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Hi from the thawing North! – Highlands Mission Update!

I can’t begin to write this posting without first offering a huge Thank-You to everyone at Roots & Shoots for our Gold Award. It helps that we are family based and that the agents who are able bodied do not appear to perceive other agents’ difficulties as a barrier to certain experiences. I think one of the greatest assets of the group is their willingness to adapt and accommodate the array of strategies we employ.


One of the most pleasing changes to the dynamics of our group has been the welcome shift of responsibility with the agents taking on the role of co-ordinating and finishing our Ice Age Project, which involved activities associated with our environment, people and wildlife. The agents have produced a scrap book to document our winter exploits. What is not recorded is the effect on some of our agents of the smallest effort and when



walking, breathing and simply being upright causes severe pain and exhustion, it is to their absolute credit that they contribute so much.

Our long-planned visit to the local wildlife park finally took place but, unfortunately not with the group as a whole. The animals all posed beautifully except for the Polar Bear, who spent the entire time curled up in a ball sound asleep!



However, it was still a useful venture with the youngest of our agents being able to report back to the group that travelling in snow was difficult and that it was hard for the animals to find grass and shelter and that even the rangers had struggled to feed them at times. Because of the reclusive nature and habitat of animals such as the Pine Marten, Red Squirrel and Wild Cat obtaining clear photos in the dappled shade of their enclosures would



have involved using flash photography and to do so merely to obtain a photo, was not considered a viable option.

A small group of our agents visited Clava Cairns, an ancient Burial Site situated minutes from Culloden Battlefield. The structures were built long before the Egyptian Pyramids and trips such as this help to give the younger agents a tangible connection with regard to the



culture of ancient people in this country.

We are currently involved in a Dust Bowl project and one of our agents undertook a short visit to the Floral Hall in Inverness as a forerunner to this. The hall contains tropical plants, insects and a very interesting Cacti area. Photos were taken and a record made of the visit.

Some of our older agents then read a European Union



book about Disaster Relief, and we hope that it raises awareness of issues they may not otherwise consider, whilst also allowing them to cascade ideas and concepts to younger agents. We hope to visit a Hydroponic centre on the West Coast of Scotland sometime soon and we have also made contact with the American Sun Wise Programme, and are incorporating activities associated with them in our Dust Bowl Weekend which is coming up shortly.



We already have posters of plants and animals in the Summer House used by our younger members as a rest/play area, and feel that this could be expanded to create a notice board to provide information about the animals and plants to be found in our local area for the thousands of visitors who arrive yearly. Discussions were held on the format of the information to be delivered, design of the board and construction



materials required. As our activities take place within a conservation area we may require permission and we have decided to leave responsibility for obtaining this in the hands of some of our more senior agents, as it is important for them to learn to engage with local administration.

As part of our effort to raise awareness about the worth of assisting others our agents were encouraged to help



raise funds for one of our fellow Roots & Shoots groups who had requested assistance. The agents set to with a will making seed packets, planning bird box building sessions and an activities day complete with opportunities to purchase homemade goodies. Unfortunately, a combination of factors including problems with our Reef Tank and an act of vandalism to our base, meant that we were unable to



meet the deadline we had set and consequently voted to provide the group in question, with a number of Bee Logs for use in their garden. These are ready for posting tomorrow.

We have arranged to carry out a Litter Clean on the 24th of April as part of the “Keep Scotland Beautiful” Campaign, and intend to help clean the beach area



around our local slip way and community garden. Considering the diversity of our agent’s abilities we have arranged for them to receive a talk by local health care providers on the 22nd of April to facilitate safe collection practices on the day. Some of the agents have already participated in local clean-ups and all are encouraged not to drop litter.

Representatives of the British Heart Foundation



visited our base and great fun was had filling their vehicle with bags of collected clothing, toys and other unwanted items. A return visit is scheduled for six weeks time and collections have already commenced for this. We have also made donations of goods to local charities.

Having looked at the work of our fellow Gold Award winners we are now introducing the use of Fair Trade goods during our cookery sessions and have



encouraged discussions about the use of Fair Trade goods. Some of our agents have gluten and dairy free recipes ready for submission to the R & S web site.

Some agents took part in Earth Hour and it was exciting to note that the National Grid had a measurable dip in consumption during the allotted timeframe, so well done to everyone who participated!



We have been registered to take part in the American Schools’ EE week, commencing the 11th of April. We are looking forward as a group to undertaking activities associated with the study of water conservation, and are currently issuing a small questionnaire to other participating schools and universities in an attempt to ascertain if those living in a potentially ‘Dust Bowl’ environment do more to preserve water than those who



do not. If so how? And if not, why not?! We have also made contact with Scottish Water and are awaiting the receipt of educational resources.

