A Level Biology Field Studies

Ecology is the interaction between living things and their environment… so let’s go outside and teach it! 

With a wealth of different ecosystems on the doorstep, the Medina Valley Centre, offers high quality Ecology field study courses which cover the ecological component of the GCE A Level Biology courses. The courses are tailored to meet the requirements of each syllabus and encourage students to apply their existing knowledge of physiology and metabolic processes to the species distribution and the interactions between living organisms in a variety of habitats.

For syllabuses examined from June 2016 onwards students can also complete an individual investigation or practical assessments during the course. The rocky seashore on the eastern tip of the Island is ideal for carrying out individual investigations, where students can investigate the adaptations and relationships of a rich diversity of marine wildlife. Nearby Saltmarshes are suitable for practical assessments, investigating the distribution and abundance of organisms and abiotic factors. Ponds, rivers and woodland habitats also lend themselves to an interesting variety of investigations and practical assessments.

Our field study department is active in a number of research projects and our tutors have an excellent local knowledge of the Isle of Wight. Along with the online resources for visiting students, long term data sets have been established over the years and an extensive library, which includes text books and relevant papers from journals, has been developed.

Biology field courses can be between two and four days.

All field study sites are a short drive from the Medina Valley Centre or within walking distance.


Predator – Prey Study

We can now offer a session looking at pyramids of number and biomass, predator-prey interactions and trophic levels, based around birds of prey.  The session includes a falconry display, small mammal trapping and owl pellet dissection.  Click here for more information.

Pond Study

Students use instruments to measure abiotic factors, and a dichotomous key to identify invertebrates to determine the species richness & biodiversity of 3 local ponds. Simpson’s Diversity Index and the Mann Whitney U statistics test are used to analyse the data.

Saltmarsh Study

The key concepts of zonation and succession are taught as students use sampling techniques to investigate plant distribution and the environmental gradient of a saltmarsh. Students develop the skills of using transects and point-frame quadrats for carrying out systematic sampling. The Spearman’s Rank statistical test is used to analyse the results of the soil samples.  A study of adaptations of plants to surving on the saltmarsh can help link to other parts of the syllabus, e.g. water uptake by plants.

Woodland Management

A short visit to a coppiced woodland can be carried out close to the saltmarsh, to look at woodland management techniques. Alternatively a longer study can be carried out where suitable sampling techniques are used to compare light levels and plant diversity in coppiced, pollarded and conifer woodland.  Autumn visits can include a study of fungi found in the woods.

Rocky Seashore

Students can either carry out a study on food webs and feeding relationships on a rocky shore, where they use ICT to construct pyramids of biomass and energy, or they can investigate competition and coexistence on the seashore by carrying out work in small groups, with a chance to present their findings to the rest of the group. Students will also have the opportunity to appreciate the diversity of life and consider the adaptations of different species. The rocky shore is a good area to demonstrate and practice using a selection of sampling techniques.

River Study

Students compare the water quality of two or three rivers by sampling the freshwater invertebrates found in a kick sample and by taking a number of abiotic measurements. The Biological Monitoring Working Party (BMWP) score system is used to analyse the results.

Farm Study

Students visit a local arable or organic farm and are given a guided tour by the farmer. They also learn about farming techniques, farming conservation schemes, biological control and maximisation of agricultural yields and how to optimise use of natural and artificial fertilisers. A good chance to experience farm life first hand.

Conservation Study

Students compare the advantages and disadvantages of in situ and ex situ conservation (can be linked with a Nature Reserve on the Island) and find out about the genetics behind white tigers, of which the Isle of Wight Zoo has the largest collection in Europe.

Estuarine Ecosystem

Students carry out practical work which involves core sampling for invertebrates on mudflats of the Medina Estuary and measuring abiotic variables including tidal height, turbidity and salinity. The data is used to construct food webs and ecological pyramids and can be compared with data from other local ecosystems.

Conservation and Management of the Medina Estuary

The Medina Valley has a high conservation status and has been designated as a SSSI, Ramsar Site, SPA and SAC. Students investigate reasons why these designations have been given and consider potential conflicts with nature conservation to highlight problems of planning & development control within the Medina Valley.


Students investigate the population of either snails on castle walls, crabs in part of the estuary, periwinkles on the rocky seashore or small mammals in the woodland (subject to tidal conditions and time available) by using the Lincoln Index.

RV Callista

Students may be able to take part in a ‘Discover Oceanography’ session run by Southampton University, on their research vessel RV Callista. There is an additional cost for this session. For more information visit the RV Callista website.