Tag Archives: education

Voles, mice & shrews – a small mammal search

Last Saturday was quite a busy day in terms of getting outside and surrounded by nature. As you’ll see from my latest post, I was on a fungi foray in the morning with my local wildlife group then in the afternoon I was at the National Memorial Arboretum with their Wildlife Watch group, which I’m one of the leaders of.

The Wildlife Watch group here have monthly sessions and at each one they do a different activity. On Saturday Derek Crawley from the Mammal Society came along. He was a real star guest and introduced the group to the world of small mammals and trapping them for conservation purposes (to record and let free again).

On Saturday we had the regular attendees of the group along with the local cubs so there was quite a lot of us but it all ran smoothly and everyone was learning something new along with having a great time!

Around 40 traps were set up the night before in the intention of trapping small mammals such as voles, mice and shrews, and so we did! After we emptied the trap the children were able to have a look at what had been caught before it was released. Data of what was caught was also added to the records for this site.

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Thanks Mr Gibb but nature is important

I’m a strong believer that outdoor education, actually being taught outside and learning about the natural world around, needs to be something that’s taught in every school. Throughout the whole of my education nature is something that I was never really taught about in school. Thinking back to primary school, I’m trying to remember what we did which was wildlife related. I’m really struggling to think of anything. I mean we went on days away, one trip was five days up to the Lake District and we went out walking a few of the days but I don’t remember much a part from some sight-seeing. One thing I do remember from primary school though was that I felt like my interest was not encouraged. Thinking back, it wasn’t that bad but at the time I was only about eight or nine. What I remember is going to York for a day trip and the Headmaster had said ‘Has anyone been to Yorkshire before?’ and the weekend before I’d been to Bempton Cliffs so I shot my hand straight up and told him a bit about it. His reply was a mutter and that was about it really.

In primary school I was known to be a bit mad and everyone seemed to think I knew everything about wildlife, this was obviously because they knew not much at all. I remember the teacher visiting a website on the big board in front of where we all sat and the banner of the site displayed a lake with a large bird of prey. The teacher asked me if I knew what it was, I replied with stating it was an osprey and everyone seemed amazed.

These are just a few of my own memories. I also decided to ask my brother what he remembers, he’s two years younger, and he told me that the only nature based thing he remembers was dissecting pellets the one time. That was it.

There’s two reasons why I’m doubting my old primary school, well the curriculum in general, for the lack of nature themed lessons. In a world like today when we’re distracted by new incredibilities like gadgets, we all need to be aware of what is the truest to us all. What we all come from and what, without, we wouldn’t be here. Also, with the huge plummet of species, rise in climate change, more consumption etc, we need to understand what we can do to help and the fact we need more people then ever coming through to help in these situations.

As I mention, with more and more distractions about like gadgets and parents not always pushing their children to go outside. Whether that be because it’s easier to give them a phone, they think it’s too dangerous with the scare of the media nowadays or they just don’t think of that as an option. This reconnection needs to happen somewhere.

There are still parents who encourage their children, like families going out for afternoon walks, but still there’s that danger stigma or the fact times have moved on. Yes, that’s right, obviously times have moved on but we still rely on the natural world.

There’s also fantastic organisations and charities, whether national or independent, that open their doors to children for weekly or school holiday wildplay events. I’m a leader of a Wildlife Watch group at the National Memorial Arboretum and once a month we have sessions where we’ll do a range of activities. As much as it’s great for those kids that do turn up, sadly it’s the same kids every month. No matter how much advertising it’s not very often we get a different face.

Could this be the case with some other groups like this? Are these the kids with parents who do encourage them? My point is, not every child is fortunate enough to join groups like this and get encouragement this way. Whether their parents don’t have time to take them, they don’t find out or they don’t see much of a point. These are some of the exact reasons why I think more needs to be done in schools so EVERY child is given the opportunity too.

An example that made me realise this was from some of the outdoor education things I have done in schools. A project, that I’m very involved with, approached a local school and they were interested. We normally spend a day or the afternoon rotating around the classes. When I was speaking to a group of children the other week at an afternoon event, one lad was telling me how much he enjoyed it all and that he’d never done it before. This also backs up that every child has that connection there and love for nature, but are they exposed to it and are they aloud to let this flourish?

By saying ‘education’, it can sometimes make it seem like it’s made really serious and perhaps boring. Obviously this isn’t something that should be happening and I think actually getting outdoors could take this away and have many more benefits. By the getting outside part, it does make you remember as it’s hands on and practical. I was speaking to someone just a few days ago and they said when they think back to school, one thing they remember is going pond dipping. This was interesting seen as they’re probably about mid-60s and have had a life long career in conservation. It’s that sort of stuff that inspires people. But a one off outdoor lesson or a one off module learning about the food chain in Year 2 isn’t something that entices the child even more. With regular lessons they are given time to develop, learn more and see other opportunities. Perhaps nag their own parents and go along to groups and sessions.

I could go on about this subject all day long, it’s something I’m passionate about. Young people are the future and from a first hand experience of being surrounded by people my age who have no interest it’s very worrying. I feel as though they’ll just be a bunch of us in about 30 years time fighting against everything, especially with declines, extinctions, climate change and problems like this ever getting worse and worse. They don’t listen now so what makes sure they’ll listen in the future when there may well be even less people speaking out.