As part of our participation in the Phenology exercise we became members of Nature’s Calendar and have engaged in a discovery trail, conducted a Bug Hunt search, and recorded the first signs of new shoots, flowers and nest building activities.



We have established a Food-Web and work continues on our sighting calendar. In the past two weeks our agents have seen Deer, a Badger, a Red Kite, numerous Buzzards, the formation of enormous flocks of Geese as they ready themselves for mass migration, a Dolphin, a Red Squirrel, Bees, an Owl and a Bat. Apart from sea, mountains, farm land and vast open spaces we are also extremely lucky to live in and around large stretches of



forest, and a discussion has been held with some of the agents about the effect desert conditions would have on this and the animals dependent on it.

Our tireless resident gardening expert has been very busy showing us how to harvest winter crops whilst also commencing preparation for this seasons planting. We have decided to increase our organic gardening processes and have even collected seaweed from the


beach for our new compost areas.

A raised bed has been made with others planned to assist those with restricted mobility gain greater accessibility to the plants, and we have also increased our usage of reusable vegetable containers. Unfortunately recent bad weather has delayed our planting plans as the loss of our two greenhouses (I know you can see one in the photo, but it was destroyed by severe winds two days later) and we have decided to wait another week or so before we start sowing seeds. However, we have had discussions about the effects of a Dust Bowl environment on crops and we are going to attempt to preserve water as much as possible once we start.

We have asked advice from an RHS staff member about a number of plants and bushes damaged over the winter including a New Zealand Holy Bush and a number of Palms.

We have made musical instruments to capture the sounds of spring, looked at the changing colours of the approaching season and undertaken many craft activities including Bug and Butterfly designing.

We were delighted to receive a visit from Lindsey Higgins a Youth Leader in the Scouts Movement. She gave a talk to the group about modern Scouting as well as instructing some of the older agents in the correct way to use an axe and saw. We hope to engage in a joint activity day with her and her Scout group later in the year and discussions about where, what and how are now underway. We believe this will be mutually beneficial to both groups, as well as great fun!

Recycling has continued a-pace with cans, bottles, paper, cardboard light bulbs and batteries being taken to the recycling centre by various members of the group. We do not collect as a group, but encourage each child to contribute in their own home through discussions, demonstrations and activities showing why this is a good idea. Contact has been made with a representative of the Highland Council and it is hoped that some of the agents will be given an opportunity to learn more about the Recycling Process in Inverness.

Recycling is also a very important element of our garden activities and items which have been collected over the winter will now become seed trays, watering points, cloches and plant supports. One of the main focuses of our gardening efforts will be to encourage all of our agents to exhibit some form of produce, craft work or bakery item at our local Gardening Club’s Annual Show in August.


We have been looking at the effects a Dust Bowl environment would have on local wildlife, especially Bees, and hope the agents will complete work sheets about this in the near future. The upkeep of the groups Reef Tank has been a most time consuming activity this winter, due in the main, to a very elusive Pistol Shrimp which caused the death of almost all of our fish and many of the cleaner crew. This tiny predator escaped our attention until very recently when it was eventually discovered among the throngs of a coral.

We have been challenged with contamination of the tank, difficult water parameters and the slow poisoning of the live rock. It was a very visual lesson to the agents about how important a working eco system is in maintaining the worlds Reefs and Oceans. They were encouraged to ask questions, get involved and help keep a photographic record of events. We hope to get contributions from all of our agents towards the completion of an information booklet about the Reef Tank as well as a photographic record in the form of a scrapbook of recent events.

Now that the tank has been restored to some sense of balance we have arranged a visit to a Marine Stockists where the agents will be able to consolidate their knowledge whilst also learning about import regulations, methods of transport and sustainability of reef beds. They will be given an opportunity to enter into a question and answer session with the owner and it is anticipated that some additions will be purchased for our own tank!

We have also held discussions on the effects of a Dust Bowl environment on the world’s oceans and waterways, and this in turn naturally led to expressions of concern about our own Dolphin population. As a result learning packs have been compiled and will be issued to those agents who are interested in studying for the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Societies Dolphin Diploma. This will be a home-led activity with parents and guardians facilitating study. The agents’ efforts will finish with an educational visit to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society centre at Spey Bay where it is anticipated that they will be presented with their Diplomas. A collection box in aid of the society will be handed over during our visit.

The next few months are going to be very busy for us as a group with our various projects coming to fruition. We also have lots of craft activities planned including the forming of the lower covers for our out door learning and relaxation base, the redesigning of our sensory area as well as completion of our wildlife garden.

We will as they say keep you posted.

Agent Robertson

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