Teams of school pupils pitch their ideas to reduce slug damage to crops after meeting scientists at Rothamsted Research and visiting a local farm.

  • 21
  • SEP
  • 2016

As the new school year begins, 17 of the pupils returning to Sir John Lawes School in Harpenden may have an extra boost, having taken part in a leadership project designed to develop their confidence, teamwork and presentation skills.

The pupils were given a challenge: to design a solution to the problem of slugs destroying crops on farms. They set about researching the issue on a visit to Annables Farm on the outskirts of Harpenden, learning about the real problem farmers face from slug damage. The pupils then visited Rothamsted Research, where they spoke with expert scientists studying ways to control agricultural pests and learned about ‘push-pull’ methods of crop protection.

The project took place in the summer term, and was organised by the school working alongside Farming and Countryside Education (FACE) – a national charity that works with schools and farmers to increase knowledge of food and farming among children. To deliver the project, Sir John Lawes School also partnered with the Farmschool, local farmer Ian Pigott and Rothamsted Research, which receives strategic funding from BBSRC.

The pupils, then in year 7, worked in groups of two or three to research and design a new way of protecting crops from slugs in five sessions. They then presented their innovative ideas to an audience including farmer Ian Pigott and a representative from Rothamsted Research, who were involved in judging the presentations. Also attending the presentations were parents, school governors, an organic farmer, the environment correspondent of Radio Verulam and representatives of local environmental charities. Team ‘Slug-Atomic’ won the prize for best idea, proposing a field border that could trap the pests, killing them with salt.

Following their presentations, 94 percent of participants said their knowledge had improved about why farming is important and about the challenges farmers face. A student participating in the scheme said: “I have noticed I have become more confident and my team skills have improved”, and another added: ““I would recommend this project to other schools because it makes you look deeper into the solutions and you learn new things”.

Cherie Button, Student Services Manager at Sir John Lawes School said: “I really am in awe as to how all the students came together and worked so hard to produce fantastic results. All of the students had really gained a knowledge and insight into the problems they were trying to resolve and for their ideas to be taken away and further thought about is fantastic”.

The pioneering scheme aimed to increase awareness of farming issues, as well as developing the pupils’ abilities, and, following its successful trial in Harpenden, organisers hope to roll it out nationally.

About Rothamsted Research
Rothamsted Research is the longest-running agricultural research institute in the world. We work from gene to field with a proud history of ground-breaking discoveries, from crop treatment to crop protection, from statistical interpretation to soils management. Our founders, in 1843, were the pioneers of modern agriculture, and we are known for our imaginative science and our collaborative influence on fresh thinking and farming practices.
Through independent science and innovation, we make significant contributions to improving agri-food systems in the UK and internationally. In terms of the institute’s economic contribution, the cumulative impact of our work in the UK was calculated to exceed £3000 million a year in 20151. Our strength lies in our systems approach, which combines science and strategic research, interdisciplinary teams and partnerships.
Rothamsted is also home to three unique resources. These National Capabilities are open to researchers from all over the world: The Long-Term Experiments, Rothamsted Insect Survey and the North Wyke Farm Platform.
We are strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), with additional support from other national and international funding streams, and from industry. We are also supported by the Lawes Agricultural Trust (LAT).
For more information, visit; Twitter @Rothamsted
1Rothamsted Research and the Value of Excellence: A synthesis of the available evidence, by Séan Rickard (Oct 2015)

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.
BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.
Funded by government, BBSRC invested £469 million in world-class bioscience in 2016-17. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.
More information about BBSRC, our science and our impact.
More information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes

About LAT
The Lawes Agricultural Trust, established in 1889 by Sir John Bennet Lawes, supports Rothamsted Research’s national and international agricultural science through the provision of land, facilities and funding. LAT, a charitable trust, owns the estates at Harpenden and Broom's Barn, including many of the buildings used by Rothamsted Research. LAT provides an annual research grant to the Director, accommodation for nearly 200 people, and support for fellowships for young scientists from developing countries. LAT also makes capital grants to help modernise facilities at Rothamsted, or invests in new buildings.