Obviously it isn’t all doom and gloom. Sometimes people in power do realise, let’s hope it’s not before it’s too late, but more importantly there are some great young people out there fighting for the cause of the natural world. There’s also some great communities and support out there too.

I’ve gone on a lot more then I wanted to now. The purpose of writing this blog was to share that I’d had another reply re my idea and thoughts on outdoor education in schools. A few months back I decided to meet with my MP, Michael Fabricant. He told me to write down all my points and thoughts then to send them to him and he’d forward them onto the Minister of State for Schools, Nick Gibb. After finally summing it all up into less then about five pages, I sent it off and got a reply today.

Before I got really involved and before meeting my MP etc, I decided to do a bit of research into what is actually on the curriculum today. However my reply proves there wasn’t much point as this is basically what Nick Gibb has stated in his letter.

In the first paragraph he agrees with my point ‘about the importance of outdoor education’. He then goes onto say that the new National Curriculum provides the ‘opportunity to acquire a core of essential knowledge in key subjects’. My first thought to that was nature is a key subject but he points out that nature and interaction outside the classroom is only included. He states that this is ‘across the curriculum, in particular, in geography and science which aim for children to learn about the natural world’. He has a good point there, it is included but this is against what I said in the first place. Lessons like this aren’t regular. They’re topic based and it varies from year to year throughout school. As I mention before, throughout my primary school experience I remember science lessons but not many about nature at all.

In my letter to him I also state that declines in recent years are scary and the low figures that show young people aren’t connected match this. More nature education in school could help reverse the amount of children not connected for obvious reasons but he does not mention this in his reply. A part from what’s happening at the moment. The new curriculum, from last September, is very similar to the one before.

So, I’m sorry Mr Gibb but your reply only states what the curriculum states at the moment. Nature is more important. It’s the same as any other subject. Take History.  We’ll always have that ability to look into the past with professions like Historians and evidence. The past never goes but if we don’t encourage primary school children (the next generation) to explore, enjoy and look after their natural surroundings then they’ll be no future for it. Whether that be people doing there bit as an individual or people going into the profession of conservation, natural science etc. It’s disappearing before our eyes now, we can’t let this carry on.

I plan to write back to him within the next week.

Contacting your local MP and the Hunting Act amendment

As I stated in my latest blog and you may have heard in the media, the free vote for MPs on the repeal of the Hunting Act is next Wednesday. This has all come very suddenly and is no doubt going to cause a lot of chaos in the next few days. Even though 80% of the public want the ban to stay in place there is that few that want to repeal it. However it’s not the public that will be voting, it’s the MPs therefore as constituents we need to make our voice heard to our MPs and make sure they vote no!

So, contacting your local MP is very important. They may be a tough nut pro-hunter and you may think it won’t work but it’s worth it and you’ve got nothing to loose. Along with this it takes no time at all to simply send an email, letter or maybe even a tweet just to see if they will be voting for or against the repeal. A few weeks back I put together a template letter which is free to use and edit if you wish, find it by clicking here.

Meeting with my local MP

A few weeks back, running up to the general election, I got in touch with all my local candidates about the issues around young people not engaging with the natural world with the blog I did for A Focus on Nature. The Conservative candidate, Michael Fabricant, got back to me and said if he was to be re-elected he would be willing to meet me. He was re-elected and I met with him this morning for an informal meeting in my local city centre. Coincidently the vote to repeal the Hunting Act is in just a few days so I couldn’t miss the opportunity to ask him about his views. I already knew that he wouldn’t vote to repeal it as he’d stated it on Twitter but I asked him a few questions about his points of view on this matter. What he said was quite positive and great to hear.

The planned topic was actually about the education of nature in primary schools which he was in favour of and I plan to take this further. This issue is very important to me as less children are becoming connected with nature, in fact it’s believed just 1 in 5 are. You can read more about what I’ve said in the past here – https://georgiaswildlifewatch.wordpress.com/2015/04/11/my-visionfornature/

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Pond dipping fun!

Yesterday afternoon I headed to the National Memorial Aboretum as it was the monthly meeting for the Widlife Watch group, of which I’m a leader of. I gave a talk to this group over a year ago now and since then I go along to the monthly session to help out. Yesterdays activity was pond dipping. Even though I’m one of the leaders I was still very excited about this as it’s great fun and I knew the kids would enjoy it too.

As well as the regulars that turn up for the session, today we were also joined by about 20 Scouts who were eager to have a go at pond dipping. None of them had done it before so they were very excited. As we walked down they were all sharing their wildlife stories and asking plenty of questions which was firing up their enthusiasm even more.

Once down at the pond, that has recently been created here especially for pond dipping, we filled the trays with water and they all got to work with the nets. Straight away they caught species like newts, tadpoles, diving beetles, pond skaters, dragonfly nymphs and many more. This was quite surprising as the pond here was only created last year but already it was beaming with life.

They were all really interested in what they caught, and so was I! It was really great to see these youngons doing what so many others should be doing, which is enjoying nature. They were all full of life afterwards and looking forward to the next time they could do it.

Here are a few photos that I took.

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