Nature can mean many things – for some people it is acres and acres of fields, for others it is watching small animals and birds and for others still it can be a simple and as pleasing as seeing dandelions or rose-bay willow herb sprouting in the most unlikely places.
School grounds are a perfect place to observe nature, and also a perfect place to help it along a little.
Step one – conduct a nature audit
A great activity for schools is to take a look at their school grounds and conduct an audit on what nature is already there. There are some good school grounds audit tools available from Learning through Landscapes <link to partner page>.
Excellent spotter cards are available from the Field Studies Council if you’re not sure if you’re looking at a shrew or a vole, a large short-haired yellow bumble bee or a shrill carder bee. Check out the RSPB website for great images of different types of birds and see if you can identify them by their call and their plumage.
The RHS also provide useful on-line guides to different types of wildflowers.
Step two – increase nature in your grounds
Knowing what you have in your school grounds is one thing but the next, and most exciting, stage is to see what you can do to increase the amount of nature that you have there.
Creating habitats for wildlife such as bee homes, hedge-hog boxes, bird boxes, bat boxes, long grassland areas, hedgerows and tree canopies is an excellent way to encourage wildlife into your grounds. Food and water is important too but be sure to use the right type of food for the wildlife you want to encourage (The RSPB’s ‘Give Nature a Home’ resources and activities are an excellent way to start). One word of warning – feeding wildlife is great but it needs to be carefully managed or you may find yourself increasing the local rat population!
Step three – repeat your audit to see improvements
Once you have introduced your new nature friendly habitats, sit back and watch for a while then go back and do that audit again – how much nature can you see now? What difference have you made to your school grounds’ biodiversity?
Don’t forget, some shy creatures only come out at dusk or overnight so take the opportunity to run a couple of evening sessions as well – white sheets are great for attracting night-time pollinators such as moths and you can count them as they settle. Or for the really adventurous what about a camp out – tent walls are also great places for spotting night-loving bugs and beasts, shine your torch on them and see their fantastic outlines, don’t forget to count their legs for clues as to what they are. Maybe run a bug treasure hunt with points for every bug found and correctly identified.