The site was called Les Courmettes and was a large nature reserve on the side of a mountain in the maritime Alps near Nice and Monoco. It had a large mansion in the middle of the reserve over looking the valleys and forests down to the Mediterranean on the horizon. A Rocha France own this site as one of their two field study centres (similar to Mwamba in Kenya) and wanted to start a research project on the various fauna and flora of the mountain side and how these species were going to respond to climate change. Their land extends from the Olive forests at around 400m altitude through the temperate Oak forests and other vegetation types up until the alpine meadows on the peak at 1200m. The site is really perfect for looking at how these vegetation types may change or even which species will succeed and which will succumb to climate changes in these mountains; maybe the forests will creep up the hill and the alpine meadows will be squeezed off the top or maybe some completely new communities will establish, there's many possibilities.
The week was a collection of A Rocha staff, associated scientists and volunteers from predominantly France and UK, but other places too. All were working on a particular group, either birds, plants or invertebrates, looking at the species found there and setting up sampling protocols about how we might detect changes in those groups as a result of climate. As there were very few fish or coral too look at, my job was to input data and I also did some simple analyses and commented on sampling strategies of the different groups. I still managed to spend a lot of time out and about as well, going with groups in the field to better understand their data collection methods. The nice thing was the realisation that I actually really felt confident and knew what I was doing. Ecological sampling and data analysis is a very specific skill set, but it was a nice feeling to feel like I had reached a skill level where I could go at things independently.
The best part of the week of course was being outside in beautiful stunning wildlife and sunshine and even warmth on most of the days. I don't need a lot in life, but the key things which keep me happy are just not found in Southall! I did a lot of hiking and got some great exercise, I saw a lot of new things and just generally had a fantastic break from reality in many ways. On the last day we drove to a national park in the Alps proper and climbed through the dramatic landscapes of pine forests, gushing rivers to the snow fields near the summits of these enormous rock protrusions of earth's innards. Only a stone's throw from the Italian border was a frozen lake around which Marmots were barking and Chamois were grazing. I and my fellow hiker Heather decided to plunge into the icy water. It was totally exhilarating and a complete freedom; just me, some friendly people and nature.