FSC | Field Studies Council

Field Studies Council: Bringing Environmental Understanding to All

1981 Jacky Chase, Huddersfield - FSC Preston Montford

Lots of great memories that I still carry with me, even though it was a long time ago now.....

I was a student placement from Hudds. Poly. I worked for a year alongside Rae Hamilton (from Co. Armagh) who studied at Bradford if my memory serves me correctly.

I remember one of our daily duties was to collect the weather data each day to be sent off to the Met. Office every month end. We also collected specimens from a moth trap that periodically were sent off to Rothampsted Experimental Station. (Lots of data that I eventually used to form my final year project for my first degree)!

Colleagues I worked with/for included Dave P, Dave J, Maggie J, Andy H (all tutors) and of course Adrian Bayley who was Warden at the time. Additionally, other staff included Rob P whose job defied any known job description, plus John M-B and Tony N who spent far too long in 'big' rivers, which gave them both a slightly wrinkled look IMHO.... I did occasionally help out with the sampling or counts of the beasties in their collected samples.

I had first come to PM as sixth form geography student so I had experienced a number of the geography trips from the client viewpoint previously but I can remember going on many of the same trips as an assistant to the tutors - hydrological studies, Ashes Hollow, Human Geography visits to Clun, Ludlow, etc., Berwyn Mountain trips to name but a few.

Rae had also decided to set up a project in readiness for her final year and decided (for better or worse) to survey the sucession of beasties in cow pats. Oh what fun we had collecting cow manure and mixing it all into an homogenous mixture which we the set out using specially fashioned cow pat moulds on netting laid out in a rectangular grid in a field near the centre. Then, having sampled randomly every couple of days we took the required pat and put it through the same sieves we used for bed load sampling out the various eggs/larvae/adults for later identification.

In the kitchens (and I know I will not remember all so apologies to those I miss) there were two Robs, an Ian, Maggie (who was i/c catering), Barbara, Janey and many others.

Another delightful duty Rae and I shared with Rob P (I think) was to keep lit the heating boiler system based in a cellar in the winter by keeping it supplied with fuel (coal?). It was a grim daily job and we had to wear a face mask to avoid some of the noxious fumes produced. When we emerged from the cellar we looked for all the World like miners!

Rob P, on his arrival at the Centre gained great kudos from some by (at least so I was told) sticking his head and shoulders into one of the full pig swill dustbins. Thankfully not an initiation ceremony that took off.....

In the winter I was there ('81/2) they had a good snowfall that blocked the lane at the end of the drive and it gave those who were so inclined, the chance to practice digging snow-holes. There was also a period of record-breaking low temperatures (we were in direct competition with RAF Shawbury for the coldest temperatures recorded in England I think and we got down to about -23 deg C! But ultimately we were pipped at the post).

At the start of the (unbeknown to any of us at the time) cold period, I had been tasked to sleep at the Annexe as we had guests down there. I cycled back the following morning not realising quite how cold it actually was and every time I breathed in my nostrils stuck together - I thought my body had developed a new trick! I only realised afterwards that it was my nostrils icing together! Then when I saw my hair after I arrived back at the Centre it has turned white overnight! On closer inspection it was my breathe freezing in my hair as I cycled down the lane.
On the up side we saw some fantastic hoar frosts over the next couple of weeks!

At about that time, or just after, I can recall some very strange creaking sounds emanating from the river cliff (of the R Severn) that was a boundary of the property in one direction. When we went to investigate it turned out to be ice floes making their way down river! I can also remember, during the snow period, we had adult guests in and they, like us, were snowed in. One visitor had a heart condition and didn't have sufficient medication beyond her intended length of stay, so someone (might even have been me) had to get into Shrewsbury to get hold of some emergency supplies. I also recall shovelling snow off the dining room roof in case its weight was too much for the roof to bear, or was a concern about leaks? (Not sure now). It was decided eventually to clear the main drive of snow to get our guests away, with any tools we could lay our hands on; which turned out to be a couple of spades and a copious number of dining room trays!!! It was a back-breaking job!

