YOU’RE NEVER TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE
This account, written by Agent H and a number of Chrono-bots illustrates some of the small measures we have taken during the spring term to increase students’ understanding of animals, people and the environment. We know we only have one planet and we know that most of us live as if we had at least three. We know that small changes add up, and we have therefore called this project ‘You’re never too small to make a difference’.
We have a generous conception of ‘animals’ and are happy to include pets and wild animals, both vertebrates and invertebrates under this one heading! We think all animals enrich life and that it is really important for children to be able to engage with them. We continue to sponsor animals such as chimpanzees with Dr Jane Goodall and other animals under WWF’s and Care for the Wild’s sponsorship schemes.
Clear skies and a cold frosty morning promised an interesting late January Birdwatch for thirty students. Our site is dominated with species such as pied wagtails and house sparrows, and we have few woodland species. However, we were pleased to find Goldcrests in our pond area. While there were few surprises, Birdwatch provides each generation of students with an opportunity to learn something different and to then apply their skills.
Overseen by an excellent team of sixth formers, students learnt the difference between various types of gull, between a dunnock and a house sparrow, and between a crow and a raven or a rook. They went on to record the greatest number of individuals of one species seen at any one point in time; a difficult concept for some! Results were sent immediately to the RSPB.Thanks go to Rosie and the sixth form team for organising Birdwatch.
EVALUATING RSPB MATERIALS
Some wildlife students are evaluators of RSPB educational materials, so after exploring a pack of their most recent resources, Year 9 students, Katie, Samantha and Rose organised the trials of a novel game for the RSPB that illustrated energy losses in food chains. The experience, much enjoyed by all, gave a real educational ‘extra’ and made a fitting conclusion to Birdwatch 2012. Well done to Katie, Sam and Rose for organising it!
AMPHIBIANS AND REPTILES
On a cold January morning, wildlife students were treated to an interesting talk given by parent Dr Tony Gent, Chief Executive Officer of Amphibian and Reptile Conservation. While we could see no animals, as they were in hibernation, students learnt how ARC manages nature reserves. Most are heathland; some are close to, but not actually in, Ringwood, with the nearest being Verwood, Ferndown and just down the A338 just outside Bournemouth.
Students learnt about threats to reptiles and amphibians, about the importance of conserving them and about ARC’s work. The highlight for many was hearing about the animals themselves and Dr Gent showed students wonderful images, and left us with some very welcome resources.
ARC has an excellent website with a plethora of resources at http://www.arc-trust.org/. Students were pleased to find details of the different species, and information about a great new app for iPad or iPhone. They also enjoyed HOP GOSSIP too: check out the website to see what this is!
ARC has joined forces with Pond Conservation and Amphibian & Reptile Groups of UK to launch the Big Spawn Count 2012. This is something that our wildlife students have already contributed to, as spawn appeared in our wildlife pond in mid February.
We hope to have either a second visit from ARC, or to visit some of the conservation sites, when the animals are out of hibernation. We are also very grateful to Alex for suggesting that his Dad visit us and we hope that this visit enhanced everyone’s understanding of reptiles and amphibians.
Is this ‘people’ or ‘animals’? The answer is almost certainly both! We collect lots of materials for recycling and most are sold to support charities. Collections are organised in tutor groups throughout the school and a description of what we do and how we do it is beyond the scope of this article. Students have recently collected about 100 mobile phones for Guide Dogs UK. Given that the lifetime cost of a guide dog is around £50,000, the money that Guide Dogs gains from this is well received. We are really grateful to all parents, students and carers for their generosity.
Students who are keen recyclers, together with others in the ‘animal’ group, were delighted to meet Haines, a golden Labrador/Retriever cross puppy, currently undergoing training in the competent hands of puppy trainer Pat Canning. Pat explained to students that she had trained a dozen puppies before handing them over to the Guide Dogs for the Blind association. They then charge the new owner who will be visually impaired, the princely sum of £1!
