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.

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.