshes Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

Building on its new-found independence, the University of Suffolk is launching an additional 25 or so courses from September including a BSc (Hons) in Wildlife, Ecology and Conservation Science.

Over three years undergraduates will work through a wide range of subjects from ecosystems and cell biology to practical conservation and field research skills.

“Initially we wanted something broad and maybe over time we will specialise in an area,” said Dr Nic Bury, who along with course leader Dr Christopher Turner will oversee the programme, which will start with 10 students this year and build up to a yearly intake of 20 by 2020.

“You can’t do anything in isolation - a subject like conservation brings in so many different concepts and sciences.

“Most of our students will be aged 18 or 19 and although they will have a passion for wildlife they may not know what area they would like to specialise in.

“Our aim is to build on that passion and enthusiasm for the subject and underpin it with science and practical projects.”

Mr Bury, who was previously a lecturer at King’s College London, is an expert in aquatic ecotoxicology and has written papers on how organisms are responding to the accumulation of chemicals and compounds found in today’s waterways.

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And while his work takes him to the laboratory, he prefers to be in nature, learning from experience, and he believes Suffolk provides an excellent backdrop for these activities.

“I have a strong belief that you learn more by being out and seeing things than you do by looking at a text book,” he continued.

“For example, you can sample a river and find there is nothing living there, and then you look around and try to piece things together.

“When we were developing the course, one of the things we wanted to tap into was the wonderful countryside we have in Suffolk and to use it as exemplar in terms of the habitat and the diversity we have here.

“I’d love to take them out to places like the saltmarshes of Deben and to find sites of river restoration in the area and to use that as a means of talking about some of the pressures that are on our aquatic eco-systems. We will also be visiting woodlands to look at soils.”

With this in mind, the university has linked up with a number of organisations to provide learning opportunities for students. These include Suffolk Wildlife Trust, the Environment Agency, Cefas and Eden Rose Coppice, as well as Stowmarket-based malt producing company Muntons, which is renowned for its work around sustainability.

Perhaps the most exotic partnership is with Colchester Zoo, which will be teaching a module on zoo management and offering opportunities to visit a conservation project it runs at the UmPhafa Nature Reserve in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa.

“We hope to complement the hard science with the practical realities of working in conservation in the field,” added Mr Bury, who believes it is more important than ever that people turn their attention to conservation and our impact on wildlife.

“As a nation, and certainly in Suffolk, there are so many people who are passionate about nature and wildlife and we need to make our voices heard.

“In recent years, there have been so many declines in the numbers of insects, swifts, North Sea cod, for example.

“It is depressing but on the other side there are so many people who are interested and who want to do something.

“That is the wonderful thing about education - whenever you give a talk or a lecture you don’t know who you might inspire - the hope is that one person takes one thing you have said and goes on to do good things with it.”

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