Students learnt that for the blind or partially sighted, a guide dog can change lives. They listened attentively while Pat explained how dogs are matched to owners and were particularly interested to hear what a guide dog does.
Haines’ training is going well and it appears that he will make a very good Guide Dog.
The organisation Wooofability trains assistance dogs for disabled people in our local area. They select 6 week old puppies with good temperament. A team of volunteers ‘socialise’ them and at 18 months they return to Woofability for 6 months of final training. Dogs are ready to join a disabled person who will work with them for the next 10 years.
These special dogs do many tasks to help their disabled partner such as emptying the washing machine, picking up the post, answering the telephone, helping to dress and undress, taking a purse to the till, pressing a button at traffic lights etc. By far the most important benefit is giving a person confidence to become more independent. The dogs really do change lives for the better.
It takes two years to train a dog, at a cost of £5000. Year 7 students hope to raise enough to train a puppy. A great fund-raising day at the end of term raised a colossal £933.
BIRDS OF PREY
Wildlife students and great recyclers enjoyed a great experience courtesy of Liberty’s Reptiles and Raptors Centre. Former student Jason Bridges brought in three birds to the delight of our youngsters; a Great Grey owl, and Eagle Owl and a Peregrine Falcon, the fastest bird on the planet. Jason’s talk was superb and he held the attention of students for 25 minutes as he listed facts and described the unique features of the birds’ physiology and ecology. His knowledge and expertise were impressive, and he was able to answer a battery of quick fire questions from youngsters at the end of his talk. The highlight for many was being able to get close to the birds, and when shown how to do so, many enjoyed touching the beautiful eagle owl. Students are enormously grateful to Liberty’s for this wonderful experience, and to Year 13 student, Rosie Brooks for organising the visit.
We believe the environment is for all of us. The environment is at the heart of You’re never too small to make a difference.
Everyone should have a right to healthy places to live, work and play, and a right to a fair share of the world’s natural resources. Along with rights go responsibilities. We think that everyone has a responsibility to look after the planet for us, our children and our children’s children. This can only happen in a truly fair society; one that tackles environmental injustice in the UK and around the world. We hope that our environmental work reflects that view.
A CLIMATE CHANGE GARDEN
A beautiful Beth Chatto gravel garden, created in the grounds of Clarence House and designed to withstand future climate change became the inspiration for a project at school that has taken a year to fund. The garden has been designed to rely on minimal water and is planted with many drought tolerant plants. Students were careful to choose only those plants that would also attract wildlife such as lavender, thyme, marjoram and buddleia. They also planted some species that are commonly found in the New Forest. This proved to be challenging as the area is not currently associated with drought! However, after much research, suitable plants were chosen. Although a major planting session took place on a day when the heavens opened, the garden is well under way and with winter 2012’s average rainfall in southern England being the lowest since 1972, we are pleased with our decision to plant a drought garden.
We have also installed a water feature that is powered by the sun. We have a large photovoltaic cell donated by British Gas whose electricity pumps water through a small feature. We think this is important because our photovoltaic panels on the roof are a little too high for students to see. We are now planning an explanatory plaque that will be designed by students.
Last summer, a large group of students helped to remove a big area of Himalayan Balsam, a highly invasive species, from Docken’s Water, near Blashford. We will repeat this community conservation work next July with a new group of students. In preparation, Joanne Gore of Hampshire Wildlife Trust, gave the wildlife group a fascinating talk about the problems of invasive plant species.
Our wildlife and biodiversity students learnt of the different problems imposed by Giant Hemlock, Japanese Knotweed, Skunk Cabbage, Crassula, and Himalayan Balsam. Most were introduced as exotic and attractive species for gardens, but having subsequently gone out of control they out-compete our native species. Focus shifted towards the Balsam, and students learnt how easily the seeds are spread and are carried down the river valleys in which they will ‘pull’.
