Down on the Farm
Ecologists get down and dirty for Glastonbury
Mud and music aside, portaloos are a perennial preoccupation for festival goers. Visitors to this year’s Glastonbury, however, will be enjoying compost toilets, and thanks to a team of enthusiastic young ecologists festival goers will be able to dig a bit deeper into the workings of the compost loo.
The ecologists from Lancaster, Cambridge and the Open University will be bringing their stall – Sex & Bugs & Rock ‘n Roll – to Glastonbury for the first time this year. Over the past two years they have wowed the crowds at Wychwood, Larmer Tree and Green Man with the fun side of ecology.
Festival goers who drop round to Sex & Bugs & Rock ‘n Roll will be able to discover why compost loos pong less than their chemical counterparts, and why you need to take a scoop of sawdust with you when you use the waterless dunnie. A series of jars containing different materials will illustrate how long things take to decompose and how important microbes are to the process.
Continuing with compost, the stall will be hosting a terrarium containing soil, a cow pat and some native UK dung beetles to reveal why we’re not knee-deep in the tonnes of dung that animals produce each year. During the course of the festival, visitors will be able to monitor the beetles’ progress as they bury the dung.
Rounding off the dung theme, festival goers can play the ever-popular ‘Whose poos?’ (the #poogame) by matching 3D rubber replicas of animal poos to pictures of the correct animal.
Dr Emma Sayer, an ecologist from Lancaster University, came up with the idea for Sex & Bugs & Rock ‘n Roll for the British Ecological Society’s centenary celebration in 2013 as a way of making research accessible to everyone, and encouraging researchers out of the comfort zone of the campus and into the mud-splattered crowds of music festivals.
“You don’t need a lab coat or a PhD to enjoy science,” she said. “Ecologists love going to festivals and we’re certainly used to muddy fields. We’re really passionate about what we do, so having a bit of fun at music festivals is a brilliant way of sharing our enthusiasm for ecology.”
Other activities to delight festival goers include ‘Magical mushrooms’, which uses smell pots to test visitors’ sense of smell and demonstrate the surprising aromas that different fungi produce, and ‘How gross is your festival kit’.
“We’ll be inviting people to take a seat on the ‘swab throne’ and pick an item of clothing or festival gear they’d like us to swab,” Emma explained. “We plate the swabs on agar gel, label them with the visitor’s name or alias, and culture them for a few days. Then we take a photograph of each plate and post the images on the festival ‘Hall of Shame’ where people can download images of their very-own festival bacteria.”
Sex & Bugs & Rock ‘n Roll is just one activity in a national set of events to get everyone to come and take part in the Great British Summer of Science to celebrate 50 years of world-leading environmental science funded by NERC.