Travelling lightly

Two important weeks are coming up to encourage us to think about our carbon footprints and how we use transport. They are:

Lucky teachers can choose to walk to work for two weeks running!

Living Streets who are organising these events also organise WoW (Walk Once a Week) and other projects for both Primary and Secondary schools to encourage healthier lifestyles and reducing our carbon footprint.

Nesting time

 Nesting materials feeder

It’s nesting time. The birds are looking for suitable nesting materials. One nice and easy way to attract birds to an easy to view location is to put some nesting materials into a container and hang it up for the birds. I recently put some sheeps wool in a fat ball feeder (yes a fat ball was still in there) and most of the best wool has already gone. Now I need a quick trip out into the country to collect some more. Of course I could also put in bits of knitting wool, feathers, human or pet hair, hay, etc.

If you have got nest boxes at your school or in your garden why not give the birds a helping hand and enjoy the view at the same time?

P.S. This morning I saw a Great Tit with a huge white beard and moustache! It’s been back several times now and there isn’t much sheeps wool left. I wonder if there is any space in the Great Tit’s nest? Must be very cosy in there.

Happy World Meteorological Day

Today is World Meteorological Day which is run by the World Meteorological Organisation. This year the theme is “Climate for You”. They have their own VLE running on a Moodle server with lots of resources and activities. You have to register to use it but otherwise it is free. Some of it is very advanced but there are useful resources for schools there.

What will you be doing during Climate Week?

Climate Week is from the 21st to 27th March. What will you be doing to make a difference?

How about:

  • encourage staff and pupils to walk to school.
  • if it’s too far to walk try public transport or cycle (the weather should be better by then!)
  • if you have to drive why not try car sharing? I did it for 12 years as a teacher and it made the journey so much more relaxing.
  • have some discussions with your classes and see what they think. Encourage further research and action.
  • have discussions with your colleagues to see what they think. Encourage further research and action.
  • Debate, discuss and find solutions for your school. LCC and Schumacher North are doing just that at the Old Broadcasting House on Friday 25th March in the afternoon.
  • join the ‘big switch off’ on Saturday 26 March at 8.30pm for WWF’s Earth Hour. Iconic landmarks in Leeds and across the world will be switching their lights off for one hour. Will you?
  • take the Leeds Climate Pledge so we can help as many people as possible cut their carbon emissions.
  • get your school to look at the Leeds Climate Charter or plan to become a Sustainable School

What ever you do, don’t ignore Climate Week. Use it to help find out more about how we are affecting our environment and how you make a difference.

And why not publicise what you are doing? The media will want to know, and so will parents so get your activities onto your website or learning platform.

Give a bird a home

Blue tit at nestboxThis week has been National Nestbox Week! Now is the time to put up nestboxes so that you can hopefully have the pleasure of helping birds raise a family.

I know it’s half term for most schools but why not put some bird boxes up around the school site when you get back. There is some advice on the RSPB Blogs and the RSPB Gardening for Wildlife book is also very helpful. School grounds have lots of places where you could put nest boxes. When I was a youngster I remember that our old Victorian primary school building housed loads of starling and sparrow nests, both species whose numbers have plummeted as the design of our buildings has sealed them out. And the secondary school I went to had hedges full of nests all round the playing field and starlings in the roof of the old school masters house.

So why not put up a few nestboxes to encourage the birds and give this generation of youngsters something to remember when they get to my age!

Cameron ‘to abandon plans to change forest ownership’

It looks as though the government may be about to do a u-turn on the sell off of forests. See “Cameron ‘to abandon plans to change forest ownership'”

Hug a tree to celebrate!

Bus Lanes and car sharing

Terry Wogan always used to rant about bus lanes that had no buses in them whereas cyclists are always cursing the cars that use the bus lanes illegally. Leeds City Council have just announced that they are going to put cameras on bus lanes to catch and fine bus lane abusers. This may help with the flow of traffic a little but it doesn’t get to the root of the problem – our over dependence on the car.

I know public transport isn’t always that great, especially during rush hour on a wet day so how can we reduce our use of the car?

One suggestion is to increase car sharing. I worked for 12 years in a secondary school about 15 miles from home. Public transport took far too long and I often had piles of exercise books to transport. Our solution was car sharing. Three of us (with occasional student teachers hitching lifts) took turns to drive to school. This was brilliant! It reduced our fuel bill, gave us some great social time where we chatted, planned a revolution or listened to each others music, and only one person had to do the driving so we arrived at work less stressed 2 out of 3 days.

There were downsides. If we were driving we had to leave a little earlier in order to pick up our passengers, sometimes we had to wait later when someone had a meeting or had to prepare something, and sometimes we didn’t feel like talking to each other! But with a bit of give and take we muddled along and the days felt better for it.

So, if you drive to school, want to arrive at school a little less stressed some days of the week, and want to save a bit of money why not see if some of your colleagues want to car share sometimes. You don’t have to do it every day but every little helps.

Big Garden and Big School’s Birdwatch (part 2)

I hope some of you have managed to spend some time relaxing and watching the birds! I was out walking locally on Saturday and managed to see a tree creeper and a great spotted woodpecker along with lots of the usual woodland birds. As a result I didn’t have time on Saturday so on Sunday I sat down at the garden window with a piece of paper, pen and binoculars. The first 20 minutes were brilliant with a visit of a large flock of mixed finches including siskins, a bird we don’t see very often in our garden. Then they all disappeared. I thought, “is there a bird of prey scaring them off?” and then I heard it – a neighbour had started up his shredder. That was it for the rest of the day as he shredded half his garden.