Jo returned a second time on the only snowy school day of the winter. Students tried to view the Crassula that has invaded our pond but it lay beneath several centimetres of ice and snow! These students, who had fought their way into school, learnt of the different methods that have been trialled in the New Forest Crassula removal project, such as chemical treatments, coloured dyes, manual removal, liquid nitrogen, photosynthesis blockers and we plan to run our Crassula removal scheme with the help of HWT.
OFFSHORE WIND TURBINES
Students in the energy group were joined by geographers in an early morning session – a talk from Matthew Knight, father of Emma and Rose. This formed a highly appropriate lead-in to CLIMATE WEEK. During this week, students in Year 7 calculated their carbon footprint. This means that all students in Years 7 to 11 have, at some time, completed the carbon calculating exercise.
Students learnt about the reasons for current interest in offshore wind farms; the idea that fossil fuels are running out gives an economic imcentive. Fossil fuels’ contribution to global warming and climate change as a result of the carbon emissions associated with their burning gives an environmental imperative. In addition, windy UK is ideally placed for wave, wind and tidal energy.
Students were shown current plans for a proposed offshore wind farm and learnt a little about building a wind turbine and how exactly it catches the wind. They were shown how foundations were built in the sea and how connections are made inland. While photographs made this look easy, students heard that it takes at least seven years to build a wind farm.
The controversy surrounding wind farms, including the proposal to create a farm in the western Solent, was discussed although no-one in the large audience was opposed to their development at all. In the context of Navitus Bay, the local proposal, students considered how the media is capable of influencing public views, and by their use of clever graphics, sometimes distorting the truth.
Mr Knight helpfully supplied a list of careers that will be available in the renewables industry and recommended websites that will be of interest to all students and will be particularly valuable to geography students. He left us with his excellent Powerpoint which students can access in school.
Our energy students were amused by the fact that those most supportive of wind farms are women with children, and those most opposed to them are elderly men! They were reminded of Prince Philip’s outspoken attack on wind farms when he reportedly said the farms were a ‘disgrace’ that would never work.
Students learnt a great deal form this inspiring session from which. Thanks to Emma for organising it.
SAVE OUR SOLAR CAMPAIGN
One of the many benefits of being a Green Flag EcoSchool is that we get offers. We can also support their initiatives such as Save our Solar. When given an opportunity to obtain more free solar panels we jumped at the chance and arranged for the installation of a second large array of solar photovoltaic panels to be mounted on the roof of the hall and gym over half term. Our 63 new panels will generate 14.8kW and will save a massive 7880 kg of CO2 pa. Unfortunately, our panels are not very visible to students so we are planning an explanatory plaque at a lower level (see gravel garden).
We have had a link to the Save our Solar campaign, strongly supported by EcoSchools, for the past year. Many people have supported this campaign; students in the energy group, and others who responded directly through the website. Small, individual actions do add up: you’re never too small to make a difference!
AIR QUALITY SURVEY
Students took part in an air quality survey that ran over two weeks, ending in CLIMATE WEEK. Students fixed accurate pollution monitors in six positions on the school site. They ran for two weeks after which they were sent away for scientific analysis. We are optimistic that, despite being very near to the A31, the concentrations of the polluting gases will be low. We are sampling concentrations of oxides of nitrogen and oxides of sulphur, and await results!
As part of the survey, our wildlife and biodiversity students recorded species and abundance of lichens on the site. Both nitrogen oxides and sulphur oxides can have damaging effects on vegetation, causing excessive growth of certain plant species and preventing the growth of others. Nitrogen dioxide can also be harmful to our health by irritating the lungs and lowering our resistance to respiratory infections. We used lichens as indicator species as they are particularly sensitive to air pollution. Great science for Chronobots! Sadly we found none of the ‘leafy’ lichens such as Usnia (pictured on right) that indicate pure air. We found plenty of ‘flat’ lichens that can tolerate air pollution. That doesn’t necessairly mean our air in polluted though!
