Educational Year 2018-2019

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!

grass snakes love sleeping under logsThis 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.

grass snake skin 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.

newts and slug eggsThere 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!

 

robin encounterWe 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.

lesser diving beetleAt 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.

Review of the 2017-2018 Educational Year

It’s been an amazing year with many challenges. This year 1663 children aged 3 to 18 attended with 472 wonderful adults and teachers. A big thanks for all the parents, teachers and staff that came along to help out with the school visits. Your help is essential and much appreciated.
As well as our excellent Education manager, Caroline Gellor, we have a new field teacher, Sam McCabe, to help with the tremendous number of visits. Sam has proved to be a great asset and he has enjoyed his teaching so much this year that he has agreed to stay on. We are all delighted. Sam has great experience and is a woodland and forest garden specialist.
“What an amazing trip! Sam was very informative and hands on which allowed the children to be also. The whole class, adult supporters and teachers thoroughly enjoyed it and we will be booking again for next year.”
A few of our volunteers took over some of the teaching this year. They equipped themselves very well and got fantastic feedback as can be seen from these comments:
“It was a very informative and interactive trip. We learnt a lot about a range of mini-beasts and the natural world around us. It’s great to be instructed by volunteers who are very passionate in the work that they do too.”
“My children had a fantastic time and absolutely loved it. It was ideally suited to their age group, and the expert knowledge of our guide Sally Gillman was second to none. Thanks so much!”
Our nursery visitors became explorers for a morning experiencing a woodland nature walk, playing the wriggly worm game and discovering who lives under a log.

Irish yellow slugs love the dark damp habitat under the logs

Our KS1 Woodland Explorers investigated the woodland habitat discovering who lives in the woodland and why trees are important to wildlife and to humans. Some of them did pond dipping too and were amazed at the variety of creatures living in the ponds.

Cushion bracket fungi, one of many organisms that live on a tree

Older children in KS2 explored animal life cycles and pollination. Some year 6 children investigated animal and plant adaptation and evolution while year 3s discovered the history of the earth through our rocks and soils course, getting hands on experience of all the major rocks and a whole host of fossils dating back 550 million years! Lots of year 2 and year 4 children did our habitats and adaptation course finding out what lives in the ponds and discovering their wonderful adaptations. Dragonfly nymphs and flatworms never cease to engage the children’s attention. Here’s what some teachers said after their visit.
“We all thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the Barnet Environmental Centre. The day was very well planned, educational and great fun.”
“Caroline is highly engaging and her lessons were ‘pitched perfectly’ to hold and maintain our children’s attention. She has a wealth of knowledge which she shares with great enthusiasm. We will be booking again for next year.”

The bright yellow eyes of the predatory dragonfly nymph and a tiny flatworm

A-level groups this year looked at water quality and aquatic diversity using chemical test strips and the biotic index. They investigated diversity in the ponds using Simpson’s Index of Diversity. The students worked hard and were very interested in the subject matter. This is what their teacher had to say about the course:
“This was an inspiring day for our students. They came away saying they would never look at a pond the same way again. Others students were so inspired by what they learned about plastic pollution that they have started a campaign at school to spread awareness. They also managed to collect evidence to pass their AS practical requirements. Thank you Caroline, you had a big impact on them!”

Plastic bags or jelly fish? Concern grows about the level of plastic pollution in our oceans.

This year we extended the reach of our youth visits to include Boys Brigade, Woodcraft Elfins, Brownies, Rainbows, Cubs and Beavers. They all took part in different activities ranging from Woodland walks and pond dipping to stick art, natural sounds and star gazing. If you know a group who is interested in visiting the reserve please email the Education Manager, Caroline, info@fobec.org.uk .
Over the year children have seen some fantastic wildlife. Here are some of the highlights.

Violet ground beetle trundling across the meadow Field vole snuggling under a habitat plate
Smooth newt hibernating in the woodland Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospice taking shape

Autumn Open Days 2018

Each picture in this section is clickable – a much larger version is available if you click on it.
23 September 2018

sowing seeds on the meadowAfter a very wet morning, the weather brightened up and children were able to sow seeds donated by Kew Garden’s “Grow Wild” initiative. Their page about us is here if you want to have a look.
However, conditions were just right for autumn wild flower seed sowing in a prepared corner of the meadow.

an autumn dayFamilies also enjoyed a guided tour of the nature reserve. Unfortunately the meadow was too damp for the ‘sweeping’ activity, so trays of pond water were set up indoors with magnifiers and microscopes for close encounters with the pond creatures.
Indoor activities with an environmental theme included making grasshoppers using old fashioned wooden ‘dolly ‘ pegs, cotton pipe cleaners and natural materials and making hedgehogs using clay and twigs. The delicious refreshments encouraged visitors to relax in the afternoon sunshine and reflect on our wonderful environment.

