It looks like the weather might finally be improving, there are leaves on the trees, flowers are in bloom and birds are singing. Nature is thriving all around us!
Our latest Wildsquare survey 'Start of the Summer' is open for your results now and is a perfect opportunity to get outside and get exploring! You can register for your free survey kit and tell us your results at www.rspb.org.uk/wildsquare.
Some of the things we ask you to look for are:
Many aspects of wildlife recording are nothing like most people imagine. It’s not all listening for delicate birdsong or identifying otter and water vole tracks on the riverbanks... sometimes it's combing the sand for bodies lost at sea!
February 23rd saw the intrepid Fraserburgh & District Wildlife Explorers searching the beach between St Combs and Cairnbulg, scanning the shore for the bodies of birds washed to land. Every year the RSPB undertakes the National Beached Bird Survey in order to record visible mortality rates of marine wildlife and to monitor our marine environment. With this information, our scientific and policy teams work together with partners to demonstrate how and why our seabirds and marine environment need protecting. It isn't necessary to be a Wildlife Explorer to take part with a youth group - this year a local Scout troop also searched north-east Scotland's sands and were contributors to the Beached Bird Survey.
Says Fraserburgh & District group leader, Jim Lister: “We were unlucky as it was a very cold day (as only Buchan can be), so only 13 of 'our toughest' turned out to do this section of this national survey.”
Wildlife Explorer Eilidh had this to say about the day, “I thought the beach was very messy because we found lots of helmets and sponges lying around. We had lots of tricky rivers to cross and we had to step on a tyre to cross to the other side. I found some very interesting shells which I hadn't seen before."
Eilidh’s cousin Leah added, "It was a nice long beach but I found it very messy, there were lots of rubber gloves lying on the beach, it could do with a clean up! We found 3 shags, 1 guillemot, 1 great black backed gull and 1 red shank."
Jim noted the group’s surprising history contributing to the scientific monitoring of their local beaches. “Along with group leader Kenny Buchan, we have annually done the survey for this part of the coast, for at least the last ten years, and it may even have been fifteen years. (No one has been counting – this is our group’s nineteenth year.) On past surveys the group have found: porpoise, fox, puffin, and 32 shags one year, among many other dead things. If the weather is a wee bit better we usually have a much bigger turn out. It is amazing what all those keen eyes can find on the beach. The kids do seem fascinated by dead things and they (the dead things) don't fly or run away – and you never know what might turn up! Beachcombing, even in winter is fun. At the end of 2013’s survey, great hot soup was provided by leader Helen Stables.”
A well-earned end to a big effort! Here’s to many more years of Fraserburgh & District Wildlife Explorers exploring their local beaches, and discovering the wildlife – alive or not – which makes them special.
Yours as always,
SPECIAL NOTE: You will have noticed that these Wildlife Explorers were very sensitive to the pollution they saw on the beach, highlighting another important part of spending time in this environment. Other RSPB youth groups in north and eastern Scotland share this concern, and on May 25th the Kemnay, Ellon and Aberdeen Wildlife Explorer groups will be meeting to conduct a joint beach cleanup at Donmouth Local Nature Reserve.
The Department for Education is currently consulting on a new national curriculum for England – you can find lots more information here, including how to respond to the proposals (by 16 April).
The RSPB is preparing a written response to the review, as well as coordinating a partnership response from organisations like ourselves who provide outdoor learning experiences in nature.
We believe that ecology, environmental conservation, and sustainable development are crucial components of any national curriculum that intends to educate society to address and adapt to the significant challenges of escalating climate change and accelerating biodiversity loss.
Looking in detail at all 200-plus pages of the proposal, there are some key areas of concern. For instance, focusing on the ‘use of natural resources’ in Geography KS3 without talking about their conservation, clearly indicates a view of the world in which the economy usurps the environment.
At the same time, there are some encouraging opportunities. In fact, we think that the profiles of fieldwork and learning about habitats and classification in Science are better than they have been previously.
The Department for Education has aimed to slim down the curriculum and strictly reduce the level of ‘guidance’ it provides to schools, meaning much less content and fewer specific examples in the curriculum documents.
This is pretty good news, as teachers have often told us that an over-crowded curriculum is a barrier to them having the freedom to teach what they would like, and how they would like – such as learning outside the classroom.
On the other hand, it also means that not everything that we would love to see in the national curriculum is included (significantly, climate change). The Department for Education response to this previously has been that schools are still free to teach these areas – or any other issue – as part of the wider ‘school curriculum’ that they see sitting around – and reinforcing – the national curriculum.
This new relationship between the State and schools presents us with a new challenge – in terms of how we work with individual schools to promote learning about the environment; but also much more broadly in all aspects of children’s relationship with nature.
