Students see Evrotas
landscape from Mystras
The Greece field trip gives students the opportunity to visit habitats in a different climate to the one we experience in the UK, that is known as a hotspot for biodiversity but is also suffering a range of threats to the environment. We team up with the local research centre to get access to sites of long term importance for endemic wildlife.
The Corinth Canal
The Corinth Canal
During the first phase of the trip students travelled independently to Athens in Greece, which gave scope for personal trips prior to the field course commencing, with several students enjoying the cultural sights in Athens and some travelling further afield towards the coast. Once students met the field trip staff at the hostel in Athens, we took a walking tour to the National gardens to become familiar with the local vegetation and urban wildlife in the Mediterranean whilst getting acquainted with our surroundings. The following day we began our journey to the location for the rest of the trip based in Sparta, where we stopped en-route to marvel at the Corinth Canal that separates the Peloponnese from mainland Greece. We stayed in a simple hotel in Sparta that provides a buffet breakfast and students are in walking distance of supermarkets, shops, and many places to sample the lovely Greek food. 
The trip is centred around the projects that the students have been co-designing with their expedition tutors prior to the field trip, so the first day involves initial site visits and getting familiar with the equipment. Our students were working across two different environments with some groups travelling to a nature reserve one hour north of Sparta, which is an excellent example of a Mediterranean oak woodland. These ecosystems are unique in providing habitats for many endemic and rare species, so understanding the resilience of such environments is important for future sustainable management. 

Investigating wildfire, biodiversity, and climate change impacts 

Students investigated the impacts of changing land management and disturbance on soil quality and the effects of wildfire on soil and plant health. They used specialist equipment to measure soil pH, compaction, density and the capacity of soil to retain water, as well as investigating vegetation diversity and plant health. Others tested the vulnerability of Mediterranean oak trees to climate change using a meter that measures the photosynthetic stress of plants. Students also discussed the social and cultural aspects of environmental challenges with local residents in Sparta.  
Students working in
an ancient woodland
Students working in an ancient woodland

The impacts of physical and chemical environment on river fish

The remainder of the students worked on the Evrotas River catchment that passes through the city of Sparta. The river starts in the Taygetos Mountains and receives melted snow in April bringing a cool flush of water into the warm region. There are several species of fish in the catchment that are unique to the area. We work with local partners (the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research) to identify these rare species at the field sites, so the students have chance to see and record them. At the same time, students measured physical aspects of the river, such as connectivity and barriers in the river system and the size of sediment in the riverbed. Others were measuring the chemical ecology in the river and determining levels of dissolved oxygen, pH and dissolved solids. Students were able to infer how the river quality varied depending on the catchment location and land uses. The river passed through areas of natural forests, olive and orange groves, and urban areas. Lots of wildlife was seen along the way such as snakes, lizards and dragonflies.
Students surveying
sediment in the Evrotas river
Students surveying
sediment in the Evrotas river
Students surveying sediment in the Evrotas river

Exploring Sparta and the surrounds

During their free time, some students walked to the local Spartan ruins and on the final day we walked up to the fortified town of Mystras (Byzantine city) archaeological site. Some students also visited the Museum of the Olive and Greek Olive Oil in Sparta learning about the rich cultural and landscape history of the region. The view from the Taygetus Mountain afforded panoramic sights across the entire catchment, which was a fantastic way to end the field trip.
Mystras Byzantine
archaeological site
Mystras Byzantine archaeological site

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Mountain view from
Kerastaris Nature Reserve
Mountain view from Kerastaris Nature Reserve