The question is, do I add him to my survey? I suppose not because he wasn’t actually in my garden.

Fortunately I don’t have to wait until next year to watch the birds again. They are not like a solar eclipse that might be missed because of the clouds. We can have the excitement and colour of birds all year round so lets make the most of them and encourage our children to appreciate them as well.

Thank you to all of you who contacted me to say that you were taking part in this year’s bird watch, either as individuals or as a school. It is a great encouragement to know that so many of you enjoy the wildlife around us.


Forestry Commission sales

The coalition government has announced plans to sell some or all of the public forest estate in England. Currently the Forestry Commission is responsible for its care. They haven’t always done the best job but in recent years they seem to be getting it about right. And the skills and knowledge they have is applied right across the country. Now the government wants to sell the land off to private organisations and individuals.

These woodlands are our Rain Forest equivalent. They contain a big chunk of this coutry’s biodiversity, a history that can go back millennia, a breathing space for our country and a recreational place for us. I am very unhappy with the idea that the government can sell it off and that who ever buys it (Haven Holidays, Tescos, CentreParcs … add your own…) will do what they like with it. Yes there are laws concerning this land but who is going to pay to police it?

If you want to find out more see the (very biased!) Woodland Trust site or use Google to find other people’s views and then make your own mind up. And if you do agree that it is a bad idea then please make your voice heard – sign the petitions, email your MP, hug a tree!

Hug a tree

Big Garden and Big School’s Birdwatch

Those of you who know me or have read my previouse blogs will be aware that I am passionate about the environment and about engaging our young people with the natural world, as well as with ICT. The annual RSPB Birdwatch is the perfect opportunity to combine both.

Blue Tit 1

The Big School’s Birdwatch is on the 24th January to the 4th February 2011. You can register for a pack on their website and there are free activity packs aimed at Foundation Stage through to KS3. There are lots of opportunities to engage your pupils with the school environment, with recording and analysing results from their birdwatch and then presenting the results. You also get entered into a prize draw for a chance to win RSPB products.

And for those who get enthused, why not take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch on the 29th to 30th January? It only takes an hour, you can submit results online and you get a free pack and a 10% discount on bird food. It is fun, free, and really easy to do. Why not get the whole school and all the school families involved? You could do your own neighbourhood survey using the Garden Birdwatch and bring all the data back together to produce a report to add to your website or learning platform.

If you take part, let me know.

If you would like some help with the bird watching side or the ICT, do contact me.

Gold Finch 1

Happy Birdwatching!

The Weather

The British do have a real thing about the weather. I’ve recently been involved in setting up a weather station, we’re still in the process of deciding what information to make available on the website but you can see it by clicking here. On a recent visit to the school almost everyone was saying how they visited the site several times a day to see what the weather conditions were, as well as the indoor temperature! And relatives were doing the same. I must admit that I also have visited the site regularly, partly to check that it is still working (paranoia?) but also to see what the extremes for the day were. For the pupils, there is loads of numeracy and presentation skills associated with using weather data, and we can perpetuate the British fascination with the weather.

We should be getting some relatively decent weather for a few days before the wind direction moves round and we start to get another arctic blast at the weekend. I am a regular feeder of birds but it was interesting to note that during the recent snow fewer birds came to our garden, they are back now so I can only assume that many of them went further south to warmer climes, something that I learnt from this years Autumn Watch. Do please remember to feed the birds in your garden, and your school grounds if possible. It is incredibly rewarding. It is not too expensive to put a bird feeder cam in your school grounds and then you can watch the birds feeding from any web browser in school. One example of an excellent feeder is at the Abernethy RSPB reserve. Another one is at our own local RSPB reserve at Fairburn Ings but this is not on all the time. If you have a camera and would like me to put a link to it on my website, let me know.

Collecting weather data and using bird cams are both ways that we can use ICT with our pupils and promote an interest in the environment. If you want to know more do contact me.

Every Child Outdoors

The winter weather we have been experiencing, plus doing my back in, has meant that I have been able to sit watching the birds in my garden more than usual. Despite the back, I have been able to top up the bird feeders and replace the ice in the bird bath with fresh water most days. And the small effort on my part has brought big rewards. Blue, great, coal and long tailed tits, chaffinches, robins, doves, pigeons, sparrows, magpies, a sparrowhawk, the list goes on.

I also had time to catch up on some reading and one particular article in the RSPB magazine struck me. It was called “Every Child Outdoors” – you can read the RSPB report by the same name on their website. In 2005, Richard Louv coined the phrase “nature deficit disorder” – research has shown that increased contact with nature can reduce modern problems such as ADHD, vandalism and obesity – Louv’s phrase describes the human costs of alienation from nature. The RSPB, and other environmental organisations believe it essential that our young people are exposed to nature as much as possible. After all, the future of the planet will be in their hands and if they don’t know about or appreciate nature they aren’t going to do anything about it.

If you want to know more or get involved I have put some useful links on the my environmental links web page. Let me know if you find something useful, are inspired to do something or have other useful links I can add to the web page.