The RSPB is committed to continue to find innovative ways to tackle this. As we announced last October, one way has been to develop a new indicator that for the first time will establish a national baseline of children’s connection to nature.
We will be releasing the first data from this measure in June. Alongside using this in our policy advocacy, we shall continue to raise the profile of the environment with children on our reserves, working with schools and youth organisations, and with families and communities.
Mygrove is The Prince of Wales’s online gardening competition for children. Based upon the principles of The Prince’s own gardens at Highgrove, school children are being encouraged to start their own Mygrove blog reporting about their own gardening efforts. Whether it’s a window box of flowers or herbs, a vegetable patch, or a chicken run, let them know about it on the Mygrove blog!
And for the winning blog, a chance to win a trip to The Prince’s garden at Highgrove is in store!
While schools are blogging about how they are getting on with their own Mygroves, the Mygrove team will also be updating their own blog too, providing lots of tips for the garden!
To get gardening today and share your experiences of your own Mygrove, sign up at www.princeofwales.gov.uk/for-children/mygrove
On Saturday Feb 9th Lochwinnoch's Phoenix group, the Lochwinnoch Young Volunteers, met for one of their regular sessions. This time, though, Youth Officer Nicole Brandon was visiting and discovered that a regular meeting for this fantastic group is anything but average. What they do is, in fact, pretty extraordinary!
Needed: Volunteers Who Care About Homes For Nature
February on Lochwinnoch meant it was time to sort out nature’s homes on and off the reserve. There were nest box kits to be prepared for an upcoming family day, invasive species to be ousted from the reserve, and a special request from a neighbour regarding a family home for ducks. Fortunately there’s a group who’ll offer their Saturday and brave a Scottish winter to give nature a home: Lochwinnoch’s Young Volunteers.
This group of 20 teens split into task groups and got to work right away, only pausing for a lunchtime viewing of the beautiful birds visiting the feeders, and to watch some of their number being awarded John Muir Award certificates for their work discovering, exploring, conserving and sharing on the reserve. Two of their erstwhile volunteer leaders were also specially singled out and awarded their 5 year service badges – and thank you to them, and all our volunteers for such dedication and support. Without our volunteers, of all ages, none of the great events below could have happened on that chilly February day...
Creating Nest Box Kits
The group had dozens of planks of untreated timber to cut to size for nest box kits, and they wasted no time identifying the best tools and techniques for the job. They paid careful attention to what they were doing and even spotted and repaired a problem with the original template for the kits. Measuring and sawing planks in the rain isn't most people's idea of fun - but the group's dedication and good nature made it exactly that. One week later, those same kits were being assembled, painted and taken home to be cherished by families and their garden birds all over Renfrewshire and beyond.
Or "Rhododendron Bashing!" as it's much more popularly known. The group were well-experienced with this, and particularly with what had to be done to remove a whole plant and to dispose of it safely. They’d done such a good job scouring the reserve for this invasive species previously, that it took a wee while to find any rhododendrons at all... but once they did, the invaders were done for! These non-native invasive species have many dangerous impacts upon native environments and grow to create a monoculture, which excludes other plant species by taking resources such as water, nutrients and light. To keep Lochwinnoch a haven for native and visiting animals, there has to be a healthy natural environment for them to call home – this work helps to make sure this can happen.
Duck Raft S.O.S.
The most creative challenge of the day came from a neighbouring land-owner’s plea for help. Every year the duck nests by his pond were completely predated by various animals, and he asked if RSPB Lochwinnoch could design a way to protect them, at least until the eggs hatched. The group spent a few hours researching and designing a duck raft to be tethered in the pond, with protection from terrestrial and aerial predation; then they began production out of spare parts and resources at the reserve. Hopefully this year Lochwinnoch’s neighbour will be able to see some ducklings, and watch them grow up with a safe haven to call home.
From helping out one breeding pair of ducks to protecting the biodiversity of a whole reserve to sharing the joy of birds nesting near humans, Lochwinnoch’s Young Volunteers spent the day making a huge difference for the wildlife and people in their home area. It was really exciting to spend a day seeing all that they achieve on a regular basis, and the way in which being an RSPB youth group with the support of their local reserve helps them gain skills and then use them to take action for nature. Great job, Lochwinnoch Young Volunteers!
Until next time,
If you’ve been inspired to take action for nature, or to help others do so, please do investigate RSPB volunteering opportunities near you. Next week we’ll be featuring opportunities to volunteer with young people, so do check in and see what’s available.
If you like the sound of the John Muir Award, visit their website and see how accessible and exciting undertaking an Award can be.
And if you think RSPB Lochwinnoch Reserve sounds like an interesting place, follow them on Facebook and see what else is on the go!