13 October 2018 : The Make a Difference Day

the old donkey shedThis is an annual event on an autumn weekend for volunteers to tackle a specific project for the nature reserve. This year’s project was The Bird Hide. The plan was to convert the old donkey shed at the back of One Acre Meadow. This shed and the surrounding area has been neglected of late. The donkeys, Rupert and Smarty, have not been resident in the meadow for almost 20 years so there was plenty to be done! The project involved determination of what renovation or reconstruction was needed for the building and the execution of those tasks – re-felting the roof, replacing some of the woodwork, creating observation windows, levelling the surface within the building, creating a safe access route. Clearance of the vegetation was needed, removing nettles, brambles and other vegetation from the surrounding area to allow safe access to the hide and an area of clear observation behind it.

the new bird hide Our volunteers worked enthusiastically and made great progress. We had a wonderful day of sunny weather, enjoyed soup and ploughman’s lunch and delicious cake at teatime and at the end of the day’s session, great strides had been made in the Bird Hide Project.
Many thanks to all who donated their Saturday to come along and Make a Difference to our nature reserve.
If you would be interested in helping out at these annual events, please check our website next autumn. If you have a little more time and can help on a Monday afternoon or a monthly Sunday morning, please see the Volunteering section of the website.

26 October 2018: “Imaginary Creatures”
So many inventive creations by the 61 children and their parents on this half-term event!

An afternoon of colouring, modelling, sticking and cutting out. Plus face painting and exploring the nature reserve to find the “eyes” of many creatures hiding in the trees, shrubs and undergrowth.

Thanks to the many volunteers who made this such a very successful event.

The Make A Difference Weekend 14, 15 October 2017

This year the focus was on the access to and improvement of One Acre Meadow.

On the Saturday and Sunday, a total of 44 local enthusiasts and Friends of Barnet Environment Centre volunteers, including three children, cut back large clumps of oak saplings and brambles that had strayed onto the meadow, and dug out blackthorn roots to ensure that all traces had been effectively removed. What a difference that has made.

We needed to cut a new pathway through to the meadow from the Environment Centre on the other side of our magnificent Monterey Pine. This is because the new hospice building would have been too close to the old path. However, the new pathway provides a contrasting and inspiring way of approaching the open expanse of the meadow from the enclosed woodland. Our volunteers created a dead hedge along one side too which is a useful way to deal with arisings from the tree work and also provide habitat for mini-beasts and small mammals.

The new pathway has also necessitated our moving the existing compost bins. This was very heavy work and one particular volunteer worked doggedly all day and most of Sunday to empty just the one bin. The leaf mould was transferred to a nearby hedge where it will be used as a mulch. The creation of a new compost area required bramble removal – long prickly stems to be cut into manageable pieces and barrowed away and then the roots to be dug out.

Work elsewhere was also undertaken – our younger volunteers worked hard to clear the autumn leaves – “The best thing I have ever done!” – and muddy work was carried out in Skater Pond to remove vegetation and clay with the clay then being redistributed.

We welcomed 9 new volunteers over the weekend who, along with our regular volunteers, gave a total of 220 hours of their time which, together with the corporate volunteers, has enabled us to Make a SIGNIFICANT Difference to the nature reserve.

Our deep thanks to everybody.

REVIEW OF THE EDUCATIONAL YEAR 2016-2017

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!

Caroline’s wildlife blog: Autumn wonderland

autumn mosiacs smallThis autumn has been really beautiful and very warm. The golden browns, yellows and reds that have adorned our trees have been inspirational. It has been a real joy to work at the Barnet Environment Centre. The management carried out by the Friends of Barnet Environment Centre volunteers has created a mosaic of beautiful habitats that are brimming with wildlife. In the meadow there have been loads of bees, beetles and butterflies as well as grasshoppers and bush crickets.

Perhaps the most stunning experience has been seeing three adult grass snakes! The first was under the large oak tree and I nearly stepped on the snake. It moved away pretty pronto and then froze so I had a great view of it. The next two sightings were with a group of school children. An adult snake was basking in the sunlight when we arrived in the centre of the meadow and one sharp eyed youngster spotted it. Of course, as soon as the children saw it they were shrieking with joy and the snake quickly disappeared in to the long grass. The final viewing was under a habitat plate. I had taken a group of children to look under the corrugated metal plate and when I pulled it up there was another grass snake all curled up, warming itself up. It didn’t hang around! It’s important to remember that grass snakes are not venomous and will quickly disappear if disturbed.

The habitat plates have produced several surprises, including a family of field voles and a couple of large ant’s nests full of eggs. The poor ants frantically try to remove all the eggs underground once the nest is exposed.

The bird life has been really good. Late migrating house martins were seen catching insects over the new ponds. The ponds also attracted a couple of grey wagtails for several weeks. Such a delight to see these lovely birds. We even had a pair of mallard for a little while. The ponds have also attracted a new freshwater invertebrate to the nature reserve in the form of a rather large number of whirligig beetles! A splendid sight! Flocks of jackdaws calling overhead have kept my eyes on the sky! Their call is a real harbinger of autumn. Large flocks of goldfinches have been feeding on the thistles. Their tinkling call always alerts you of their presence.

Our new minibeast area is beginning to attract a lot of insects under the logs. This new area, which was built by volunteers from the NCS Challenge, a charity that helps young people gain practical experience in the real world. Opposite the minibeast area one of the volunteers has built a fernery around an old tree stump. It looks great and hopefully will settle in before the winter sets in.