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Royal Holloway's Living Campus

Royal Holloway's Living Campus

We are committed to championing campus biodiversity and promoting academic and collaborative engagement opportunities across the natural campus.

Royal Holloway’s Egham campus exists within a mature 135-acre parkland estate, characterised by a variety of woodland, meadows and watercourses.

The campus, which is part of a vital connective green corridor, hosts a wide range of natural life. The mix of meadow and lawns has a diversity of floral species including a population of Bee Orchids; the woodlands across the site are host to a variety of invertebrates, including stag beetle and fungi; and a natural aquifer feeds several springs and stream systems that are inhabited by our resident bullhead fish and Egrets.

With its diverse ecosystem, this provides an ideal setting for studying life sciences like ecology, conservation, and geography, as well as inspiring fields such as performing arts, creative writing, and health studies.

Supporting and facilitating research and teaching that utilises the grounds’ unique benefits is a key focus, and the Living Campus initiative looks to actively advance this mission.

A brief history of the estate

The original college was founded on Mount Lee, a large farm with a name meaning sheltered hill in Old English. This reflects the unique topography, which features a 50m drop from one side to the other. This change in level offers varying conditions marked by a change in geology, numerous surface watercourses, and sheltered areas with microclimates that foster rich vegetation and wildlife.

The estate retains traces of its 140-year history since the establishment of Royal Holloway College, including the introduction of unusual plants, many of which are now in maturity, the formalisation of ponds and watercourses, and the numerous paths that provide access through the estate.   

Activity before the college’s inception also remains evident on campus where centuries of organised farming resulted in large areas of meadow managed by grazing and woodland managed for productive purposes. This legacy results in a site that provides a rich biodiversity resource at a local level, as well as being an important part of a wider regional green corridor that includes areas such as Windsor Great Park and Thames Basin Heaths.

Case studies

The gardening team work with student volunteers to complete conservational works in and around the ponds. Together, they manage aquatic weeds, improve water flow and improve habitat continuity, while also preparing areas for new planting schemes.

This hands-on experience not only allows students to develop new skills but also provides insights into operational management and how to care of the natural environment.

We use the campus extensively, yet sensitively, for various teaching, research and outreach activities - from our on-campus apiary supporting our world-leading research on bees to engaging teaching activities for the next generation of scientists.

In our first-year module ‘Ecology and Conservation,' students engage in a hands-on project using model clay caterpillars to assess predation levels based on colour differences (green and red) by measuring bite marks inflicted by birds and mammals. Students create hundreds of these caterpillars, strategically placing them across campus for a week.

Subsequently, in small groups, students formulate questions or hypotheses, for example comparing predation between native versus non-native trees or different-sized caterpillars. Whatever the students choose to study, the results are always fascinating.

In the final part of the practical, students conduct a campus-wide bird survey, identifying and comparing bird species and abundance across various habitats.

Biodiversity on the Royal Holloway Campus has long been of interest for both informing grounds management and for academic pursuit. Studies have been conducted in numerous areas related to biodiversity, including to inform the Campus Development Masterplan and associated planning submissions.

Since 2023, we’ve been systematically recording biodiversity data, independent of specific development proposals, to help us understand long-term patterns and inform future enhancements. Royal Holloway has been working with Surrey Wildlife Trust on developing a fuller record and locally informed understanding of biodiversity on campus. This work has included the formation a Habitat Audit that establishes a baseline of biodiversity on campus and indicators to assess future progression.

The data also helps address the Biodiversity Net Gain requirements of the Town Planning system and contributes to an ongoing review of the Habitat Management Plan for the campus.

Omnidrome is a world-leading hub for research, innovation, education and knowledge exchange in air, land, and water-based drones, robotics and autonomous vehicles.

The testing and training facility at Royal Holloway’s Egham campus features a purpose-built hangar for developing and testing specialist and experimental drones, along with dedicated outdoor areas for flight training in a controlled environment.

Omnidrome focuses on educating and supporting students in technical and scientific skills for geospatial analysis, environmental monitoring,  and ecological restoration projects.  Planned on-campus projects include:

  • Aiding the gardening team with aerial mapping and progress surveying of diverse project sites (meadows, Canada copse, etc.).
  • Initiating a PhD project on mapping the seasonal availability of food plants for bumble bees.
  • Assessing campus nighttime artificial light coverage.

At the beginning of 2024 the Estates Department was kindly gifted 50 ancient oak saplings from Windsor Great Park’s natural woodland nursery, which is home to the largest collection of ancient veteran oak trees in northern Europe.

The trees, which are typically home to some of the rarest species of insects in the UK, will help us regrow our ancient classified woodlands and will fill the spaces cleared by our continuing removal of invasives shrubs from the estate.

As part of our Living Campus initiative, Julie Sanders, Principal and Vice Chancellor, planted the first sapling on Wednesday 14 February 2024, and Briony Hughes, one of our English Department’s PhD candidates, and co-curator of the Words from the Wild: The Nature of Poetry exhibition, read a poem that she’d written based on her time spent in Windsor Great Park and across the University’s grounds.

Poem for a Sapling Planted on 14th February 2024 by Briony Hughes

a moment under the top-soil
all this time, thrice the canopy or crown
you’ve branched outwards, or tapered down or adapted
into a fine root system

purple hairstreak butterfly or wood warblers or oak-mining bee
bechstein’s bat goat moth wood mouse all
watched the acorn – fruiting
from singular taproot
to lateral pattern

know you’ll never be a colossal wreck
know decay makes for habitat
know shoots will grow from the fallen
know catkins in rows
as processionary trend
can outlast eras
or witness reigns

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