CLIMATE CHANGE SURVEY
The evidence from the scientific community is that we are very confident that humans are major contributors of greenhouse gases through our emissions. We also know that this is warming the planet and that the effect may devastate some parts of our world. What we do about it is far less clear. Roots and Shoots students took part in a climate change survey that is co-ordinated by the Met Office and introduces a range of innovative survey techniques that were employed by students in Years 7 to 9. One starting point is the construction of a series of giant graphs! Climate Week comes at the end of a busy term and it was difficult to find ‘extra’ time to work on the graphs. However, led by sixth formers, a team of real climate enthusists managed it and we now have three huge charts that make a graphic depiction of our changing climate! We completed this work by making a presentation to be shown in Tutor Groups for Earth Hour. As always, this fell on a Saturday.
Giving it some welly in a Royal ‘Dig’
Twenty five of our wildlife and biodiversity students hit the turf as part of a nationwide attempt to plant one million trees in one month to commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. The students received 60 saplings plus a ‘Royal Oak’ sapling.
In 45 minutes of energetic activity students planted a traditional hedgerow of hawthorn, hazel, holly, dog rose and dogwood that will provide food, habitat, shade and colour. The Diamond Dig took place on Friday at Liberty’s Reptiles and Raptor Centre to support their own work in biodiversity and conservation. The final planting was of a Royal Oak, grown from an acorn on the Queen’s estate. This was planted by Year seven and eight Chrono-bots, helped by Jason Bridges of Liberty’s.
Our students think tree planting is fantastically important. Trees support ecosystems so it’s a way in which we can all do something worthwhile and lasting for wildlife. We hope our saplings will grow into a fine country hedge that will help attract wildlife to the area. We were delighted to plantat Liberty’s. They have been really supportive of our school’s efforts to increase sustainability and it’s good to be able to put something back. We hope that both Liberty’s and the whole community can benefit from our planting.
Students, of course, also enjoyed looking at the birds of prey after planting!
Post script! We were delighted to be contacted by Agent Andrew, a member of the public who is a real tree enthusiast. Having read about our ‘dig’ he has offered us more tiny trees, each lovingly grown from a seed or from a cutting in resued containers. How sustainable is that?
DIG IT, GROW IT, EAT IT AND ENJOY IT!
There is nothing like gardening to lift the spirits, and growing seasonal food is healthy, cheap and reduces your carbon footprint!
In the last cold days of spring students were inspired to get started by a showing of Jonathan Blease’s film for Transition New Forest on the importance of local food. Featuring several of our current and past students at Minstead Study Centre, and growers throughout the New Forest and the Avon Valley, it shows the recent achievements of the Transition movement.
‘Grow Your Own’ students were thrilled to be given small paper bags of onion sets by New Forest Food Challenge. Not intended for school use, these onions were to take home to grow their own! Those without gardens were provided with a tough growing bag. We hope students will log and blog their progress on the Food Challenge website.
One week later, we were given small bags of potatoes to plant. Again, students were able to take them home and encourage their parents to ‘Grow Their Own’ too!
Thanks to our unseasonably warm spring, gardening started early, with Agent Aidan Chitty providing an energetic demonstration of digging. Students dug and improved our soil last autumn with home made compost, manure and peat free compost. Aidan was pleased to tell youngsters about his ancestry as they learnt how chitting encourages potato tubers to produce strong, sturdy sprouts giving an earlier maturing crop. Students placed tubers in old egg boxes and when soil temperature exceeded 6oC they planted both first earlies and earlies in the allotment area.
Choosing ground where no onions or shallots had grown before, and that similarly been manured in the autumn, students have planted onion and shallot sets in shallow drills. Students learnt how sowing peas in guttering indoors provides an early start to peas before transfer outside.
Gardening continued until the final days of spring term, with our energetic sixth form team of leaders sometimes going it alone. Thanks to them and to Katy and Sam, much planting was accomplished before the holidays!
Why do we try to use peat free compost?
