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“…and some sun…”

Dust Bowl Project:
Animal Factors

Carrying on from our investigations into how Dust Bowl conditions bring detrimental change to affected environments, the agents spent time looking at the consequences of such a change to Kent’s interdependent ecosystem.

Our aim was to demonstrate that the first signs of change to an environment can easily go unnoticed if we fail to take account of all the elements contained within a specific area, the destruction or demise of which, can often act as the catalyst for preventable catastrophe.

However, we are also aware that some of our agents struggle with issues, such as literalism, which can sometimes be a detrimental obstacle to appropriate learning experiences and as such, we are often forced to take a very individualistic approach to projects.

This was true of the way in which we tackled the nutty problem of cascading ecosystems, and we acknowledge the fact that at times we knowingly present information to some of our more vulnerable agents in a sanitised manner and that this is reflected in the work generated.

We began our ecosystems investigation on May the 15th when we took part in the National Moth Survey, and although we didn’t finish until just after midnight we had few if any complaints; even though it was obvious before we started that the conditions were going to be too cold and blustery for significant numbers to be seen.

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However, the reason we continued was to demonstrate the degree of perseverance and attention to detail required when conducting surveys, for the simple reason that the unexpected can and does happen. It also allowed us to think about the effects changing climates have on individual animals abilities to withstand even minor changes and how their success or failure to do so than influences other species survival chances.

We followed this up within days by taking part in a Snail Survey making note of the different sub species found within relatively short distances of one another. We then carried out conducted some practical activities to do with the life cycle of snails and their importance to the biodiversity of an area.

In order to understand the complex nature of the animals found in Dust Bowl conditions as well as the ways in which animals in Kent would have to adapt in order to survive we also undertook field trips to a local site of scientific interest and Culbin Forest. We conducted a short survey of the insects and flowers found in each location and the agents looked at the things which make them suited to living there and the ways they would have to adapt to live in a not only each other’s environment but a Dust Bowl.

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We have built bug dens, undertaken insect arts and crafts activities for inclusion in our written Dust Bowl scrapbook. We also conducted a timed Limpet Hunt on the rocks at Nairn Beach as part of our Seaweed Survey; the results were disappointing as numbers which were once said to be copious have fallen to a few hardy souls.

The agents combed through bushes, peered under rocks and scrambled across uneven ground in their quest for information. Investigations into Butterfly and Bee numbers have also been carried out and recently we received our Bee Walk Pack from the Bumble Bee Conservation Trust.

Some of our agents identified why Bees are so important to the health of the planet and why it is that their demise would have had such a devastating effect on Kent’s ability to recover. Even in our own area Bee numbers are said to be falling and the situation has not been helped by the fact that although we are into June, we have had two very intense hailstone showers in recent weeks.

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We spent considerable time discussing the various habitats within our own garden and a decision was taken to increase opportunities for wildlife. We have attempted to do so by showing ways in which small scale projects can have dynamic effects such as using the base of a child’s sand box to plant bee and butterfly attracting flowers.

Having recycled the base, we needed to find a use for the lid of the sand box and after a brief discussion decided to create a pond and wildlife observation area in an overgrown and disused part of our garden.

Because we are in an area which is severely affected by the good old midge we needed to raise the canopy height of overhanging trees, in order to lessen the chances of our disturbing them when working in that area. We had also been aware for some time that there is an almost complete absence of Ladybirds in our area, with the result that we are also struggling to control Greenfly numbers; most of which appear to have alighted in under the trees.

Having created a light yet shaded area we then spent two days digging, manoeuvring, manhandling and salvaging. Disused granite boulders and sandstone blocks which were partially hidden by overhanging bushes and trees have now been used to create a rockery surrounding the pool, and a variety of appropriate plants are currently waiting to be planted in the spaces formed between the stones.

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We have placed differing types of vegetation and habitats in the undergrowth beyond the rockery as well as suitable entry and exit points for our pond dwellers. We were impressed by the enthusiasm not only of the team but the variety of wildlife which came to investigate our work.

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Our agents have also been busy finishing of the work for their Dolphin Diploma’s and arrangements have been made for them to receive their certificates next Friday from the Whale and Dolphin Societies Educational Officer at Spay Bay. As an extra treat she has arranged for the centre to open early in order that the agents can take advantage of one of the various educational sessions on offer.

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We are able to see the Moray Dolphins from the shoreline and have often watched them cavorting about. One of the biggest problems we have is that we have not yet really captured them on film because we always end up getting distracted just watching! We have also seen Porpoises, the occasional Orca and two years ago a 40ft Male Sperm Whale spent a number of hours swimming round in the channel opposite our base.

Having spent so much time on thinking about native wildlife and how it would need to adapt in order to survive in Dust Bowl conditions we decided to give the agents firsthand experience of animals to be found in differing environments.

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Nick Martin an Animal Rescue Expert living and working in and around Inverness was invited to come and speak with the children. He specialises in caring for dangerous and endangered animals and insects and he began his talk by describing the work he does with police and customs officers in helping to prevent trafficking and cruelty to all animals including those mentioned above.

He talked about the importance of maintaining specific habitats and dispelled some of the myths surrounding creatures such as cockroaches, spiders and snakes. He discussed how body shape, size and the adaptability of some creatures helps them survive in adverse conditions and how and why it would be difficult for some to adapt to even the slightest of changes.

Nick then made friends for life by producing an array of interesting creatures for the agents to view and in some cases hold.

As each species was unveiled he described the background of the animal presented. One of the most captivating creatures shown was an adult Dwarf Gecko. He measures a mere 1.6 centimeters in length and is thought to be the only one of his kind in this country. Eddy was confiscated from a man at Heathrow Airport who was attempting to smuggle 25 of them into the country in matchboxes strapped around his chest; unfortunately Eddy was the only survivor.

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Nick also brought along three corn snake eggs, one of which had hatched by the time he arrived and the agents were delighted to be the first to see the young reptile. Cockroaches, Millipedes, Bearded Dragons, and a verity of Snakes and “BIG” Spiders followed, to the glee of the agents who had a thoroughly glorious time.

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The session was a great success with Nick staying on to ask questions about the work of the group and our association with Roots & Shoots. He stated that he had been so impressed by the knowledge base of the agents and the exemplary way in which they had behaved in the presence of the animals that he wondered if any of them would be interested in learning how to care and look after the various animals in his care, in return for their carrying out general maintenance duties at the centre he runs.

To be given such an amazing opportunity to work with and be actively involved in the conservation of endangered and exotic animals here in Inverness is something outwith all of our expectations and one which it has to be said, only came about through our association with the Jane Goodall Organisation.

A number of our agents have already started to work with Nick and our youngest agent has joined Nick’s creepy crawly club. He has also offered to give one to one sessions to those agents whose disabilities mean that they need quieter acquaintance sessions before they are able to think about helping out at the centre and arrangements are underway for this.

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However, the benefits to the group of our association with Nick continue to develop as the centre he runs is open to the public every Sunday afternoon and our more confident agents will eventually be expected to converse and instruct visitors about Nick’s work and conservation issues in general.

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The agents have gained invaluable information about cascading ecosystems through their Dust Bowl project and Nick, who has agreed to act as our resident herpetologist, is going to conduct a number of field trips with us, so we can link this information with our hunt for Jane’s Lost Diaries.

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