Keele University Arboretum
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Teaching and Research
Having such extensive grounds means that we have, in effect, our own nature reserve! As such they are a valuable resource for both teaching and research as well as promoting public awareness of the environment. On this page staff explain some of the ways in which they make use of our arboretum and the wider estate.
Individual trees and areas of woodland behind the Huxley Building and down behind Keele Hall are used in a variety of undergraduate modules that I teach in both Biology and Applied Environmental Science. This is mostly in one hour tutorial slots so the closeness of the trees and woodland to the teaching buildings is a great bonus. I also use them for three hour long practical sessions where the variety of different types of tree stand, the range of trees species and their different ages from saplings to old veteran trees allows a wide range of different possible exercises.
The woods and trees are also used for longer final year undergraduate and masters research projects. These have varied from looking at carbon sequestration across the campus and assessing the volume of dead wood against national standards, to investigating the growth rates of individual trees in relation to weather patterns and pollution.
Ralf Sneyd was one of the first people to introduce Rhododendron ponticum into the country so it is appropriate that a number of students are working on rhododendron-related projects on Keele Estate. Two French exchange students did remote sensing of rhododendrons in formal gardens this summer (they have made a poster of their findings), others carry out field surveys in the spruce and pine plantations as part of LSC-10033 Ecology and Environment I hold an invasive species tutorial for LSC-30017 Trees in their Environment, and did tour of campus to discuss biosecurity issues (Japanese knotweed) as part of Biosecurity conference seminar in June.
A research plot has been established in Keele Woods to help students better understand growth and yield of commercial tree species. Students on LSC-40026 Trees, forests and global change, run by Peter A. Thomas and Sarah L. Taylor, took a leading role in establishing the permanent sample plot, tagging trees with unique numerical tags so that their growth can be tracked each year. The plot will be maintained by Sarah L. Taylor, and will provide a vital tool to demonstrate how accurate quantification of annual growth is carried out, which is a key part of sustainably managing a forest.
I run a moth trap in the walled garden and am using the data to monitor changes in the moth population compared with counts that I carried out in the 1970s and 80s. Some species have almost disappeared in that time while other have colonised.
Last year I started to use the grounds for a widening participation class "World of Insects". The Keele campus provides a safe environment for school children to work in.
Guided walks around the campus and grounds are held regularly. These include lunchtime walks for staff and students which regularly attract 30-40 people. Walks in conjunction with special events are also laid on.
Currently I use the arboretum in teaching etc as follows:
Open Day / Visit Day activities; Guided walks with applicants/visitors a few times each year. We take visitors on a short guided walk that introduces them to the way we use the arboretum within our teaching as a "green laboratory" in which we can conduct classes and students can carry out independent project research. We take visitors along the terrace above the walled garden, past the clock house, through the lawned area near the meteorological observatory and down to Lake 1.
1st-year tutorial activities: field-walks with students approximately twice per year. We use the arboretum as an outdoor classroom in which students can be introduced to "real world" examples of the topics we are discussing in tutorials. For example we use Lake 1 as an example of sediment transfer and vegetation succession.
1st-year practical class surveying: approximately 12 hours teaching per year. The Arboretum provides a good subject for surveying training. I use areas around Keele Hall, near to Lindsay Hall and at the western end of the sports fields for students to learn the basics of plane tabling, traverse survey and levelling by making maps of the topography and the distribution of vegetation types, including trees that students can find out more about on the arboretum database.
1st-year local fieldcourse activity: whole-day surveying exercise, twice per year. Similar to the exercise above, but an extended version giving students an opportunity to create a more substantial map. The arboretum provides space and areas of mapping interest that make this project feasible, and save us the expense and logistical problems of getting a coach to go off campus.
2nd-year practical class: multi-week project based around lake-1 and the woods (ZPR runs this), including surveying, soil, water, vegetation, etc. Students carry our data collection over an extended period in the woodlands near to Keele Hall, and the analyse their samples in the Woodlands Geoscience Laboratory.
3rd-year teaching: field-walks with students in "Inspirational Landscapes" module once or twice per year. In this exercise students in their final year are invited to take the class on a short field walk to explain what aspects of the Keele landscape inspire them in relation to their Geography course. As this is student led there is no strict venue, but the arboretum provides a broad stage within which students can frame the activity.
Dissertation work: some students use the grounds / arboretum for their dissertation data collection. For example the lake, the stream, and the vegetation including trees and the human use of the arboretum all provide suitable topics for student independent research.