Churches, Cathedrals and Countless Options!

On a cold April afternoon, still reeling from the excitement of the second year field trip to Malawi, I officially began my dissertation research.

I visited Guildford Cathedral to meet with the Dean of the Cathedral (Dianna Gwilliams) and Director of Operations (Matt O’Grady) to discuss my dissertation. After a fascinating hour long meeting I had more options than my 10,000 word limit could cater for! Moreover the biggest challenge so far has been deciding on the focus.After much deliberation and assistance from my supervisor, a title was created:

“The ‘Mother Church’ and its parishes: relationships between the central Cathedral at Guildford and local congregations in an Anglican diocese of diverse worship.”

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Truth: Reflections

Today was the penultimate day of my dissertation placement at Truth Consulting and I have mixed emotions. I won’t miss the 6:30am trains and I sure won’t miss the rush hour fight for a space on the tube, but I’m definitely going to miss the incredibly hilarious and talented people I’ve been working with for the last two weeks. Ultimately I’ve learnt so, so much over such a short period of time and this is my attempt to summarise it. Enjoy!079ea69

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224,000 hours of stitching, 3 days of photographing

It’s coming to the end of my time here at Guildford Cathedral. Well, it’s not really – I’m just going on holiday to Mallorca and will be busy doing other things until the end of August (rather than looking at kneelers). I will almost definitely be back in September and it wouldn’t be surprising if I’m still around way after my dissertation is handed in.

Anyway, today was the day that I was set to finish photographing and documenting all 1460 of the cathedral’s kneelers. Or it should’ve been. Turns out there were actually 1600. I still finished, just the final remnants of novelty wore off as the count exceeded the expected.

Kneelers

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BREAKING NEWS: Geography doesn’t have to be about rivers

I’ve had a lot of interest in my project subsequent to my last blog post which has been great – unless you are all just being nice. I’ll take it as the former. With all this attention I was hoping to find a kneeler devoted to Europe for a chance to spontaneously pontificate my political views on the EU referendum. Fortunately for you no such kneeler has been found so instead of economics, bureaucracy and immigration, you will be lectured on culture, geography, and textiles.

On a serious note, don’t mess this up Britain (I’ll refrain from expressing my opinion to prevent this becoming a political debate). Continue reading

Me, Guildford Cathedral, kneelers and … a Hovercraft?

Seeing as I started my placement last Thursday, I’m a bit late with this first blog post, but all I would’ve had to talk about was how I have learnt the hard way why people who commute get grumpy. Nevertheless, any chance I get to wear a blazer and brogues I will grasp with both hands and now that I’m not driving a Corsa which is as old as I am, I genuinely feel like I’m ‘growing up’ a little bit.

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Guildford Cathedral.

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The end of my placement

I finished my placement at Wildwood Trust about a month ago now, and I am still, more than ever, so grateful for this opportunity. I’ve loved it. Although I guess you’ve got to enjoy something a lot if you’re willing to take tubs of defrosting poo on two trains with commuters and school kids…

Throughout this experience, there have been high points and low points, but there’s always something to counteract the low points. The caramel hot chocolate has regularly been my cure and pick-me-up after two hours of sitting on a picnic blanket in the cold and sheltering under a large umbrella with all my research notes to protect them from the rain.

People (and animals) seem to have found my research interesting: when I’m preparing the hessian sacks, the yard cat is often very inquisitive; on some days people (both visitors and keepers) have come up and asked me what I’m doing – and have genuinely wanted to know about my dissertation, which has been lovely, everyone has a story or piece of information to share. On the cold, rainy weekdays however, sometimes the main company I have are the slugs (not a high point!). Those are the days that even Cara and Shria want to hide in their sleeping quarters.

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My company for my research.

This placement has taught me so much about these amazing creatures, and how much the public are fascinated by them. It’s wonderful to think that despite all the technology we have nowadays, and everything that can entertain us, we can all relate well to nature, regardless of age or background.

It’s no surprise we find the lynx so endearing. They are strong, and people are aware of this enough to know that they need to be respected as animals, which is so clear at certain times, such as when they’re feeding or leaping. But they are also cats, and sometimes their behaviour isn’t so unlike that of our pets.

This video shows one of the last repeats I carried out for my research, and I don’t know why they reacted in this way, maybe they were just in a playful mood, but whatever it was, it shows how similar all cats really are (this does not mean I recommend having a pet lynx).

One of the leading questions posed in the debate over rewilding is “can we cope with a wilder Britain?” and I’m starting to think that given enough time, yes, yes we could. We have lived amongst nature before, and, whilst there are exceptions, most people have respect for animals such as lynx, which surely is able to grow and improve over time.

“I love all cats” – The perks of asking the public for their opinion.

I’ve been down to Wildwood a number of times now, and been able to hand out questionnaires as well as do my experiment. There’s two parts to my questionnaires, one side is to be answered before the lynx keepers’ talk and feed begins, and the other side afterwards. Whilst the plan worked in theory, in reality, it’s not so good. People don’t always to think on their day off.  I admit, this is a sweeping statement, and plenty of the people I have asked have answered the questionnaires as hoped. Even when they haven’t followed the instructions exactly, they’ve still taken the time to help me, and I definitely appreciate it!