Living peatland vegetation such as you see in the bogs of the New Forest, absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. When it dies under waterlogged conditions, it cannot decay properly and the process of peat formation begins. This locks up more carbon than it releases, making peat is a huge carbon store. When we harvest peat and take it from the wet, low-oxygen (anaerobic) conditions in which it formed and persists, decomposing organisms can move in and the peat begins to break down and releases this store of carbon. This is largely in the form of carbon dioxide, an important greenhouse gas linked to climate change.
Peat has been so successful in multi-purpose compost that replacing it is challenging. No single material satisfies all the requirements demanded by gardeners so most new growing media are blends of one or more main ingredients. Peat-free products in the UK now include green-waste compost, composted bark, wood fibre and coir. We sourced our ‘Eco compost’ from Christchurch, and it comes from green waste and we are trialling peat-free seed compost.
Inspired by a recent television programme on urban gardening that featured the vision of Professor Nigel Dunnett, in the landscape department of Sheffield University, some of our gardening students have sown a small area of the grounds with wildflower seeds. The area was cleared of weeds, then and lightly dressed with peat free compost. After leaving it for several weeks, it was raked over on a dry day to create a fine tilth into which seeds were broadcast. A little rain that has broken our spring drought will help with germination. We hope to develop this as a ‘bee friendly’ garden.
We ‘Marque’ the importance of local food
It’s sometimes difficult to decide whether a Roots and Shoots activity belongs to ‘people’ or to ‘environment’. Our links with ‘Transition’ (above) and the next section illustrate this very well.
Students in the Fairtrade group and the ‘Grow Your Own’ group, together with promising young cooks and chefs enjoyed a special lunch at school when they were were treated to a selection of Fairtrade foods and to local ‘New Forest Marque’ produce from Tatchbury Manor Farm, Lyburn Cheese, The Real Jam and Chutney Company, Spice ‘n’ Easy and Scotch eggs from Gordleton Mill. The New Forest Marque aims to help promote local produce and ensures that it is from the New Forest and high welfare standards have been adhered to. We know we only have one world and that by buying local food we are supporting local growers, reducing our carbon footprint, and making a difference.
This great lunchtime event introduced many students to both Fairtrade and local food.
A visit from the NPA
Students were next treated to an early morning school visit from the National Park Authority who brought in a hamper of local foods for students to unpack and explore. As items were brought out of the hamper, students learnt about their importance in the local area. For instance, a deer skin allowed students to learn about venison, local pork taught them about pannage and salt taught them about the former salt extraction on the coast.
We followed it up with two discussion sessions and a lunchtime sampling session of yet more New Forest food! This time, we had duck eggs, Scotch eggs, local ham, black pudding, Lyburn (Hampshire) cheese and various preserves made locally. Students tasted and discussed – why local? Which products best represent the New Forest? We are cetainly very grateful to the New Forest National Parks Authority, and to Sarah Hunt in particular as she introduced everyone to the new Forest Marque.
Having learnt so much about the history and importance of local food, thanks to the arrangements of Sarah Hunt, Manager of the New Forest Marque, a group of students, a mixture of ‘Grow your Own’ students and cooks, visited Head Chef James Golding at ‘The Pig’ in Brockenhurst. This visit marked the culmination of an excellent half term’s work on local food.
Most food for this exquisite restaurant is produced on site in the restored walled gardens and in their fields. James’ policy is to minimise food miles, and we were shown his ’25 mile menu’. This is how it begins, “This is a place that is all about the walled garden … everything is driven by the gardener and forager – they grow and find the food – the chef then makes the menu.” What they can’t grow themselves comes from local suppliers. The garden was almost idyllic and we were all bowled over by it, and indeed the whole ethos of ‘The Pig’. Herbs appear on dining tables and all cutlery and glassware is vintage. Students thought that this was both localism and ‘reuse’ at their best and were truly inspired by this visit. James’ local food was exciting and students learnt very new techniques – such as how to tap the sap of a birch tree! They took their recipe ideas that they had collected over recent weeks to The Pig and hope that with James’ help, they will be brought to life.
