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Cambridge students team up with Sanger Institute to develop a hub of biodiversity

Cambridge students team up with Sanger Institute to develop a hub of biodiversity.

A team of learners at Cambridge Regional College has been busy creating a centre of biodiversity at the college’s site in Cambridge.

The Darwin Tree of Life community project, launched in collaboration with the Wellcome Sanger Institute in September 2022, has been working to measure the variety of plants, animals and insects present on the campus.

Following a visit by a team of scientists from Sanger and the University of Oxford, an outdoor space at the college was chosen for the project and a thorough survey using set traps was used to determine the type of plants, their dimensions, and the size of raised beds required. The students also undertook their own survey the following month to quantify the diversity of bug life present to ensure that the environment was appropriate for other life forms to prosper.

This cross-departmental project has been established to foster scientific skills with the aim of increasing the employability of the college’s supported learning students. These young people, members of the Green Team, Aspire Groups and Horticulture Groups, are enrolled on programmes that are specifically designed to help develop their life skills and independence and to provide them with transferrable skills that will help them gain future employment. Furthermore, they provide opportunities for the learners to engage with the natural environment in their local community, with the resulting benefits that this brings to their own health and wellbeing needs.

This initiative, spearheaded by Dr. Nikki Chapman from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, was funded through an application to the Darwin Tree of Life project’s Enabling Communities Fund, which provided a budget set at £1,800. This money has financed the harvesting of willow to help form a fence and an arch, plant growth and imbedding, groundwork formation, raised bed creation, path excavation and fence construction. With the help of the college’s construction students, the result is now a space brimming with life, providing an oasis of tranquillity for humans to enjoy alongside their various shared inhabitants!

Jeremy Lloyd, Assistant Principal SEND & Designated Safeguarding Lead, of Cambridge Regional College, says,

‘This venture is part of the Darwin Tree of Life project, dedicated to understanding the genomes of all known species of animals, plants, fungi and protists in Britain and Ireland.  This fantastic scheme actively supports students with their understanding of local biodiversity and is now well underway. Our opening ceremony, on the 16th June, is a chance for representatives from the Wildlife Trust, Wellcome Sanger Institute and more, to really see what has been established here – it’s incredible!

The students are now working hard to maintain and improve this new and exciting biozone which has significantly developed the garden area to encourage fauna onto the campus at Kings Hedges Road. Showcasing the ability of our students in areas such as budgeting, time-management, research skills, development of gross motor skills, tidying, preparing, planting, and developing wood skills, individuals have gained hands-on experience with a professional slant. Their drive to succeed has been inspiring to see and the hub itself is a wonderful attraction on campus welcoming a vast array of species to build their nests on the tree of life’s branches.’

Gordon Baines, Outdoor Education Instructor in the Supported Learning team, says,

‘The new space will give students an outside learning area for forest school and garden activity programmes, focussing on the environment, the different seasons and what suits a natural, outdoor place. It will offer students holistic growth through frequent sessions outside that supports exploration and aided risk taking in a variety of activities, with the aim of developing confidence, self-esteem, and hands-on work experience in a natural setting.’

Dr. Nikki Chapman, from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, says,

‘What I enjoy about working on the Darwin Tree of Life project is how its huge geographical scope is so tightly linked to local activities. While our scientists are scouring habitats across Britain and Ireland in a mission to find every species and sequence their genomes, the project also supports local biodiversity and people, connecting those same scientists with their communities. It has been amazing to work with such a dedicated team at Cambridge Regional College, and I am excited to see how their efforts bear ecological fruit.’

With the new inclusion of wildflowers, plans for the biodiversity hub are to continue growing blooms, blossoms and more, that will provide bursts of colour to attract pollinators such as bees, butterflies, and other wildlife. Students also plan to build bug hotels and beetle banks to increase on the energy and excitement that is developing as part of the Sanger Project.

Cambridge Regional College is a leading further education college with campuses in Cambridge and Huntingdon. The college is graded Good by Ofsted and Strong for Skills.

It provides a wide range of vocational learning opportunities for students leaving school with vocational study programmes, apprenticeships, and higher education through to adults looking to upskill, gain qualifications, get back into the workforce or take up a new hobby.

The Darwin Tree of Life project is a collaboration of biodiversity, genomics, and analytics partners with an ambitious goal: to sequence the genomes of every animal, plant, fungi and single-celled protist in Britain and Ireland. Founded in 2019, we have now built a world-leading genomics pipeline, locating organisms in the wild, extracting their DNA, sequencing, and assembling that data into reference-quality genomes, and publishing this freely for researchers to use worldwide.

We believe our efforts – and those of our global partners on the Earth BioGenome Project – will help transform biology in many ways, from conservation and green technologies, to discovering new biomedicines and better understanding the evolution of life on Earth.

The Wellcome Sanger Institute is a world leading genomics research centre. We undertake large-scale research that forms the foundations of knowledge in biology and medicine. We are open and collaborative; our data, results, tools, and technologies are shared across the globe to advance science.

Our ambition is vast – we take on projects that are not possible anywhere else. We use the power of genome sequencing to understand and harness the information in DNA. Funded by Wellcome, we have the freedom and support to push the boundaries of genomics. Our findings are used to improve health and to understand life on Earth.

Wellcome supports science to solve the urgent health challenges facing everyone. We support discovery research into life, health, and wellbeing, and we’re taking on three worldwide health challenges: mental health, global heating, and infectious diseases.

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