Picos pair return to inspire next generation of outdoor researchers

Picos pair return to inspire next generation of outdoor researchers

Two former University of Cumbria students have returned to the soaring mountains and picturesque valleys  to pass on their experience to a new generation of outdoor studies students.

The Deva Valley in Cantabria is home to landscape which have proved vital in providing a varied field trip experience for students, many of whom make their own way to the region from the Ambleside campus. For years, the region has been a favourite location for outdoor studies trips and students have closely mapped the area’s varied landscapes.

This year alumni Ryland Cairns and Jack Boniface revisited the region 15 years after they were last there.

Picos edit 2, Mountain in the background and lush green trees

“The University of Cumbria has had long term involvement in running field trips which has included research and subsequent manuscripts into meadow composition which were undertaken in 1993 and 2008,” Ryland Cairns said. “As it was 10 years since the last field survey and 15 years since myself and Jack had visited the area we felt as though we could revisit this research.”

Jack, who has recorded some stunning pictures of the recent visit, is now a photographer based in Blackpool, Lancashire and loved spending time on a project which he hopes has inspired students in the same way as he was.

“My role was to document the research project through photos to give extra depth to the science, this included individual flower species, the meadows and the wider the cultural landscape,” Jack said. ”I run my own company as a photographer, mainly working in advertising, but work on anything from big films such as Jurassic Park to Arts council commissions. It was during the Picos field trip with the University of Cumbria that I was first inspired to undertake photography as a profession, I have never looked back.”

Picos edit 3, Yellow and brown butterfly

The pair worked closely with current outdoor studies students to highlight how a decade of change has affected the area.

“In some respects the area has not changed at all; we recognised the same old buildings, land marks and saw some of the locals that we met first time around,” Ryland said. “That being said we had noticed changes in agricultural techniques such as the introduction of enclosures for cattle and also a lot more tourism in the area.”

Since graduating Ryland’s work has taken him around the world as owner and director of Fontus Environmental who provide environmental consultancy services including periods working and living in the South Atlantic Falkland Islands and Ascension Island. He’s now focusing on work funded by Newcastle University to research ways to enhance the biological degradation of plastics with the aim of developing cost effective scalable technology so that small island communities can deal with their plastic waste.

“My love for environmental work and research can be traced back to my first Picos field trip so it was a pleasure to return to the area,” Ryland said.

Picos edit 4, A path going through the mountains with trees

“We were very grateful to Ryland and Jack who supported the university in the Picos de Europa this year with fieldwork for one of our major research projects on the botanical composition of hay meadows,” Dr Heather Prince, associate professors and principal lecturer, said. “ Our current students definitely benefitted from hearing about their careers over ten years (one as an environmental consultant, the other as an outdoor photographer) and realised that aspirations and ambitions can be met and include varied outdoor environments and experiences!”