Life in the River 2004
Date: 03 Oct 2004
Location: Marlborough


Life in the River


Three hundred people visit ARK's Open Day.

On Sunday October 3rd approximately three hundred adults and children came to see ARK's "Life of the River" exhibition. Thirty one children became junior members of ARK and they were issued with a pack containing an identification guide and a quiz to complete as they went around the laboratories.

In the first laboratory, John Hounslow had assembled an amazing array of aquaria containing trout, grayling, bullheads, lampreys, stone loach, minnows and sticklebacks. A huge stuffed pike stared menacingly from a display case on the wall, while, on the side bench, a mink leered at a nervous water vole.

Those with a botanical bent were able to quiz Peter Marren about the plant-life of the river and enjoy his herbal display which ranged from algae to the increasingly rare Ranunculus.

Further down the corridor were two labs devoted to the invertebrates of the river. These were arranged systematically, commencing with the unicellular organisms such as Amoeba and ending with the aggressive American signal crayfish which have decimated our native species. Once removed from the river it is an offence to return these lobster-like creatures and rumour has it that they provided a tasty hors d’oeuvre at a dinner party in Manton!

Much credit for the invertebrate presentation goes to Colin Deady who was collecting specimens from the river at dawn. Thanks are also due to Tony Hilliar, the senior science technician at the College, for setting up more than thirty microscopes which allowed people to marvel at the anatomy of the flatworms, leeches, beetles and various forms of insect larvae.

As coordinator of the exhibition, and a lifelong teacher, it gave me great pleasure to watch the young children expressing their wonder at the creatures on display. Too often their experiences of wildlife are second-hand images on television or video, whereas here it was flesh and bones biology!

After an hour or so most people were ready for a well-deserved cup of tea provided by Charlotte Hitchmough and her team. Without Charlotte the event would never have got off the ground as she spent many hours on the publicity and information packs.

Hopefully we will repeat this exhibition on a bi-annual basis so that more local people can appreciate the wealth of wildlife that lurks below the surface of the River Kennet.

PS: Keep sending your completed quizzes to me at the Biology Department, Marlborough College, Wiltshire. SN8 1PA. I have had three so far and the closing date is December 1st.

(Sean Dempster, Head of Biology, Marlborough College)