One of my favourite parts of my undergraduate course in Environmental Science was the field trips. Whether wading waist deep in canals collecting macro-invertebrates (resulting in a mini ecology lesson for nearby fascinated schoolboys), scrambling up steep slopes to investigate pollination methods of Euphorbia plant species (including the toxic cactus I almost face-planted into), distinguishing the preferred eating habitats of the endangered red squirrel (aka collecting eaten pine cones), sifting through piles of wet leaves to determine invertebrate diversity in different woodland habitats (and getting some strange looks while lugging around a spade and black plastic bags in the forest), examining acid mine damage (turns out the whistle of the wind was an actual whistle help signal from a lost group), my favourite had to be trudging knee deep through peat bogs.
So when a friend who is undertaking her Phd asked me to help with her project, I couldn’t resist, particularly not when I heard she was working on peatlands. So hired as the chauffeur/technical work for the week, we set off last Saturday down to a tiny village in County Cork. The small bay had layers of peat and sand to be investigated. Considering we looked dodgy with enormous filthy waterproof clothing and wierd equipment the locals were very welcoming and interested in what we were doing.
So what actually happened was a classic case of adapting to the circumstances. The original route to get to the beach was impossible, a new steep dirt track with many potholes and covered in brambles which was still relatively navigable was discovered. The tide came in quicker than expected, resulting in many very early mornings. The temperature dropped, the extra few pairs of socks came in handy. The most amazing GPS tracker ever didn’t work with a Vodaphone SIM, thankfully O2 still had an occasional signal in the remote bay. The augering was difficult thanks to the suction in the peat, we went to sleep each night with aching muscles. The actual coring was nigh impossible. Why did we take only X amount of cores – weeell it was all we could manage with our limited manpower #overlyhonestmethods. It was an experience all right, but nothing compares to the fact you are walking over the remains of a 2000 year old forest set in peatland, covered by sand. The excitement of finding a charcoal layer and listening to the local history to try and piece everything together. Only two questions remain – I wonder if there was any tephra present? and how long will it take for the souvenir piece of wood I took to decay?