By Celeste Kellock and Chelsea Fletcher
This year the MSc Environmental Protection and Management and MSc Soils and Sustainability field trip was to Morocco. One of the great parts of an environmental degree is the opportunity to take part in field work – you get to experience data collection, analysis, results and interpretation – the full cycle! How long was this trip if we got to go through the full cycle? One week. Yes, we traveled to a foreign country and collected, analysed, and presented data all within a week. If you were thinking of starting one of these courses but are now worried about the course load- don’t worry, it wasn’t all work and no play. We had quite an exciting week with ample amounts of opportunity to experience the local customs alongside our research.
We touched down in Marrakech where we were greeted with a feast of Moroccan dishes (this was a very good start and pretty representative of the volumes of food we would be getting the whole time we were here). We spent the first night in Marrakech exploring the markets:
The markets are full of colour in the form of texture and food! The UK could definitely do with this bulk food/no plastic approach!
The following day we travelled up to our base location for the week, Imlil, situated in the Atlas Mountains. This gorgeous mountain village was amazing, and because our group was so large, we had pretty much had a whole riad (the Moroccan version of a hostel / hotel) to ourselves!
A pretty sweet base camp, with some great spaces for relaxing as well.
We were put in to different fieldwork groups depending on the topics that we had expressed an interest in:
- Land use management
- Soil and erosion
- River sampling
- River modelling
- Air quality and pollution
- AgRE Calc
The courses are not large, with 32 people between the two programmes, but you will always get to know some people better than others, so the fieldwork groups were an excellent opportunity to mix and get to know other people a little better.
These fieldwork groups were together all week, working on analysing data and creating a presentation that would be delivered to the whole group at the end of the week.
Despite having an allocated topic, everyone got to try every type of fieldwork and data collection, passing on the collected data to the original fieldwork group who had signed up for that topic. This worked on a daily rotation and was ideal for enhancing different skills and getting lots to put on you CV!
River Sampling and Modelling:
This was an opportunity to roll up your trousers and get your toes wet. We took a series of physical river measurements, as well as identifying species of invertebrates existing in different parts of the river.
Right picture courtesy of Simon Moesch
The river was modelled using HECRAS software and allowed different water inputs to be observed through the watershed. Major floods occurred in the Atlas Mountains in 1995 and 2014 so it is interesting and useful to simulate increases and decreases in water inputs and outputs to observe how this would flow through the present channel and how this would affect the watersheds and social practices surrounding the river.
Land Use and Soil Erosion –
In the Atlas Mountains, small scale farming is a major source of income and creates the landscape that makes many people visit the area. Terraces can be seen high up the mountainsides, far different to any of the farming you get in the UK. These terraces have been used for hundreds to thousands of years and work with the contours of the mountains, allowing natural erosion to fill in the uppermost layer. Watering each level is difficult, and each water canal is still dug by hand and can be sources from many kilometres upstream to allow gravity to move the water instead of using pumps to source the water from below each terrace. To make it even more complicated, there are 8 villages within 4 valleys that make up the Imlil region, and the remaining river flows downstream to Marrakesh.
This program helps determine resource use and greenhouse gas emissions for a farm, per enterprise, and per unit of saleable product. Only by breaking down emissions and resource use by enterprise can weaknesses be identified, meaningful comparisons be made and targeted mitigation advice be given. We were running hypothetical models for the local area as not too much was known and seeing if we would get results of what we were expecting (knowing that these may be wrong as we couldn’t get actual measurements).
Social Surveys –
For someone that is used to studying the science side of science, it was great fun to learn about the social side and take part in some very different field work and analysis! For this particular project, the social group devised a series of questions that they would like to ask tourists in the Imlil area. Stopping to have a chat with people in this mountain town was a great experience as it gave you an insight in to why people from different countries, ages and backgrounds were visiting – and you get some unique answers! “I came to see the mountains before I die” , “I came for the argan oil”. Much like Scottish people visiting the highlands of Scotland, many Moroccan people visit the Atlas Mountains for an escape, beautiful views and some tranquillity! We found the more languages your group knew, the wider your audience (target group) became. Greater diversity enhanced the groups ability to collect detailed responses from a variety of people, and therefore gave a more accurate representation of tourist opinions in the area. We had people speaking French, German, Spanish, and Chinese!
Air quality varied drastically within Morocco. Like most areas of the world, cars are a major source of pollution and a source of travel. Within Imlil, cars are only able to travel on the widest roads, all other travel is done by foot or mule. To study how clean the air is – as it smelt fresh unless a car just went by- groups took around 2 recording devices that measured particulate matter 2.5. Those that were carrying the devices would periodically stop to record the readings, making special notes if a car or mule had just passed, if candles were lit in the room, or other activity that could effect the readings.
As Morocco Is a hot country, it can get rather dusty depending on the time of year, and this could also affect the air quality.
The riad was a great place to come back to after a hard day of fieldwork (not always too strenuous don’t worry).
It provided a place to relax and socialise:
A place to dry your soggy boos in the evening:
And it was a good work space too:
There was some time where we did stay inside to learn a few computer programs (like “R”), but the professors also helped us whenever we needed assistance with our analysis.
It wasn’t all work and no play. The lecturers organised some events for the week.
Getting a private museum tour on the area’s history. Imlil is located within a National Park- we learned what this actually means to a Moroccan. Hint, it’s not the same as someone from the UK or the US.
We were organised in to groups, mixing up languages, cultures and knowledge to learn what does and what does not win a debate!
So there was no pub…but any good Scotsman knows that you can buy a bar at duty free and bring it with you! And there were prizes too… so it was worth winning (I now own a tagine pot, woohoo!)
Photos courtesy of Simon Moesch
Girls boarding house
The local Kasbah is in fact owned by a British man who runs the Kasbah with Moroccan locals to improve the community. Part of his mission was to provide an opportunity for girls to attend school as most girls do not attend as it is too far away and expensive for girls to attend. We had the opportunity to attend the first of three boarding houses that have now been built that allows girls from the rural communities to come stay from Monday-Friday where there is a house Mother and other females to watch over the girls while they are not in school. School is not run from 9-3 like it is in Scotland, but instead throughout the day for a couple hours here and there, dependent on what classes are being taken. For the local families, it is very important that when the girls are not in school, they are at the boarding house and being taken care of. While in the house they play, cook, and do normal childhood activities. Many of the girls now have the ability to continue on to university, and one of the first girls to graduate from Asni 1 (the house we visited) is currently at the University in Marrakech getting a master’s degree in economics!
There was at least a little bit of time each day, and a full half day later in the week for all students to be able to explore the village, purchase any gifts (jalabbas were popular items), taste other local cuisine, take a hike, or other activities.
4 adventurous wanderers who hiked to the top of a nearby saddle (low point between 2 mountains) to be able to see more of the Atlas range.
We also got the opportunity to use the Kasbah (world heritage site) for our final presentations, to share our project findings with our peers.
It snowed earlier in the week, but by the time we walked up there for presentations at the end of the week it was very green and warm!
A week is a relatively short time to compile all of the data and analyse it, and our lecturers took this into account!
Hopefully this gives you a small insight in to our amazing fieldtrip to Morocco! I don’t think any one of the group could say that they didn’t enjoy it. Thanks to our lecturers (Alistair Hamilton, Jenn Carfrae, Sarah Buckingham, Alasdair Sykes, John Parker) and to all of our course-mates for making the trip so fantastic! Field trips are always great for bonding and this one came at the perfect time – imminently after we handed in many assignments. We can only say that we would recommend 😀
Stay tuned for the Morocco fieldtrip video for a more connected view of all of these photos – COMING SOON!