The Life of a Dunescapes Placement Student, by Katie

'Placements are invaluable to students like me.' Find out how university student Katie got involved in citizen science and public engagement activities during her placement with National Trust at Studland Bay.

First of all, a little background of who I am. My name is Katie, and I am in my second year at the University of Reading studying BSc Zoology. I am one of the five citizen science placement students at Studland Bay as part of Dynamic Dunescapes in the summer of 2021.

I began looking for a placement in the middle of lockdown, unsure if completing a summer placement would be possible. During my search, I came across the Dynamic Dunescapes website. The idea of sitting behind a desk for my whole placement was not a perfect picture for me, so I quickly applied and could not wait to start.

A group of happy volunteers waves at the camera from a gazebo on the sand

I had visited Dorset on family holidays when I was younger so had good memories of the local area.  I was eager to learn about the wildlife, vegetation and all about the dunes, as I admit I did not know much about it before I started. Over the five weeks, I quickly learnt the ropes and about how the dunes have become over-vegetated and over-stabilised and the need for a mosaic landscape.

I was excited about improving my identification skills of new species and learning more about survey techniques. It was the first time that I had seen a sand lizard, wood (heath) tiger beetle, correctly differentiate between a smooth and grass snake and learnt to identify many positive and negative indicator species on the dunes. A positive was gaining skills that I wasn’t expecting, including completing a QGIS course to map our data and handling specialist equipment such as using a differential GPS and a water quality test kit. These are invaluable skills that can help me in the future with different projects.

A small brown female sand lizard sunbathes on a rock
A smooth snake pictured in someone's hands
A tiny blue and grey butterfliy rests on the top of a grass

Apart from completing our projects and collecting data, it was beautiful to be surrounded by the dunes every day. The dunes captivate all your senses, from the smell of bog myrtle, the spongey texture of Claudia lichen under your shoes after the rain, the call of a dartford warbler to seeing the glimpse of lizard's tail as you attempt to ID it. It was a pleasure to be on the dunes but being a part of a positive and welcoming team who are passionate and care about nature, made the placement even better. I now find myself walking through the dunes slowing down and paying attention and spotting everything that I have been shown. The team and the group of students I was with were always happy to share their knowledge and experiences and it was great to learn from their prospective.

Three students pictured in the sand dunes in rain clothes

Even though I was doing a citizen science placement, I was able to get involved with the engagement side. I wrote and illustrated stories about the dunes for the new nature tots group, helped pull pines with Planet Purbeck, got involved with world sand dune day. I was Iucky enough to witness nightjars displaying and glowworms shining bright in the heather. I really enjoyed participated in mindful movement, an activity that I shall continue after my placement.

Placements are invaluable to students like me. They are an opportunity to find out what we may or may not want to pursue in the future as a career. Nothing was out of the question on the placement; if we wanted to be involved with something, we could. This helped me understand the aspects that I loved and opened my mind to options I might not have previously thought about. I will never forget my placement, as I gained so much from it. I am excited to finish my third year at University and get stuck into similar projects.

About the Author

Katie McArthur
Dunescapes Placement Student

Katie is in her second year studying Zoology at the University of Reading. This summer she completed a citizen science placement at Studland Bay, as part of her placement she conducted fieldwork across the dunes.