RSPB BIG SCHOOLS BIRDWATCH
Thirty Year 7 and 8 students participated in this year’s RSPB Birdwatch which took place on 30th January. Led by students Sam Kimberley and James Shelton, students were split into groups, each located in different areas around the school site. They were tasked with counting the maximum number of individuals of one species they saw at any one time.
The results showed a loss in species richness compared with previous years and we attribute this to habitat loss on the school site, together with appalling weather conditions. A real high spot for some was seeing the magnificent starling murmurations to the south of Ringwood at the end of the day! Two of our young birdwatchers were able to capture the event on their mobile phones, one actually making a small video.
In 2009, we set up a link with the small ‘paradise’ island of Tuvalu, one of the first islands that will disappear underwater as a result of rising sea levels caused by climate change. The children of a small school sent us a comic which showed us something of people’s lifestyles and how rising sea levels were affecting their lives. Two of our students, Katie and Steph, replied with their own comic. We have remained in contact with Tuvalu ever since and we are always pleased to exchange greetings.
We received a reminder that in November 2013, the planet hit record temperatures, and Tuvalu becomes increasingly threatened. Tuvalu’s planetary wish is for all leaders to get serious about climate change. They asked us to share their pictures which can be found here www.alofatuvalu.tv
We were then asked if we could provide young book reviewers for “Biogas for Jackass”, a leaflet for 8 to 14 year old children. After dismissing the title as inappropriate for English children, six students completed this in a somewhat intensive half hour at the start of the day (above). The booklet will now be distributed throughout the Pacific islands.
CAMPAIGNING FOR THE ENVIRONMENT
Students have campaigned for sustainable palm oil through RAN, Greenpeace and through Oxfam’s ‘Behind the Brands’ campaign. The future of Indonesia’s rainforests continually hangs by a thread.
These forests are teeming with life, and host at least one-fifth of all plants and animals on the planet. Yet they’re being chopped down to grow oil palms from which we obtain palm oil, and the last remaining tigers are threatened with extinction as the rainforests disappear. The tigers of Java and Bali are already extinct. Mass public pressure could stop this destruction.
The makers of Head & Shoulders shampoo buy palm oil from the companies tearing down the trees. We call this DIRTY palm oil. Our students are putting pressure on Head & Shoulders, hoping we can cut the demand that’s driving the deforestation.
We continue to sponsor an orang utan, Beryl in Sepilok. We look forward to updates and wish they came more frequently.
Students have also petitioned and supported the AWA over the past eighteen months. We were especially pleased that Colin Firth lent his support too. Just one week after the Brazilian army started a massive operation to remove loggers and ranchers from the Awá tribe’s lands, we’ve had another huge victory: the Indian government has blocked a mine that would have devastated the Dongria Kondh tribe.
Vedanta Resources, a British mining giant, was so confident the mine would go ahead it even built a $1billion refinery at the foot of the Dongria’s hills. But after a huge campaign involving the Dongria, their Indian supporters and Survival International, the project was scrapped. These two stunning achievements are together a wonderful illustration of how ordinary people around the world, like us, mobilized by highly-focused campaigns, can achieve victories no-one would have thought possible!
The Badger Cull
Sadly the Government decided to implement a badger cull as a measure to control TB outbreaks in cattle. Bovine tuberculosis is a huge problem for farmers, with over 38,000 cattle having to be slaughtered as a result of the disease. However, many key scientists have been surprised at the decision to cull badgers following the report of the Independent Scientific Group on Cattle TB. The report stated that ‘badger culling is unlikely to contribute positively, or cost effectively, to the control of cattle TB in Britain’ and recommended ‘priority should be given to developing policies based on more rigorous application of control measures to cattle, in the absence of badger culling.
Students who are interested in wildlife were joined by Mr Treagust’s regular debaters, and as should be the case, both sides of the argument were hotly debated. Students were particularly concerned about the manner in which badgers are killed, which seems hit and miss to say the least. However, some students had direct experience of the effect of badgers on a cattle herd and it became clear that this was no black and white issue. The result was a narrow defeat for the proposal that the badger cull is necessary.
Ringwood students are in support of the badger.
Thanks to all participants, and special thanks to those who proposed and opposed the motion. In the true spirit of debating, they sometimes did not present their own personal views!
This House Would Ban All Forms of Animal Research
University debating societies across the UK over the course of four days debated the motion that ‘This House Would Ban All Forms of Animal Research’. Biology teachers all over the country held similar debates at their schools. Each ended with an audience vote that allowed all students to indicate where they stand on the motion.
Jeremy Bentham famously wrote ‘The question is not, can they reason? Nor can they talk? But, can they suffer?’ The answer to this question is very obvious – of course animals can suffer – they can feel pain, they can feel stress and they can feel lonely. Imagine if you were locked in a laboratory all day on your own, and then taken out by strange people to be injected with needles or cut open. Why is an animal’s life worth any less than our own? Thus began our animal research debate.
