I have a BSc in commercial aviation, and I am currently studying a MSc in Geographical Information Management at Cranfield. Part of our course is taking part in a group project. I was ready for this, eager to dip into something new and exciting! Which is why when I saw the project sponsored by the SidaTim project, I went straight for it.

So, a little background: as a group we are tasked to analyse the financial, environmental and social impacts of Sida Hermaphrodita and Silphium Perfoliatum, two novel bioenergy crops (commonly known as Virginia mallow and cup plants), in collaboration with five other research partners around Europe: Federal Agency of Agriculture and Food (BLE) in Germany as sponsors, University of Freiburg and the 3N Centre of Experts as coordinators, while other partners include West Pomeranian University of Technology Szczecin in Poland, the Council for Agricultural Research and Economics and the Institute of Agro-environmental and Forest Biology in Italy, and  us, Cranfield University in the UK. In brief, the entire project is divided into two working sections, and seven work packages, where we were tasked with three of them – and our supervisor, being a part of the core team, has regular contact with the rest of the project partners.

Budding Sida Hermaphrodita, also known as Virginia mallow

Halfway through the project, as we are knee deep into building models, maps, interviews and research questions, our supervisor Dr Anil Graves arranged a trip to the test site of Virginia mallow and cup plant cultivation, this gave us the opportunity to visit the experiment site in Silsoe. We saw first-hand the layout, process and results of the different strands of Sida and Silphium seed and seedlings, giving us more exposure into the characteristics of these perennial plants that we have been doing our paper on.

It was really interesting to see how different methodologies affect the growth of these different bioenergy plants, and being perennial, you could see the growth of new shoots in several part of the layouts. Therefore, we couldn’t see any flowers (yet), interestingly enough, offshoot growth of spring flowers like dandelions and nettles, which were plenty. There we have it, a day in the busy schedule of MSc students, it was a breath of fresh (spring) air. This is one of the several trips we have gone on during my Geographical Information Management MSc, it allows us to go out and gain experience in the field, while having a bit of fun as well.

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