For about the past 5 or 6 years our council has sponsored a Biodiversity Summer School in 3 areas, and each year Tristan and Kallista love to go and have very rarely missed a day, they enjoy it so much!
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The Biodiversity Summer Schools each run for 5 days for two hours a day and are open to all ages, which is wonderful. And…they’re free! Not having to pay means that fees aren’t a burden for any family, and often the families that could most benefit from events such as this aren’t able to afford them. Certainly, I know that we would not be able to attend if there was a fee attached. Thank you Mid and East Antrim Council!
For the past five years, The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) have been the organisers of BSS and Chris and his enthusiastic and knowledgeable team are always keen to answer any questions that the children or adults may have. Having the same organisation on site each year brings some consistency and means that it’s easier for children (even shy ones like mine) to feel comfortable and reconnect with the team and catch up.
Many of the activities are similar each year, but Chris also changes a day here and there and adds a new twist on the activities so that children who do attend year after year still get value from it.
The sessions run regardless of the weather; if it’s hot ans sunny, bring extra sunscreen and if the rain is pouring down, bring your rubber boots and an umbrella! It’s all about enjoying the outdoors 🙂 We’ve certainly experienced all sorts of weather. This year it was warm but cloudy for the most part, which was just about perfect, really.
Each Biodiversity Summer School Day Has a Theme
Each day of the week is dedicated to a different theme, and additional team members are brought in according to their specialties.
This is Tristan’s favourite day! Children and adults search for branches to make a frame for a shelter. They may learn how to strip the bark off a branch to use it as rope to hold the structure together. They learn about the shape of the shelter; different years have seen different types of structures from longer A-frame shelters to teepee-type varieties. Then they search for leafy branches and armfuls of dock leaf to use to create the walls to keep the rain out and the interior dry.
Then once the hard work is done, it’s time to head off into the bush and forage! The Jubilee Woods have a community orchard that was planted a few years back and it’s been fun watching it grow even faster than the kids! The kids look for any ripe fruit that is available and return with a variety of apples, pears, black currents, plums, white currents, and even nettle can be useful! Chris teaches the kids how to pick nettle leaves with a firm hand, then roughly crush and roll it before you eat it or add it to your tea. Yes, with the foraged bounty the kids make their own tea and have a snack. Watch for our recipes on foraged fruit tea and our foraged forest fruit crumble!
This year the kids turn clay into interesting pieces of art to take home with them to dry and enjoy. Then they searched the area and made joint collages. Tristan and Kallista helped make an owl by gathering silver leaf, dock leaf seeds, reeds, flowers, and pine needles. In past years they also decorated wood disks and painted pictures which were then added to with natural embellishments.
Snug as a Bug in a Rug
On bug day an entomologist comes out on site and brings a wide collection of insect samples for the children to look at, as well as some snake skins and skull bones. It’s not Kallista’s favourite display, but after learning a little about the bugs there, she’s very happy to grab a sample jar and go diving into the scrub to look for little creatures herself! The kids search high and low for frog jumpers, sedge moths, caterpillars, spiders, ladybugs, butterflies, and anything else they can find. They bring these back to the team for identification and then release them back into the wild.
The kids also made bug hotels from cardboard egg cartons; they filled them with natural items such as flowers, seeds, leaves, hollow stems, etc. They brought these home and tucked them under a bush, and checked them for a couple of days and were happy to see that within about 48 hours they’d become home to 3 or 4 different insects!
Today the group went on a bird watching walk through the woods along the path using binoculars to try to do a bit of bird spotting and identification through viewing and listening to the birds that flew past or perched amongst the trees. Tristan and Kallista saw robins, great tits, starlings, swallows, tree sparrows, and a chaffinch (check out our bird ID cards).
The group also made natural bird feeders to hang in the trees and bushes as a gift to the birds. Lard, birdseed, pine cones, sticks, and natural twine were all that was needed! Each feeder was unique and much appreciated by the local residents!
Build a Hog a Home
On the last day the kids worked together to build wooden structures to be used as hedgehog houses. Hedgehog populations have declined greatly over the years and it’s nice for the children to be a part of keeping them safe and happy. The homes had 3 walls and a roof, with one side and the bottom open. They were then placed around the area and covered up to hide them from prying eyes of any creature that may want to harm them.
Other activities from past years included making kites, rock painting, and weaving reeds into St. Brigid’s crosses. There has also been pond dipping, but this year the pond was very small with the lack of rain we had over June and July, so I’m glad they didn’t disturb the decreased habitat of the water creatures this year.
Other Great Features
The kids love having fun and learning new skills at the Biodiversity Summer School, as well as making new friends and spending time with ones they already know. I enjoy reconnecting with people I haven’t seen in ages, perhaps even years.
Often we’ll take a picnic lunch and hang about the woods later and have some time together at one of the picnic tables before either going for a walk or perhaps continuing the theme and sketching some plants and learning more about them. Sometime’s it great even to take math or English class outdoors to a new surrounding.
Ideas For the Future?
I’d love to see a whole summer school for preteens and teens just on survival skills. I know…teaching children to build fires and such could be seen as a health and safety hazard and you wouldn’t want them to use it for destruction, but perhaps giving them the power and knowledge could help prevent such trouble. Knots, orienteering, map skills, and outdoor cooking could also be options.
Overall, this is a great week out with the kids and they thoroughly enjoy it. For 5 days all other activities must be worked around Biodiversity Summer School or they just won’t happen. As I mentioned above, this event takes place over three locations, with Larne on this week – and there’s no need to book ahead, just show up! So get yourselves down there and have some fun!