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

The final phase of the Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospice has begun. The new building is looking stunning and is sure to be an architectural icon for Barnet.

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!

Autumn/Winter review 2016

We made a good start to the new school year with 405 children visiting the centre in the autumn term. Visits were made by mainly upper key stage 2 classes with year 4 studying habitats, year 5 studying life cycles and year 6 studying interdependence, adaptation and water quality.
We also had two year 3 groups opting for our very successful Rocks and Soils course. This half-day hands-on course provides the children with the opportunity to identify and handle a range of real rock samples from all the major rock types. This is followed by a chance to see and handle real fossils such as a trilobite fossil dating back to 550 million years old! Out on the reserve pupils also discover how soil is made and witness a volcano experiment. In 2017 we will be adding an afternoon option of building materials exploring building materials through the ages and conducting experiments in tower building.
At the beginning of the term we hosted a very successful inset training session for thirty teachers exploring how the school’s outdoor environment can be used to enhance teaching. The session took place at the centre after school and lasted for one and a half hours. The event explored the range of topics that can be taught outdoors and how the outdoors can be brought back in to the classroom. Topics and curriculum links for outdoor work were covered, including science, maths, English, geography and numeracy and literacy. The importance of outdoor experiences for children was emphasised citing recent research into the role the school can play in encouraging children and their families to have more opportunities to experience nature. The teachers enjoyed a walk round the nature reserve and an opportunity to explore minibeast habitats including life in a log pile, sweep netting for grasshoppers in the meadow and tree bashing for weevils in the oak tree and a good look at some of the amazing creatures living in our ponds. Some of the teachers remembered the joy of finding minibeasts as children and found that it was still just as pleasurable. Even those who were a bit squeamish about bugs and beasties found it fascinating. Please contact us if you are interested in organising a training event for your teachers.
Star gazing
In November, we delivered our first Star gazing experience to a Brownie group. This was a great success. The night sky obliged us by being totally clear and the moon was big and bright and almost full. The children were able to see some of the moon’s features using binoculars, which they particularly enjoyed, and we were able to identify some of the constellations such as the Plough and Cassiopeia. They all brought torches and really enjoyed finding our way in the dark. Back at the centre they found out about the phases of the moon and talked about the naming of the constellations.

The Make a Difference Weekend: 1st, 2nd October 2016

Never was an activity so appropriately titled – we really did make a difference that weekend!
At 10 o’clock on Saturday morning, there was a weedy central area in the garden behind the new Environment Centre, a huge pile of steaming compost in the service yard, and 50 rolls of turf on a pallet. Also, in the area between the car park and the Centre there were two beds filled with weeds. See below!

digging the centre bed

Saturday morning at the centre bed

digging the side beds

Saturday morning by the side beds

Continue reading

July/August National Citizens Service challenge – young people get claggy in the clay

yellow aspen leaves close up

This summer, two groups of young people age 15 and 16 from the National Citizens Service volunteered to carry out conservation projects on the nature reserve. This was a great opportunity to develop new projects which we had been unable to carry out due to the huge amount of work needed to get our new garden into shape. A total of 25 young people attended the two events.

The first group built a new auditory trail through the Whispering wood and the second group built a reptile and amphibian hibernaculum in our new garden to provide safe hibernating habitat. Continue reading

Summer review 2016

It has been an exceptional year for education at the Barnet Environment Centre. We have survived deluge after deluge, the disruption and noise from the construction of our new centre, floods on the reserve and more mud than I would ever care to see again! We’ve squelched and slipped our way around the nature reserve, made raincoats from black bin bags, made shoe protectors from plastic bags, come up with new ways to investigate pond creatures in the rain and cleaned more floors and chairs than ever before. Despite the rain and the mud, the noise and the dust, all the children, and teachers, that visited us had a wonderful time.
The majority of the schools that visited us either walked or came by public transport making our education programme a truly green experience. Well done to all the schools that enabled this to happen. It is a great experience for young children to travel on public transport.
With all the rain you might wonder if we were able to see any wildlife at all. However, we have had many wonderful wildlife experiences. One day we were buzzed by a kestrel who swooped over our heads while the children were standing in the middle of the meadow. The kestrel then proceeded to hover less than 100 metres from us. For many children this was their first encounter with a bird of prey and they were delighted. Several groups of children were lucky enough to see nesting field voles and common shrews under our habitat plates in the meadow. We saw baby birds galore. We heard blackbirds, thrushes, blue tits, finches, woodpeckers and jackdaws. We saw swooping swift families feeding on insects high in the air. As for the insects! We found bright red cardinal beetles, vibrant green bush crickets, an acorn weevil that looked like an alien, dragonfly nymphs that were 7cm long, and shining hawker dragonflies and red and blue damselflies. In the ponds we have found delicate newtpoles, chunky toadpoles, adult newts with bright orange spotty tummies and tiny toadlets. It would be impossible to list everything that the children have seen this year.
We are now taking bookings for the autumn term. This autumn we are offering all of our usual courses, plus an autumn art experience and a session exploring poetry and nature. So, if you are inspired to visit, just send an email to the Education Manager, Caroline Gellor, at info@fobec.org.uk.
Wellie Appeal
If anybody has any old child’s wellington boots please consider donating them to us. Our visiting children often come without wellies. We are particularly in need of boots to fit young children aged 4-7, but anything to fit age 4 to Age 11 would be most welcome. If you have a pair to donate, please email the Education Manager on info@fobec.org.uk and put ‘wellie offer’ in the subject bar.

A new beginning!

Open Day 3rd July 2016
We have been in our new Centre for 2 months and celebrated with an Open Day for neighbours, members and supporters.  The day was a great success with around 170 people through the doors.  A  variety of activities took place: following a nature trail, butterfly craft, sowing seeds (donated by Kew), investigating pond life.  There was a huge selection of delicious cakes and a wonderful vista through the doors onto the garden and the reserve.  The feedbackwas overwhelmingly ‘excellent’  with lots of visitors commenting on the warm and welcoming atmosphere.

butterfly1 nature_trail pond_life1 pond_life2

Centre OpeningAprThe E-Centre Opening 9th April 2016  The Centre was formally opened by Phil and Janet Hulme of the Hadley Trust. Trustees, volunteers and friends of Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospice and Barnet Environment Centre, together with local residents and invited guests, attended to celebrate the future use of the building by both charities. The Friends of Barnet Environment Centre organised a self-guided walk around the nature reserve, a demonstration of pond-life and a “show and tell” of interesting wildlife objects. Read more on the Barnet Society’s website.

MADD12thApr16Make a Difference Day 12th March 2016: Mud field to wildlife garden. This “Make a Difference Day” was one of many sessions to transform the area immediately behind the Centre to make this into a garden to be enjoyed by school children, the families supported by Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospice and other visitors. Volunteers from our charity and from Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospice worked to scrub up brambles and undergrowth. Over the weekend of the 2nd and 3rd April we hired a digger and landscaped the garden and on the 4th we managed to prepare the ground and lay the turf that Noah’s Ark had been given by Thompsons of Enfield in an area next to the decking. The garden will have a large central picnic area, surrounded by a path that will be usable by children in wheelchairs, with beds around the edge and a wildflower mound at the far end. Work started on the path on the 6th April. The rush is on to get the garden area looking as good as possible!  We have made a list of wildlife-friendly plants and are asking for donations of plants or seeds from the list that are in your own garden. Please click here to see the list.

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.