Dorset trip- Consolidating Water Science and Management in the field
By Aaron Acuda (WSPM 2020-2021)
This year, unlike the previous years, the residential field trip was at the end of the course. The disruptions caused by COVID were obvious. Nevertheless, having a field trip at the end of the course was one of the silver linings of the dark cloud. It was advantageous because the vast readings, classes, talks, and discussions during the year became clear when we observed their practical applications in the field. No wonder the questions the students asked at various locations were insightful since they were able to integrate the different course themes into the field. Often, the discussions exceeded the planned times. In the trip, there are key things that stood.
Visit to Maiden Castle
Dorset is a unique part of the UK with most of what we require to know about water. It has unique climatic, hydrological, ecological, economic, political, and social dimensions that provide an exciting opportunity to explore water management. For example, the geology composed mainly of chalk provided an important location for groundwater discussions. The geological discussions started off the field trip at a marvellous location at Maiden Castle, one of the largest Iron age hillforts in Europe and a World heritage site because of the unique rock composition.
Wessex Water groundwater abstraction station
The day got more interesting at the Friar Waddon groundwater pumping station of Wessex water. Since the aquifer where the pumping station is located is mainly recharged through rainwater infiltration, it is liable to contamination from the extensive agriculture in the area. Nitrate and pesticides contamination of groundwater were the major issues. It was interesting to learn how the company (Wessex Water) addresses the issues through catchment-based management (CBM), working with farmers in a win-win approach. For example, they pay farmers for their yield deficit if they give up certain quantities of fertiliser. They combined CBM with engineering solutions such as the multimillion cryptosporidium filtration plant that enables the company to comply with drinking water standards.
Visit to Freshwater Biological Association to learn more about macroinvertebrates
On the second day, there was no other place better than the River Frome and Piddle catchments (both rivers flow towards Poole Harbour) to learn about surface water quality issues, most importantly, the use of macroinvertebrates to monitor water quality. It is also interesting that much of the surface water is abstracted for various uses, including agricultural, industrial, and fisheries uses. Thus, river augmentation schemes are typical in the area to maintain environmental and base flows.
St Augustine’s Well
The visit to St. Augustine’s Well, a holy well in Cerne Abbas, dating back to the 9th Century, relates more to this year’s World Water Day theme of valuing water. Here, water is conceptualised as sacred, a source of fertility, and a place of celebration. It attested to the multiple ways people view, conceptualise, and value water beyond what is delivered in people’s taps.
“We can use such narratives behind water to create powerful stories that can foster communication of climate change, environmental, and water issues”—Kevin Greskch, WSPM Course director.
Students at Durdle door, Lulworth
There was no way we could have gone to Dorset and not reached Lulworth Village and the Durdle door. Lulworth (Jurassic coast) is the only English natural World heritage site famous for its distinctive coastline. The Durdle door area has all the geological successions from upper chalk to upper Jurassic. Besides the learning, we also went down on record as part of thousands of tourists that visit the location every year.
Discussions at the coastal management and flood protection schemes
As Grey and Shadoff (2007) argued, water extremes (too little or too much) cause insecurity. Flooding is one of the most common water security risks in the UK, and Poole, a low-lying coastal city, is at high risk. Discussing flood risk and the coastal defence schemes were the activities for day four. Poole council invests heavily on flood protection and coastal defence schemes to protect the property and the people. Poole, according to the city council, is where the most expensive estates are in the UK. It was thus fascinating to explore the issues of justice between the rich and the poor in funding the defence schemes and how best to implement the funding mechanisms.
Pictures at Wessex Water treatment plant, Poole
The last day before leaving for Oxford, we stopped at one of the Wessex Water treatment plants in Poole. The students seemed to agree with one of the professors, David Johnstone, that wastewater is more exciting, and that water treatment processes reveal human behaviour. Clearly, a lot of work goes into ensuring that safe water is delivered to people’s taps as well as ensuring that wastewater is treated to a standard that meets the various standards. The issues may not dominate the public discourse on the wastewater side but are crucial, sometimes beyond water supply issues.
Of course, it was also a fun trip, where the students got more chances to bond with their peers and the professors, play a couple of games, and as water students, swim. It was also an opportunity for the students and the staff to reflect on the year and the future.
“The field trip reinforced the course learnings, but more importantly, it reminded me of the bond we shared, as a collective part of something greater. It was the perfect way to come together one last time, and celebrate each other, before we embarked on our individual quests for making the world perhaps a slightly better place”— Medha Mukherjee
Credits to all the professors, facilitators at the various locations we visited, and the students who went for the field trip and made the experience worthwhile.