Sixth formers Robbie Shaw, Georgia Cookson (in action above), George Bratt, Sam Kimberley and Bronwen Pounds battled it out in this debate that aimed to lay out the best arguments for and against banning animal research so that participants had the information necessary to make up their own minds. Students waged war and the debate became increasingly heated. And the result? The motion was defeated by just one vote with the participants recognising that just occasionally, animal research is the only option.
Recycling remains a top priority for staff, students, families and friends. This year, we managed to recycle lots. We collected 6 very large sacks of Christmas cards for the Woodland Trust; we restarted our printer cartridge recycling having found a good outlet; we’ve acted as a hub for ‘Battery back’ and our aluminium collection raised money that is ploughed back into sustainability. We’ve also collected glasses for Vision Aid, mobiles for Rwanda (organised by Roots and Shoots) and bras for Breast Cancer UK as well as for women in Africa.
MILK BOTTLE TOPS
We have also had huge collections of milk bottle tops and were really pleased to receive a cheque for £140 for them. This money goes straight to Naomi House and we hope to invite a representative in to talk to a group of students about Naomi House’s work as it’s important to keep each generation of students informed. Our bottle top collection was started by students Harriet King and Liz Spender many years ago, and has kept going with huge success ever since.
Likewise, it was a real pleasure to give the Royal National Institute for the Blind a huge sack of postage stamps – a quantity that they were quite overwhelmed by! It was good to receive a letter of thanks from the RNIB and a small poster which will spur on further collections.
Our aluminium collection is the only form of recycling for which we gain money. Aluminium is collected in tutor groups and is sold for cash. This is reinvested in environmental projects at school. Empty pill packets and shiny paper (like crisp packets) are plastic and they are useless. In fact, they contaminate our aluminium so badly that the scrap metal merchants refused to accept our aluminium last October.
We can thank a team of Year 7 boys, for the final sorting of ouraluminium. This took the team many lunchtimes and the task was unpleasant but necessary; to separate steel from aluminium and then to separate out real rubbish. People had handed in crisp packets, old pill packets and laminated foil from pet food as aluminium.
PENS, MARKERS AND HIGHLIGHTERS
How often do students return to school in September, or after Christmas, with a superb felt tip collection? Many buy markers, corrector fluid and pens from the school shop, and many student Vivos are spent on stationery. How ironic it is that so many are left on the floor and are picked up by teachers and by cleaners. sent off to Terracycle. There they will be recycled and the money will be given to Macmillan Cancer, the charity we support. Terra Cycle specialise in recycling materials that are HARD to recycle.
We started collecting pens, markers and felt tips last year and intended this to be a means by which staff and students could hand in old and useless markers, pens and felt tips. However, much of our collection consists of items that have been abandoned by their owners at the end of the school day and we are grateful for our cleaning staff who collect them up. Our collection were sent off to the admirable firm, Terra Cycle who melt them down and recycle them. We are an official TERRA CYCLE Brigade. Terra Cycle specialise in recycling materials that are HARD to recycle and the money we raise supports charity. In our case it is Macmillan Cancer.
We started paper recycling well before we became a Green Flag Eco-School, and we continue to do so today. Periodically we show small groups of students how to make high quality paper pads from nearly new photocopying paper. The photo shows Year 7 students with their Year 11 ‘trainers’ Sam and Katy.
THE GREAT BRITISH ELM PROJECT
The Conservation Foundation ran an interesting piece of scientific research that we at Ringwood School took part in. Why did some elms resist Dutch Elm Disease? Why did others survive? Cuttings taken from mature trees that appear to have resisted Dutch elm disease for over 60 years have been skilfully micro propagated. The resulting saplings were being distributed to schools and community groups who signed up to take part in The Great British Elm Experiment.
We received a young elm sapling (above right) and students are recording height, girth, wildlife, signs of disease and other data as part of this long-term experiment. It is hoped that in time a new generation of elms will become established throughout the UK and a new generation of young people will be encouraged to value the elms and with it the importance of biodiversity more broadly. The project also brings hope for wildlife like the White-letter hairstreak butterfly which relies on the habitats elms create.
Bees ‘n Beans project
Bees mean beans!
Bumblebees are important pollinators and Ringwood School students helped bee researchers at the University of Sussex by conducting a simple experiment to see whether there are enough bees left in our gardens and towns to pollinate vegetable crops properly.
Bumblebees are less common than they used to be. This was our reason for creating a bee garden two years ago, (and another four this spring). There is concern that bee declines will result in a ‘pollination crisis’ when there aren’t enough bees to go around and crop yields start to fall. This has already happened elsewhere in the world. Broad beans are mainly pollinated by long-tongued bumblebees, a group that have been hard-hit by agricultural changes.
The experiment was simple, involving growing broad bean plants (with broad bean seeds provided), hand-pollinating some of the flowers and leaving others for wild bees to pollinate, and then counting how many beans they eventually produce.
Students learnt from this that bumblebees are really important, as they pollinate lots of our fruit and veg crops, such as beans, raspberries, tomatoes, blueberries, as well as hundreds of species of wild flower. They understood that we really need to monitor their numbers and if there aren’t enough in particular parts of the UK, then we can focus conservation efforts on those regions.
