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