Interactive biodiversity lab

I’ve just finished a three-day lab for a large school in Wicklow. I delivered the workshops from junior infants to sixth class over three days. The time allocation were 40 minute time slots – this worked like a dream with all age groups. I had six classes per day….

Pictures of birds, spiders…loom bands, microscopes, leaves, tadpoles, feathers and even glitter!!

Glitter looks really good under the microscope, hey hang on a minute – what’s that got to do with biodiversity…..well nothing – it rather happened by chance & the children found it fascinating and even better scattered over the birds feathers, quite a work of art….What I found amazing is that this is a material that children know and use quite frequently – if anything it helped them to understand magnification….if they were really interested they could study the actual task of studying the feathers locking mechanism.. What prey have we here? Bees, Habitats of Wicklow, Map of Wicklow and loom bands…

The star attractions – tadpoles ‘the wet table’ or ‘messy table’ where we prepare to roll up sleeves….

 January – Winter lecture series – From the Amazon to Wicklow

 February – Signs of spring

 March – Signs of spring

 April – Signs of spring

 May – Flower – pollinators

 June – Flower – pollinators

 September – Trees – Autumn colours

 October – Trees – Autumn colours

 November – Trees – Autumn colours

 December – Snowflakes

General – All about the bees in trouble, habitat awareness, ecology orienteering, planting for nature, let’s take a hike, nature walk to the local park…


Tinahely National School – Heritage in schools visit – 4th September 2015

I got a call to visit the Tinahely National School in May 2015 and I was booked in for a September slot, 4th September 2015.

The schools request was to: “To enable the teachers and class groups to learn about the main plants/shrubs/trees that are growing in our school garden. Our hope is to map the garden and list all major trees etc. to act as an aid to future lessons, and transfer the information onto a Habitat Map

I had all 5 classes ranging from junior infants to sixth class. We had an ok day fairly overcast – temperatures ranging about 12-13 degrees. The weather pickedup in the afternoon. I knew there wouldn’t be any pollinators about.

The night before, I did a recci on ‘google maps’ and studied the school grounds and layout, and took approximate measurements of the school. This helped me to understand what equipment I required and what I needed for the school grounds. I brought a long measurement line so that it would help use measure out the perimeter of the hedgerow. Then using a photocopy of the OS map of the school, we used this as our base template to start recording species. We started with the sixth class, as they were able to write the species, hold the maps, and walk and understand what was happening with the hedgerow. While we walked and talked we numbered species along the map and recorded their common names, if Latin names were known they were also provided.

The hedgerow was a typical mature hedgerow in the countryside which had been recently coppiced.

The dominant large species of trees were Horse chestnut, Ash, Oak, Beech, the small trees were Rowan, Birch, and in the understory field layer we had Ivy, Herb Robert (still flowering), Nettles, Brambles, Cleaver, Foxglove, Alexandra. We noticed a section of sick trees that were probably effected by some kind of fungus – honey fungus perhaps as a section of trees and shrubs were sick for around 10 m or so. The children were fascinated to understand that trees get sick too. There were a family of robins in this hedgerow, but not so many other some birds for some reason – perhaps too cold? When I returned to the hedgerow there were a large flock of little birds (when all the children had disappeared probably foraging on the berries etc.).

With the younger groups we studied the mature hollies that had berries – they were still green – so the children understood that Santa hadn’t started shopping yet! We found a lot of insects in this area such as spiders & their nests, shield bugs, baby ladybirds, mature ladybirds, greenfly, a very tired hungry bumblebee (so we got sugared water). We identified the species at the front of the school and transferred this onto the habitat map. There was a beautiful apple tree, too, but it wasn’t ripe just yet. We noticed how the conifer trees were a great habitat for spider’s webs, in particular and there were a good few nests around.

The younger children got their clip boards and crayons and we did leaf rubbings and prints with a few common species of trees. I was very impressed with the school and how well they kept their school grounds with a huge focus and interest on nature. They had a few handmade insect hideouts, and a compost bin. Their growing garden areas were fantastic.

Well done to Tinahely National School for all their hard efforts & interest in natural heritage and using the school grounds to create their habitat map. This will help the school branch out to broaden the children’s knowledge of the local biodiversity, and natural heritage in their area.

Signing-off – Grace Garde

Heritage in schools Wicklow Heritage Expert

Signs of Spring

Detective Spring!

Teachers… this is a great activity to do with your class on your school grounds.

I call it the ‘Signs of Spring’ worksheet.

Spring flowers –
Typical spring flowers out now would be Lesser Celandine, Herb Robert, Dandelion, Daisy, Primrose, Chickweed, Common Speedwell.
An excellent website I could highly recommend is

The next item I ask the class to look out for is nest building materials. The children love to build their own nests out of material that they find i.e. feathers, loose moss, and sticks. Birds are great recyclers of all materials found in nature and if they have heat value they will be used.

Most trees are just in the stage of ‘bud burst’ right now – interesting to ask the children what emerges out of the buds –
the answer should be leaves, but often you will get an answer such as ‘apples’ or the like. It is helpful to explain the process of “bud burst” with the children.

Habitat Map - specifically dealing with 'Trees for Bees'

Habitat Map – specifically dealing with ‘Trees for Bees’

Often the buds and the bark are the only distinctive features at this time of the year, so doing bark rubbings can be useful so they can really study and feel the texture of the bark on the different types of trees.

The insects will all be hiding at this time of the year – the temperatures are only starting to warm up to get them moving. Any ladybirds that have survived will start moving around. You might see Bumblebees / Butterflies if you are lucky.

2 7-spot ladybirds overwintering in under cover of a fennel plant in the local allotment

2 7-spot ladybirds overwintering in under cover of a fennel plant in the local allotment

In our recent workshop because the school garden had great woodland trees in their garden they had a great selection of local garden birds that we were able to study. This ranged from the Blackcap, Chaffinch, Robin, Goldcrest, and Goldfinch, along with the common starlings, blackbirds, pigeons, and rooks.

An excellent website I could highly recommend is

Wherever you find all these animals – you have found their habitat – and you are ready to draw up the spring habitat map! If you find it difficult to find any animals on your school grounds you will need to create more habitats for them to live in!

The children love finding spiders & their webs!Detective Butterfly

Just to note**
Top trees for nectar production:
Most of the honey is collected between mid-June and the end of July when many flowering plants such as white clover and blackberry are in bloom. Trees and Ivy are also rich sources of nectar. The top trees for nectar production are Willow, Apple, Hawthorn, Maple, Pear, Cherry, Lime, Horse Chestnut, Alder, Hazel, Sycamore, and Holly.