It’s been an incredible year with many wonderful wildlife encounters and an amazing 1980 children aged 3 to 18 visiting our beautiful nature reserve. These visits were supported by 385 teachers and parents who helped to make the visits run smoothly. Teaching all these children has been a lot of fun and their reactions to the wildlife they see and interact with always give us a thrill.
Here’s some of the great feedback from schools:
“An excellent trip – lots of fun and very educational, even the adults learnt a lot! High quality facilities, activities and organisation and pitched very well for the age and understanding of the children. We can’t wait to come back next year!” – Reception, Woodland and Pond Explorers
“We love visiting the Environment Centre! The wide range of hands on activities and learning experiences fit in perfectly with our curriculum!” – Year 3, Rocks, fossils and soils
“As always Caroline is full of energy and enthusiasm which makes the workshop such a pleasure. She is very knowledgeable and able to engage the children in their learning. Looking forward to next year.” – Year 3 Pond dipping and food chains
“The Brownies really enjoyed the session. Sam was very knowledgeable and was able to keep everyone focused. Uncovering the ants’ nest was a total highlight!” – Brownies, Meadow sweep netting and pond dipping
“Our students and teachers had a phenomenal time – thank you! None of the students had ever pond dipped before, so it was a brand new experience for all. The students were astonished at the diversity of species they collected and enjoyed using a variety of resources to identify them. The samples included dragonfly nymphs, pond skaters, backswimmers and even newts. Students also collected data for their A-level Biodiversity PAGs, which was very valuable.” – Year 12, Water quality and diversity
Our sessions for youth groups have extended to include Beavers, Cubs, Rainbows, Brownies, Woodcraft Folk and now, Air Scouts. Youth groups enjoy a range of activities including autumn arts and craft, pond dipping and minibeasting, star gazing and night walks, and, new for this year, bat walks. Children love being outside in the dark, as long as they feel safe. We help the children to feel safe by spreading enthusiasm about what they will see and hear and by using torches covered with red film which also keeps the wildlife safe as they can’t see red light. On our night walks we have seen or heard bats, owls, woodcock, robins singing, muntjac deer and a glimpse of a fox’s tail as it disappeared into a bush!
This was the year of the snake! Don’t panic, only grass snakes. A non-venomous species that lives in grassland, can swim and hibernates in compost heaps and under logs. This has been a good year for the snakes and many children had close encounters. We saw them swimming across the ponds, slithering in grass and sleeping under logs.
One of our volunteers found an entire snakeskin, left behind when the snake shed its skin when growing. Another volunteer, and master carpenter, fashioned a fabulous wooden box to keep the skin in. Now we can wow children with this precious wildlife artefact.
There was also an abundance of newts this year. Whether they are in the pond or under the logs, these lovely amphibians always delight the children. Here, 8 newts are seeking refuge under a log. Those eggs in the top corner belong to the yellow Irish slug, which is in fact green!
We continue to have excellent robin encounters. The robins have taken to following school groups around the reserve in the hope that they will disturb the odd worm or two, which invariably they do when minibeasting. The robins are so used to children now they fly down and hop around the children’s feet. Needless to say, the children absolutely love this experience.
At the beginning of the year we refurbished one of our ponds. This led to the colonisation of the pond by a new species for the reserve, the lesser diving beetle. A fierce predator with a truly alien look, the spectacular larvae of this diving beetle filled the pond.
We are so happy to be able to share our wonderful nature reserve and its amazing wildlife with so many children. We hope they continue to engage with nature once they leave us and grow up with a sense of ownership of the environment and a desire to protect it.