However, as always, there have been mixed responses, clearly showing how some people don’t tend to listen to the information provided. My favourite of these has to be “If re-introduced to the wild, would they not attack people?”, which is a genuine concern amongst the public, although, with improved education and awareness of the species, this could be corrected. A number of respondents were also clearly concerned with the Scottish independence referendum, and wanted lynx to be in England, not Scotland despite a lack of suitable habitat.

So far, all I’ve talked about are the less helpful responses. It cannot be forgotten that I have had many wonderful answers, from all age groups. It has to be said, that in my opinion, children give the best answers though, as demonstrated by this young boy:

"I love all cats so woul[d] love to see them"“I love all cats so woul[d] love to see them”

The questionnaires are only part of my research though, and I have the fantastic opportunity to do an enrichment-based experiment on the two lynx as well. In my last blog post, (available at: https://rhulgeogplacements.wordpress.com/2014/09/09/starting-my-placement-at-wildwood/), I spoke about what my experiments entailed, but at that time, had not had the chance to start them. By the end of my placement, I will have done 10 repeats of the experiment, and it will hopefully show that the lynx have a preference for either deer or sheep to prey on. The video below shows part of my experiment (despite the poor quality and my lack of editing skills!). The hessian sack furthest from the fence contains a mix of sheep dung and straw, whilst the closest is the roe deer dung and straw mix.

Here is a far better quality video of the lynx at Wildwood from an episode of BBC’s Countryfile in 2011.

To finish of this post, I just want to thank Wildwood for their continued support of my project. Please go to their website (www.wildwoodtrust.org) and look at the recent work they’re doing, including fundraising £50,000 to rescue two brown bears that are currently being kept in awful conditions.

Starting my placement at Wildwood.

If someone had asked me a year ago what my dissertation would involve, there is no way I would have replied “emailing people asking for their deer poo”. Yes, that is just the start of my project. I’m looking at the potential reintroduction of Eurasian lynx into the Scottish highlands and the public’s views surrounding this.

I can almost guarantee that you are wondering how deer droppings fit into all of this.

When it is being suggested that we bring back a predator to Britain, the first thing many people worry about is what will it eat? No, lynx don’t eat humans. But there is a real threat of the lynx preying on livestock, rather than wild animals, which is a concern to farmers and the general public. I will be testing whether the two lynx in captivity at Wildwood will prefer deer or sheep to prey on. Don’t worry, I won’t be giving them live sheep and deer, this is where the dung comes in. I’m planning on filling two sacks, one with sheep dung and one with deer dung and placing them both into the lynx enclosure. (Hopefully) the two lynx will show a preference to one of the sacks, which would suggest their prey preference in the wild in Scotland.

The Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx) is the largest of the lynx species, and is the third largest predator in Europe, after the brown bear and grey wolf. These three species could all be seen in the wild in Britain until around the 18th and 19th centuries, but now, we don’t have any top level carnivores here. I’ve had a lot of people asking me what a lynx actually is, and it’s a cat. Not the kind the old lady down the road has a collection of, nor is it a big cat on the scale of a tiger or a lion, but somewhere in between, around the size of a border collie dog. The photo below is of one of the lynx at Wildwood (photo credit: Butcher, 2012).

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Wildwood is located in Herne Bay, Kent and is home to over 200 native animals. Whilst you can’t see all of these species in the wild today, they have all existed in Britain at various times in the past. Animals you can see here range from the grey wolf and reindeer to birds such as the stork and barn owl, as well as reptiles, for example the European pond tortoise.

I’m really excited to start my placement at Wildwood (more information about the Trust at www.wildwood.org), and if you’d like to follow my progress, then there’ll be further posts both here and on twitter, at www.twitter.com/amyshorter_geog

Halfway through!

I am now starting my second week here, and I’m pretty much settled into the attic office in Twickenham where StreetInvest is based. Over the last week, I have been learning at an exponential rate – about the monitoring and evaluation process that an NGO goes through, collecting information on local schools to contact, reading through and critiquing the training modules actually used by StreetInvest with street workers, just to name a few of the things I’ve been up to. I am amazed at the trust that has been put into me this week, being involved in work that it actually useful to the charity. Although at first this was incredibly daunting, now it’s very exciting!

One of the most exciting things about my placement is applying skills and knowledge that I’ve learnt in the classroom to the work that I’m doing here. Some of that is geographical and directly related to degree modules, such as theories associated with participation in development. Some of it has been through exercising my A level in French whilst translating questionnaires from the Democratic Republic of Congo (with mixed success and some help from Google Translate!) and some of it has been through using tools that you don’t realise you’re being taught. A family friend told me, before coming to university, that employers don’t mind what subject you study as long as you learn to think. Although I’m sure that’s not always the case, I think I’m starting to understand what they meant. In a university context, you don’t realise that learning how to structure essays correctly and understand statistics will actually be of any use. But now, in a work context, I understand how helpful it is that I’ve been taught to change my writing style depending on the context, and how to work the dreaded Microsoft Excel!

In terms of how my dissertation is coming along – thankfully, in leaps and bounds! Being honest with you, before last week, I was concerned that my research topic was a bit of a flop, and that it wasn’t really something worth looking into. However, with access to StreetInvest’s databases and the first interview with someone who works for a network of children’s charities (the first of many more interviews I hope!), I am starting to feel like 10,000 words is never going to be enough to cover everything I’m finding out.

I am fantastically grateful to StreetInvest for having me here, and it’s been amazing to see first-hand the hard work that goes into running an organisation like it. I will be writing another post at the end of the week as my placement is finishing but for now, back to work!