A new school year begins and it’s time to look back over the last year, and what an exciting year it’s been, with more children than ever visiting the E-Centre and more close encounters with wildlife. There has also been more youth involvement through work experience and volunteering schemes such as the National Citizens Service. A dizzying total of 1845 children aged 4-18 and around 500 adults attended this year. Visitors came from all year groups from EYFS to Year 13. With new courses, great wildlife experiences, fantastic volunteer input, two ambitious National Citizens Service projects, the year has been a huge success.

This year saw several new courses come on line. The Rocks and soils course was extended to a full day visit with a building materials activity added for the afternoon session. The highlight of this was the tower building competition which was thoroughly enjoyed by all the children and the staff! Competitive Mum, Dad and teacher increased the children’s delight when the quiet group won with their tower made of….oops, better not give it away! Here’s what the teacher had to say about it:
“The day wasn’t a disappointment. It was engaging for the class and the hands-on experience was great for all the abilities. Both children and adults had a great learning experience. All equipment was well organised and thought out. Caroline was very warm and friendly towards all of us, even handling a child who came disheartened in a team activity.”
New courses for Year 3 Plant Life Cycles and Year 6 Classification were added to our programme of courses.

We had our first INSET session for 30 teachers exploring the use of the outdoor environment for teaching and which received great feedback:
“A fabulous place to take children and staff. We had an INSET with Caroline after a long day at school so we were all overjoyed to be welcomed into the new, inspiring, wonderful education centre with a cup of tea/coffee and a biscuit. Caroline talked us through the new site and took us all on a wonderful walk through the trees and fields. At the end of the ‘learning walk’, we all took part in pond dipping which everyone loved. A wonderful hour spent with Caroline and hopefully lots of our children will be coming along soon too.”
If your school would like to book an INSET session, please contact the Education Manager by email or telephone if you wish to bring a secondary class or a youth group such as Brownies or Cubs.

There were some fun sessions with some of our local youth groups too. A Brownie group came to do Natural Sounds, exploring the calls and songs of grasshopper, crickets and birds and also using natural materials to make wind chimes – see below!

wind chime wind chime wind chime

One Cub group visited the Centre each term and enjoyed pond dipping, mini-beasting in the meadow and under logs and natural art. The Cubs’ ability to retain information from previous visits was outstanding and they clearly enjoyed all their trips. Here are some of their fabulous art works:

wind chime wind chime wind chime wind chime

This year the children have some wonderful wildlife experiences, getting up-close with nature. From the kestrel circling the meadow over the children’s heads at a height of 15 feet to the robin collecting food for her young right at the children’s feet in the Wriggly tree trail. Children have been in awe of the wonderful wildlife of nature reserve. Children have enjoyed sweep netting in the meadow and shrieked with delight as grasshoppers and crickets jump up at them and land on their clothes, heads or hands, and weird dock bugs that look like aliens and shiny beetles crawled out of their nets. They have “wowed” and “cooed” at centipedes, millipedes and woodlice, spiders and yellow slugs that turn out to be green! Even those who were completely insect-phobic at the start ended up getting really close to insects. In the ponds they have seen 15cm long leeches, voracious dragonfly nymphs, cryptic caddis fly larva hiding in their cases, smooth newts in full bright orange spotty breeding colours and a whole host of weird and wonderful creatures. All of this is thanks to the excellent reserve management carried out by a dedicated team of volunteers.

This summer we ran two NCS projects. The projects were carried out by groups of 16 year olds. The first group built a City of London skyline bug hotel and the second group built a Noah’s Ark bug hotel.

bug hotel bug hotel

The young people had to fund-raise to purchase materials for the bug hotels and were also able to make a donation of £50 to the Centre which was much appreciated. It was great to see young people working together as a team and getting stuck in to the projects. Both bug hotels are examples of best practice in encouraging wildlife into the garden and will inspire teachers, children and other visitors to have a go at building their own bug hotel. Maybe they will inspire you to build your own bug hotel!