ONE WORLD – THE GLOBAL VILLAGE IN ENVIRONMENTAL CRISIS
CLIMATE CHANGE AND BIODIVERSITY
Ringwood School with 1650 students, has great pressures on its outdoor space. We value the space we have and our students want to see as great a biodiversity in our grounds as we can possibly attain. After the apparent failure of Copenhagen, and with 2010 being the International Year of Biodiversity, Agent Hickman with her trusty Chrono-Bots realised there can be no better time in which to focus on biodiversity.
We held an unusual lunchtime session for interested students. There were lots! Two speakers from Animal Aid introduced students not only to some of the unpleasant practices in the agricultural and food industry today, but also to the notion that most people in UK probably eat too much meat! Students learnt that we would feed a great many more people in the world if we ate more products from further down the food chains and fewer carnivores from the top. They brought in excellent samples of vegetarian food which students much enjoyed. Students resolved to push for a ‘meat free Monday’. A visit to one speaker’s farm with rescued animals is planned for the summer term.
This set students thinking about food chains and was reinforced by a visit from Rachel, a representative of the Young People’s Trust for the Environment. We had already made some school grounds improvements, but students were introduced to wildlife friendly plantings afresh. In a thought-provoking session, a group of enthusiasts really enjoyed talking about the problems of making our grounds more wildlife friendly while showing her the site. It again made students think critically: we needed to improve habitats by increasing biodiversity. This, students reasoned, would encourage more wildlife to the site. Some ideas could be implemented immediately with tangible results; for instance, climbers such as ivy were planted in specific areas of the grounds such as woodpiles. Other actions would be longer term.
Reviewing, surveying and recording what we’ve got.
We needed to review what we’d got. Students knew that climate change poses a unique challenge for wildlife. Some knew that the speed of climate change is outstripping the rate at which plants can evolve and that species distributions are changing. This makes survey all the more urgent and gives appetite for action. We could obtain data for pond life, various species of invertebrates and birds.
Students have carried out biodiversity surveys of a wildlife pond since creating it two years ago. Last autumn’s survey gave a figure derived from Simpsons Diversity Index of 6.1. This was not too bad but we knew we could do better! Students have resolved to rid the pond of alien species such as Crassula as they appear, signing up to Plantlife’s initiative. They have also pushed
for funding for the completion of a rainwater harvesting project to bring rainwater from nearby roofs to this pond. Started earlier, our funds had run out. Our fish pond, as expected, had significantly lower diversity.
Students, mindful of the need to support the green plants at the base of the food chain, have enjoyed two ‘Digs’ this spring during which they planted sixty mixed small English native trees. As our site becomes increasing crowded, we plan to hold our autumn Dig on adjacent council owned open space. We have also joined forces with New Forest Transition and have planted eight small fruit trees. The grower now works with students and will shortly demonstrate how to espalier them.
We encourage students to take part in wildlife surveys at school and at home. This will include those planned for this year as part of the International Year of Biodiversity. Some students contributed photographs to ‘What on Earth’ a nationwide
identification project to celebrate National Science and engineering Week. There will be participation in the OPAL Water Survey that begins in May and which will focus on animals that live in lakes and ponds across England. Students will also take part in the OPAL Biodiversity Survey in September 2010. A growing team of wildlife photographers are recording wildlife with their cameras. A treat is planned for early summer when this team of enthusiasts will be taken out into the New Forest accompanied by both a biologist and a photographer, and invited to explore the natural world. We are keen to support students’ growing interest in wildlife photography.
Trees feature large in some students’ lives, an interest awakened by Roots and Shoots’ ‘Dustbowl’ activities, they are taking part in a European phenology project. Led by a sixth form biologist, a team of youngsters have chosen six trees , each a different species, in our grounds that they have chosen to monitor regularly. Measurements of heights and diameters have been taken,
diagrams drawn and photographs taken. The project has engaged the interest of youngsters who are keen to take it into our feeder Primary schools.
Ringwood Chrono-Bots, under the direction of Agent Roberts will also share another idea – designing wooden compost bins, each carved with animal designs. Agent Roberts and her team will also exchange ideas on composting practices with students in Malawi where there is great vulnerability to climate change but entirely different attitudes to recycling and composting. We hope to meet some Malawi students in July.
