An illustrative summary of the Macro 2 Micro project in comic book style.

Showcasing the geology of National Nature Reserves

Very few National Nature Reserves (NNRs) are designated primarily for their geology – but many contain interesting and unusual geological features or strata. The unique wildlife and landscapes of many NNRs are only there because of the rocks beneath: framing landforms, seasoning soil and dictating drainage. A new, NERC-funded project, From Macro to Micro, is trialling a novel approach to foster engagement of youth groups with the geological heritage of their local NNRs.

Students examining a sandstone exposure at Saltwells
Students from King Edward VI College,
Stourbridge, with Westphalian sandstones

The focus for this project is two NNRs in the West Midlands, Wren’s Nest and Saltwells, part of the Black Country Global Geopark. A group of Art and Geology A-Level students from King Edward VI College, Stourbridge, visited the sites in November 2023, guided by Dudley’s Keeper of Geology, Graham Worton. They explored the geological history of the rocks, transported back to the tropical reef seas of the Silurian and the swampy tree fern forests of the Carboniferous. They also delved into the social and industrial history of the area, a fabric woven on the loom of the landscape and its bedrock. Their creative perspectives reflecting on their experiences will form some of the outputs of the project.


Silurian fossils, microscopic view
   Silurian fossils under the
   petrographic microscope

So, where does the Virtual Microscope come in? We are digitizing a range of samples collected during the students’ visits to showcase on the website, alongside creative outputs from the King Edward’s students and the project’s artist, Vicky Bowskill. And we’re already finding the micro views spectacularly artistic, as well as providing a fascinating insight into the intricate skeletons of Silurian fossils or the subsoil chemistry of swampy Carboniferous coastal forests!

The From Macro to Micro project is a partnership involving several entities. Conceived by Prof. Clare Warren (Open University) and Jonathan Larwood (Natural England), the project team includes Elaine Hooton (Geodiversity researcher, OU), Vicky Bowskill (Environmental researcher, OU, and freelance artist/illustrator), Graham Worton (Keeper of Geology, Dudley Council), and Robyn Amos (Geology Teacher, King Edward VI College, Stourbridge). Tom Argles (OU) coordinated the Virtual Microscope contribution, which involved Kay Knight and Charlie Oldman (OU) making and digitizing the thin sections respectively.

Banner image: Macro 2 Micro graphic © Vicky Bowskill; see more of her work at Vicky's website