Teaching and Research
Having such extensive grounds means that we have, in effect, our own nature reserve!
Our extensive grounds 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.
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.
Our Environmental Science and our Environment and Sustainability degrees utilise Keele's campus when training students in fieldwork techniques, including sampling strategy design, habitat assessments, soil and water quality measurements, invertebrate surveys, vegetation surveys and environmental impact assessment. Students in these environment degrees also commonly use the many and varied habitats on campus as field sites for their final year independent research project dissertations.
The Year 1 Geology students make use of the Keele Arboretum to learn about navigation using the Global Positioning System (GPS). After a tutorial on using GPS, the students are provided with a map of part of the Campus. They visit the area allocated and use a handheld GPS unit to obtain a grid reference for a number of trees. Each grid reference is stored as a waypoint within the memory of the GPS unit. They also record information such as species name as well as marking the approximate position of the tree on their paper map. When they have completed the survey, they return to the lab in order to have the tree waypoints uploaded into digital mapping/Geographical Information System (GIS) software. Overall the class provides Geology students practical experience in using GPS via a simple field-based exercise and to illustrate how data acquired via a GPS can be integrated with map-based data using GIS software. They also gain an appreciation of the some of the strengths and limitations of using GIS in a fieldwork setting.
I use the grounds to carry out my drone practicals, as the campus is perfect for it. We usually go to the end of the new development site, as we can drive all the equipment there and it is very quiet, so we can do all the demonstrations without any risk to property or the public.
Geology use the Clock House Drive and the Keele Amphitheatre, when accessible, for the teaching of geoconservation concepts. The "Amphitheatre", the quarry used for building stone for the original Keele Hall and later landscaped for the grounds of the later, present hall, together with Clock House Drive, exhibit excellent exposures of the late Carboniferous "Butterton Sandstone" deposited in an ancient river around 305 million years ago. The sites are used to promote discussion regarding how geological sites can be conserved and managed as part of developing a wider public understanding of geological science.
Second-year Geography students complete a module called ESC-20029 Practical Physical Geography. During this module students act as Environmental Consultants and use a range of specialist skills and techniques to collect and analyse data to write an industry standard Environmental Baseline Survey. The students work on and around the Keele lakes for approx two hours every week during the first seven weeks of Semester One. The students analyse water samples from the lakes to investigate how water chemistry changes spatially around the lakes, measure how much water flows into the lakes from the stream inflows, measure groundwater through piezometers around the lakes, create geomorphological maps and investigate how soils change because of slope.