A-level students bring theory to life with a tour of our nurseries...

17 A-level biology students from St Philip Howard School in Barnham, West Sussex recently visited Tangmere Airfield Nurseries to find out more about horticultural ecosystems.

The visit was planned following a request from Science Teacher, Neil Mitchell, who wanted to offer his students a view of the scientific techniques and the challenges involved in growing food crops:

“With our studies being based around the biochemistry and limiting factors of photosynthesis and productivity in agricultural ecosystems, I was looking to find a trip that incorporated these elements for an educational visit” says Neil.

On the day, the group of students arrived in time to see iconic World War Two aircraft take to the skies to mark the 75th anniversary of the ‘Battle of Britain’ also significant, given the historic location of the nursery (originally home to RAF Tangmere).

Inside the largest glasshouse on the pepper nursery (26 acres), the students received a presentation from Technical Crops Manager, Mark Knight, explaining how consumer demands and shifts in farming and environmental policies affect food production:

“In recent years, UK pepper growers have embraced more sustainable farming practices and growing regimes to reduce inputs such as water and energy use. This requires growers to manage the environment in the glasshouse more effectively to enhance the growth of the crop – trying to grow more with less to feed an ever-increasing population.”

The talk covered effects on productivity and how growers’ apply knowledge of ‘limiting factors’ such as temperature, carbon dioxide concentration and light intensity in a commercial situation.

The diversity of life within the ecosystem of the glasshouses was also explored in relation to biological control – using beneficial insects to control pests. Prior to the visit, the class had looked at biological, chemical and integrated pest control systems so it was a good opportunity to see these processes first-hand.

Mark said of the trip: “There are many learning opportunities within horticulture and farming including a variety of disciplines such as researching improved environmental management, food science and technology.”  The school visit was arranged through the LEAF Demonstration Farm Network which Tangmere joined in May.

Neil concluded: “We were delighted that students were able to bring the theory learned in the school laboratory to life and we are looking forward to developing links with Tangmere in the future.”

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