We germinated our beans and made regular measurements. Results were disappointing for us and showed little difference between plants pollinated by insects and plants pollinated by both insects and by hand. What did emerge though was that where plants were netted to prevent insect pollination, results were hopeless! There were very few beans.
Our pollinator surveys on the other hand provided brilliant results and our wildflower plantings attracted lots of bees.
Enthusiastic diggers prepared our raised beds by digging in six sackfuls of manure during the cold and wet months of January and February. Amazingly, it stopped raining once or twice to allow this to happen. Despite bad damage to the new greenhouse and shed in the winter storms we managed to get going, starting with onions, garlic and potatoes.
Several New Forest villages enjoy Apple Days. Minstead’s was particularly informative and was enjoyed by several students. Thanks to Transition Southampton, many staff and students were able to buy raspberry canes, blackcurrants and fruit trees at much reduced prices.
After the wet start, summer and autumn saw the Grow Your Own group having the best year ever. We managed to get all raised beds under cultivation and our vegetables were wonderful: tomatoes, carrots, onions and fennel grew in abundance and were much enjoyed by the GYO students. Few made it home or to the school canteen. Most were rinsed under the hose pipe and eaten on site as shown below. We had so many strawberries that we were able to sell them to staff raising money for our Roots and Shoots funds! One Tumbler tomato plant gave 104 tumbler tomatoes!
Improving biodiversity in the Ringwood grounds and on other school sites is a current objective, and maintaining our community links is another.
Year 7 Roots and shoots students formed ‘Ringwood Grow Wild’ in spring working with sixth form leaders. They aimed to increase biodiversity throughout Ringwood town and school by creating five wildflower areas. With the help of Ringwood’s new town clerk we recruited young community offenders to remove turf from two community sites and Grow Wild students prepared the remaining sites.
Native cornfield annuals were sown in one site at school, selected for its proximity to a car park. Forget-me-not, poppy, corn marigold, corn cockle, cornflower and corn camomile were chosen for this hot, dry site. To ensure the sustainability of this mini meadow, perennials such as scabious, marjoram and feverfew were added. Keen to support the Project Maja enterprise, we used a mixture of ‘Seedballs’ and loose seeds. We made our own seed bombs too, using our own compost and seeds from a previous year.
Town sites were sown with native annual seeds. Funding was not available in time for a spring sowing of perennials for summer 2014 but we managed a few. Plant choices reflected sites’ different environmental conditions: for instance we used red campion and foxglove at woodland edge, and verbascum and evening primrose in sunny areas. Noting the dominance of ox eye daisies, students avoided them except on banks adjacent to a busy road where they looked wonderful.
Sixth formers inevitably left for study leave but the younger children worked with unparalleled enthusiasm, making presentations, designing signs and explanatory plaques that inform students, staff and visitors and creating bee habitats for our school sites. One student set up a highly successful group Twitter account, @RingwoodEco to publicise and celebrate their work so several Year 7 students learnt to tweet as part of a group. Unpredicted benefits included gaining parent followers and a following from the plant world. Several firms offered the children more wildflower seeds, allowing extension of the project, and other adult followers have readily identified various insect species on the sites. We are proud of the children’s focussed use of Twitter.
Small disappointments were learning opportunities. For instance, flowering completely finished in August; council staff mowed a metre strip of one site; disappointing growth was seen on one site due to difficulties in keeping that site watered. In terms of ensuring sustainability, we have learnt from these experiences. Students noted plants that survived drought conditions and we have already started to collect seed from such plants. We are reviewing the policy of using only wildflower seeds because we know that the inclusion of ‘non wild’ seed such as night scented stock, cosmos and mallow will extend the season. Planting will resume in autumn with English bluebell and perennial planting in a woodland area adjacent to one community area.
The project most definitely encouraged students to reflect critically on the need to conserve the few wild areas of the school grounds, and benefits of this project are huge in terms of children’s understanding, environmental improvement and community liaison. Part of the project involved growing wild strawberries on one site, and this unexpectedly fostered children’s interest in growing fruit and vegetables. Some of the sites have produced beautiful and inspiring displays of wildflowers and the project has been popular at school significantly raising the profile of wildflowers.
A-level biology students used the sites for study (biodiversity measurements and data collection for statistical tests). Younger students have enjoyed monitoring pollinators for various citizenship science projects. Some carried out bumblebee surveys, others bee surveys and yet more students carried out pollinator surveys. We made lots of observations and students really enjoyed taking part in these citizenship science projects.
Photography and art students captured the summer beauty of the flowers with many of their photographs shared on Twitter. Seed collection and attractive packaging has now gone ahead with students aiming to sell packs of seeds as Christmas presents. A photograph will accompany each pack with sowing and cultivation instructions provided. The idea of mini meadows is highly replicable and less daunting to the public than the prospect of seeding larger areas. We hope that in this way, our 2014 project will endure and that many other mini meadows will emerge next summer! Indeed if funding is available, this is something we hope to set up in other towns in the New Forest area. This year’s project ended in October when students planted English bluebells in the woodland of one of the community sites in town. We look forward to spring!
Photographs show the start of our project and a collage that gives a favour of the wildflowers, bees and butterflies of summer.