Agent Aidan who leads the ‘Grow Your Own’ team, has a real understanding of the importance of local food. He said, ‘It is important to support local producers: we should be proud of the food available in the New Forest. It is too easy to go to the supermarket and not pay attention to what we are buying.’
A Nissan VIP Weekend
Agent H penned a few words for a British Gas sustainability competition and was lucky enough to win a weekend in London for two. It included a stay in a luxury hotel in the new docklands, a private suite for a JLS concert at the O2 and a visit to Nissan’s innovation centre with opportunity to explore and test drive the Nissan Leaf around London. The impressive Leaf is Nissan’s all electric car. A low carbon return to Waterloo was made by river boat!
The theme of this year’s Fairtrade Fortnight was ‘Take a Step’ and people were invited to take any step they can to introduce more people to Fairtrade. Our students know that one sure step can help reduce inequality in our world. We heard good news this term – our Governors have agreed to a Fairtrade polo shirt option for our students. Sixth form students in the Fairtrade group have fought hard for this for the past year.
A display of Fairtrade products
Everyone collected as many Fairtrade items as possible in the week preceding Fairtrade Fortnight, making sure that our range was as wide as possible. Our surveys tell us that everyone knows about Fairtrade chocolate, tea and coffee, but students wanted to increase awareness of other products such as textiles and jewellery. With the help of the Fairtrade Foundation’s excellent posters, Fairtrade students made an attractive display of the goods available.
Many students are critically aware of global injustices so we combined our great Fairtrade dispaly with an eye-catching display mounted by Amnesty students. This, alongside Fairtrade products, highlighted global inequality. Until he spoke, we weren’t aware of the extent to which this fitted with Tom Palmer’s own thoughts (see below).
There were other events during Fairtrade Fortnight too: a student presentation was shown in tutor groups and thanks to the unusually sunny March weather, students also held two outdoor Fairtrade cake and product sales: both were sell-outs and served to introduce yet more students to Fairtrade.
As a Fairtrade School, it is important that we celebrate Fairtrade Fortnight with a significant event and that niche was well filled by Tom Palmer. Members of the Fairtrade group particularly enjoyed hosting a Fairtrade lunch for Tom, a children’s author, soccer and Fairtrade enthusiast. Students celebrated Tom’s arrival with a Fairtrade lunch, all students in the Fairtrade group from years 7 to 13, contributing a small item, often home baked from Fairtrade ingredients. Tom ran two excellent workshop sessions that involved a combination of football, Fairtrade to all Year 7 students. Tom told of his travels to Ghana where he witnessed young boys being trafficked for UK football teams. He then visited the Fairtrade cooperative Kuapa Kokoo and witnessed the difference Fairtrade made to people’s lives. Year 7 students were encouraged to ‘Take a Step’ by creating a paper footprint with their personal pledge. We now have several hundred paper feet!
Duing Fairtrade Fortnight, students in Geography were pleased to link up with the children in Ghana at Kuapa Kokoo through Pa Pa Paa Live by using their webcasts.
Fairtrade in the community
Tom was pleased to help with another session held after school for parents and students in Year 6 who will be coming to Ringwood next year. Our own Fairtrade students served Fairtrade tea, coffee and cakes, most of which were again prepared from Fairtrade ingredients by the canteen team. Zoe’s florentines were amazing! Year six children and their parents were also invited to ‘take a step’ before anwering questions on Fairtrade that qualified them for a penalty shoot out! More paper feet were added to our collection!
We were pleased to contribute a large photographic display to Sainsburys of Ringwood to support their own efforts for Fairtrade Fortnight. We have many photos of our Fairtrade activities so students mounted these on display boards, adding suitable captions, for members of the public to enjoy. The display remained throughout Fairtrade Fortnight and students know that it created lots of interest. We know it will help to reinvigorate the campaign for Ringwood town to renew its Fairtrade status this year. With a meeting with the Twon council already fixed for a date in May, we know that will be the focal point for students’ Fairtrade work in the summer term.
Posted on April 14th, 2012 by Agent Ringwood
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