Guest post: Track a Tree and international education

Christine Tansey's picture

Today we have a guest post from Barbara Helm at the University of Glasgow. She has been taking part in Track a Tree at the Scottish Centre for Ecology and the Natural Environment (SCENE) by Loch Lomond, and recently used the project to introduce some ecological principles to veterinary students:

A day out in the field: “Track a Tree” in international Wildlife and Livestock Management education

In late February, 2015, the woodlands surrounding Loch Lomond offered an unusual sight: a class of final-year students of Veterinary Medicine, in their blue “University of Glasgow” jackets, were measuring tree canopies and circumference, and searched the ground for early signs of spring flowers. Even more unusually, half of them had come from Botswana for a joint course in Glasgow. As one can see from the picture, there was lively action on the day: the students collected the baseline information for setting up trees, asking lots of questions and having lots of fun at the same time. For many, it was a first exposure to science in the woods (or to a Scottish forest, for that matter).


The course was led by Nick Jonsson from Glasgow’s School of Veterinary Medicine, and the site was the University’s field station, the “Scottish Centre for Ecology and the Natural Environment” (SCENE). Nick’s idea for the course is to familiarize the future vets with wildlife, partly for management, and partly to understand the connections between the natural and anthropogenic worlds. This required them to get some idea how ecologists work ... and how the natural environment changes. “Track a Tree” was ideal for this: it offered a hands-on exercise and also made the students think about several important issues. 

These issues included thinking about trees and woodlands in the first place; thinking about organisms in an ecosystem context; thinking about climate change, and how it may affect the different components of an ecosystem; and finally, how the public can be engaged in observing wildlife, and in feeding back to scientists to enable them to tackle pressing questions. Such questions could examine the possible spread of diseases to humans, livestock and wildlife in a rapidly changing world.

Barbara Helm, University of Glasgow