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German student and pony who walked 1,150 miles from Spain to Dundee going home

Johanna and Hechizo will be getting a lift home.
Johanna and Hechizo will be getting a lift home.

A young German student who walked 1,150 miles with her Shetland pony to study barley science in Dundee is returning home.

Johanna Maria Wurtz and her pony, Hechizo, set off on foot from Segovia, in the Castile and Leon region in Spain, last autumn to learn how farmers across Europe are adapting to climate change and the move to more sustainable ways of growing crops.

Once the pair arrived at the James Hutton Institute (JHI) at Invergowrie, she focused on studying the genetic control of flowering time in barley, which will help inform barley breeders as they develop new varieties to meet climate change challenges.

Dundee student pony walked
Johanna and Hechizo passed through Fife on their long journey to Invergowrie.

She said: “After assessing barley flowering time and looking at related data from another studies, I decided on interesting candidate genetic regions and started analysing them with specialist genotyping methods.

“Some not yet studied lines were included in my experimental design.

“Due to the circumstances, I was lucky to get my scholarship extended for two extra months, finished harvesting and sent off some extra samples for further genotyping and analysis.

“I got to know and enjoy the Scottish spring until I found the first winter barley field starting to flower and will now finish my writing at home in Germany.”

Dundee student pony walked
Johanna used her journey to Scotland to raise funds for La Via Campesina.

Johanna aims to return to Scotland to do a PhD and further training in biological vegetable breeding.

In the meantime, her connection with Invergowrie is expected to continue, as she has set her sights on joining the research team of Professor Klaus Pillen, leader of the Barista climate chance project, to which the director of JHI’s  International Barley Hub, Prof Robbie Waugh, also contributes.

During her journey to Scotland Johanna raised money for the international peasant movement, La Via Campesina.

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