It's a bug's life
PUBLISHED: 13:46 20 May 2008 | UPDATED: 21:50 15 June 2010
FOR a man of the cloth, Bishop Edward Copplestone could be described as extravagant. The former owner of Offwell House, near Honiton, resided in East Devon even though his diocese was in Llandaff, South Wales.
FOR a man of the cloth, Bishop Edward Copplestone could be described as extravagant.The former owner of Offwell House, near Honiton, resided in East Devon - even though his diocese was in Llandaff, South Wales.He had an 80-feet tower built as a folly, claiming in 1828 that if he could see his diocese it would save him the trouble of having to visit it!Another of Bishop Copplestone's extravagances was the construction of a huge, man-made lake. In the mid 1800s, it even boasted a boathouse. Now smaller and devoid of boats, the lake is a pleasing feature of Offwell Woodland Education Centre. It is teeming with small fish and a haven for other, tiny forms of pond life - many too small to be seen by the naked eye.In a smaller pond nearby, primary school children have been finding out all about microscopic organisms. Helping them to understand the ecololy and biodiversity of the woodland site is Dr Barbara Corker, whose post at the education centre is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.During a recent Discovery Day at the centre, she showed the Herald how nature can be observed through the lens of a microscope.In one of the centre's two log classrooms, she used slides, which had been dipped in pond water for varying lengths of time, to demonstrate just how many small creatures thrive at the site. She quickly identified a crustacea known as a cyclops. As its name suggests, it has just one eye and is a millimetre in size. A see-through, fast-moving life form, the microscopic animal carries two sacks of eggs close to its tail. It is often seen with hundreds of even smaller creatures, rotifers, hitching a ride.A secondary consumer in the food chain, an omnivore, the cyclops thrives on a diet of algae and other tiny animals. In turn, the cyclops is the prey of phantom midge larvae and water mites.Catching Dr Corker's eye almost immediately was a diatom, a delicate unicellular organism that has a yellow-brown chloroplast, which enables it to photosynthesize. A diatom's cell walls are made of silica, almost like glass. The construction of the diatom's cell wall, the frustule, consists of two valves. They fit into each other, like a pill box.The diatom Dr Corker identified was of the pennate group, most commonly found in fresh water. A later relative of early diatoms, it moves in a slow gliding fashion in the direction of the length of the cell. The mechanism for this is not well understood but it seems that, through a slit running along the cell, tiny microfibres protrude, allowing the pennate diatom to move over the surface of water.Captured in small fishing nets were slightly larger creatures, such as dragonfly larvaeDuring the school summer holiday, Offwell Woodland Education Centre will be running activity days for families.The events will provide children and parents with an opportunity to enjoy a shared experience of nature, in a beautiful woodland setting.To find out more, call (01404) 831373.