In June I led a Year 10 trip to Bucegi national park in the Carpathian Mountains. This would be my last school trip in Romania, and it was a fair success. I had taken the previous two IGCSE trips to the Danube Delta, sticking with the accommodation used by the previous Head of Science in the years before I arrived. I wasn’t happy with some aspects of the trip and tried tweaking activities to produce a greater impact on learning but it just was not a suitable location for IGCSE field work. Although the Danube Delta is one of the most biodiverse places in Europe, access is limited and much of that diversity is hidden behind foliage, underwater and cover of darkness.
We headed three hours north from Bucharest in two minibuses and started the trip with a walk through woodland, identifying common species as we went. This was a simple introduction to the area with pupils using laminated I.D. cards that I had made based on previous visits to the area. Through the week, pupils conducted comparative river and grassland studies and each evening we had a quiz on local ecology based on our experiences that day. Although memorising the names of species is not a requirement at Key Stage 4 (Or A-level for that matter, by which stage surely pupils should be expected to recognise a robin!), it is important for children to be familiar with common species as it adds lifelong richness to a walk in the park or a mountain trek.
The river site was set in a stunning location – forested mountains peppered with wildflower meadow made up the backdrop – and pupils could safely enter the water wearing wellington boots. They used chemical tests and biological indicator species scores to investigate the claim that this water is the cleanest in Europe. I was sceptical, but the results certainly pointed that way. White-tailed eagles soared overhead and just off the footpath male crested newts displayed to females in puddles bordered black with tadpoles.
On our second night, we had a spectacular viewing from the balcony of a brown bear and her cub searching through the cabin bins. At first this was exciting and certainly a memorable moment for the pupils who were overjoyed but it quickly became a sad sight. Eventually chased away by campers, these bears were clearly desperate for food, coming out of the shrinking forest to build fat reserves before the impending winter. I couldn’t help but suspect the hotel had not maintained the cage around the bins in order to lure the bears into view.
There were some complaints about the food served by the cabin, but it was good hearty fayre and nutritious. Snacking on crisps etc. became a problem and is something I would certainly clamp down on next year if I were still at the school. I hope my successor continues taking this trip to the mountains, though they might want to consider more responsible cabin owners regarding secure disposal of waste. The other members of staff who came on the trip are still at the school and so will improve the programme through the coming years.