Our wildlife team, led by sixth formers, had great fun carrying out the OPAL earthworm survey. Plans are afoot to carry out ‘Plantlife’ surveys and OPAL’s lichen survey later this year. An enthusiastic team of students, several of whom have become BTO recorders, enjoyed RSPB Big Schools’ Birdwatch one cold January
afternoon. Diversity showed little change from 2009 but with numbers of the smaller species, and particularly of house sparrows, significantly lower than in 2009, our concerns have made us examine our grounds. We had feeders and nest boxes, made by Year 9 students in Technology.
We watched several nests last summer and particularly enjoyed our feed from our live webcam sited in a box occupied by a bluetit family. Six out of ten fledged with the event seen by many students on the internet. We are expecting eggs any minute in our 2010 nest – the untidiest nest ever seen. Currently, our bluetits are a week behind last year’s schedule. We had planted new pyracantha hedging for our sparrows but we eventually concluded that the unusually harsh winter had taken its toll on our bird life. Interestingly, despite goldcrest being amongst the species nationally most affected by the cold winter, with average numbers dropping significantly our bird enthusiasts did record three goldcrests on site.
Climate Change – the culprit?
One cold winter as our keen Chrono-Bots knew, did not signify that the Gulf Stream had switched position, nor did it suggest that climate change no longer was a threat. Our Chrono-Bots knew better. They had accepted the challenge of the Ice World Mission and explored several of the activities; for instance, they definitely considered how to help animals in the cold this winter! Our ‘reduce. Reuse and recycle’ posters, displayed everywhere, have become ‘Six Rs’ posters, rather then three.
Climate change is a real focus for our activities within and beyond the curriculum. An active energy team has suggested many forms of behavioural change to reduce energy wastage, with a degree of success. They have signed up to 1010, audited, planned for the implementation of suggestions from a Carbon Trust survey commissioned in January and campaigned for renewable energy. Now a regional climate change conference for students from neighbouring schools is planned for late summer. The most recent development will see sixth formers working on a Green Audit with the District Council. They then hope to ‘green up’ the Town Council!
A focus on biodiversity under the shadow of climate change meant students wanted to make a mark in 2010. So, inspired by Charles Darwin’s bicentenary year of 2009, they have linked their various action areas and features of interest by a biodiversity ‘sand walk’. Students’ photos accompanied by a number of thoughtful questions are mounted on small boards in the grounds. They draw attention to specific features that adapt an animal or plant to its environment. What, for instance, enables a rat tailed maggot to survive in an anaerobic and stagnant pool? Students are invited to share their thoughts on returning to a lesson. We have made the most of the small area we have got: our walk takes both students and visitors from our small animals area, via various plantings, birdboxes, including the one with webcam and newly resident bluetits, woodpiles that protect our stag beetle larvae, invertebrate ‘apartments’, ponds, climate change garden, newly created small ‘orchard’ and recently planted hedges. Another walk links various other sustainable features that are not the subject of this report.
Students enjoy helping other schools and part of the sand walk was trialled with a recent visit from a Special school that meets the needs of children with severe, complex or profound and multiple learning difficulties. Some have additional sensory impairment, physical difficulties or medical needs. Despite their students’ difficulties they intend becoming a Fairtrade school and an Eco-school. They too are concerned about possible environmental crisis. Earlier this year, our students enjoyed an inspiring visit to their school council where these matters were discussed.
Our visitors were treated to a Fairtrade welcome from the Ringwood team: tea, coffee and juices with cakes and biscuits baked by students and staff. Venturing outside, they explored small, wheelchair-friendly parts of the sandwalk, including a visit to the ponds. A visit to our newly installed solar panels followed: an impressive array of photovoltaic cells that our student energy team has pushed for during the last two years! Three Key Stage 4 students showed our visitors the animal area where our children learn about small animal care. There they had the chance to see animals close up and handle a small animal such as chicken or a gerbil, the undoubted highlight for many!
The next part of the journey, involved visits to tutor groups with Eco Reps and tutors explained our recycling schemes.
Students were understandably interested in those schemes that support animals, such as a recent scheme to collect keys and coins for Guide Dogs for the Blind – introduced by Arnie and Jackie – and their owners!
A short discussion session, fuelled by more Fairtrade goodies concluded the morning and we gave our friends parting gifts and a big file of tips, addresses and project ideas. Our students were inspired, gaining as much from our visitors as our visitors did from us.
So Ringwood School has extended and enriched its community, and we hope that our new friends will now join the wonderful Roots and Shoots community themselves.