It was then decided that we needed to get the bedload trap emptied before the thaw set in proper so Rae, Rob, Andy, Dave and I (I think) set off to divert the brook and get it emptied when temperatures had climbed to a positively balmy -15 degC. I can remember working in teams of two in short shifts to drain the trap and get the bed load out but when our hands came out of the bed load trap water, ice started to form on them. How we didn't all suffer frostbite I'm not sure to this day! As well as this bed load trap we had one set up on Long Mountain somewhere that also had to be emptied regularly, though thankfully we didn't empty this one on this occasion.

Some time after coldest weather was over but I suspect before we began hosting school groups again, there was a cunning plan hatched to number tag all of the fish in our local pond (or was it a farm sewage overflow area?). The poor fish had already been subjected to endless occasions when biology groups had performed mark and recapture activities on them. The fish had so many bits of fin/tail clipped it's a wonder they could manoeuvre at all. So we set about netting the entire fish population of the pond and every fish captured was anaesthetised (as were our hands when we inevitably had to handle the fish once anaesthetised) and had a unique number tag sewn onto it and a small handful of fish scales removed for age analysis. I suspect each fish was also measured and weighed before being stuck back in the pond. Inevitably the casting of the net round the whole pond had to occur on numerous occasions to ensure that all fish had being subjected to the tagging etc. and if ever there was evidence of 'trap happiness' there was one particular big old tench that was caught every single time!

As a complete contrast, I can recall that in the summer time, adult courses were the FSC's bread and butter and Rae and I used to supplement our pay by operating the bar for the princely sum of £2 per night. They were awful long shifts when the OU came to town!

I can also remember going into Shrewsbury for nights out in the 'works car' and we always carefully logged in the mileage book how many miles we travelled and who was in the car so we got correctly charged for petrol out of our pay (about £11.25 a week by then I think). I suspect, looking back, most of my wages went on either petrol or the ale bought at the Three Fishes, Loggerheads or the Old Post Office(?) in town on nights out.

Rae and I took turns to assist a visiting academic called Dr Tony B who was surveying the fauna in the Shropshire meres. It involved a fair bit of rowing every time we visited a mere and we usually did three or four a day, first of all in an inflatable dinghy then in a 'fold-up' (yes fold-up) kit boat. I couldn't decide whether I preferred the faff of inflating and deflating the dinghy at every mere mere we surveyed or the decidedly unnerving prospect of rowing a boat made from a flat piece of plastic given an 'origami treatment'. On probably the last time I saw the inflatable, it was in the cold winter period and TB was keen to survey in the low temperatures. I cannot recall which mere we were on (we had already down two or three and it always involved breaking the ice by jumping up and down in the boat at the waters edge to get us started). At the final mere we broke the ice as normal and continued to break the ice by rocking from side to side and back to front as we headed for the centre of the mere. It was so cold the ice was reforming in our wake.... then, above the sound of crunching ice we heard the unmistakeable hiss of a punctured dinghy. All hope of sampling was abandoned in favour of heading back through the newly formed ice as the dinghy deflated around us. I'm not sure I felt under threat particularly at the time (though my rowing efforts were worthy of an Olympian I am sure), but in the re-telling now I do wonder whether I should have urged my nearest and dearest to take out life insurance against my name at the time!

As you can see, if you have managed to read this far, I had some very memorable times in my year at PM. Certainly it occupies more than 1/52 of the memories I currently keep close, and have used more than a few of my experiences gained during this time in my chosen career which, as it turned out, is as a secondary school teacher (of maths though, rather geography or biology). The FSC certainly helped me to carve out my niche in the World and was a significant contributer to what made me into the person I am today; and reading other memories, it would seem I am not alone in this respect. For this reason I say Long Live the FSC! Congratulations on the 70 year marker and roll on your first Century!