Pupils explore Bicton Commons to learn about heath management
The children from years 5 and 6 were split into groups and given different tasks and activities throughout the day, including identifying trees, measuring their heights using geometry, hunting for heath wildlife, learning about the history of the Commons and inspecting heath management equipment.
The pupils found out about a range of species living in the semi-natural landscape, including adders, Dartford warblers and nightjars. The children discovered how animals can use their appearances as a camouflage to hide away from predators or threats, and how some species, such as the nightjar, are vulnerable to disturbance as they nest on the ground.
The children were accompanied by a team from Clinton Devon Estates, lead by Dr Sam Bridgewater, Nature Conservation Manager for the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Trust (EDPH).
Dr Bridgewater said: “The work that we do with local school children is extremely valuable for them as a learning experience, but also for us and the future of our countryside. Lowland heaths are under threat with around a 70% decline in area in Europe over the last 200 years. Our aim is to share the importance of this particular habitat with the future generation, who will eventually be responsible for managing and conserving it in the way we do now. Without this essential land management, this rare and distinctive landscape could disappear and we would lose some of the rare species that thrive on the heathland today.”
James Powell from Year 6 said: “We have learnt how a Global Positioning System works, because I didn’t know that before. We learnt how to measure trees and I also learnt about a nightjar and a bit about camouflage and how nightjars and adders and Royal Marines use camouflage to avoid being seen. This is fun!”
The children were also given the chance to inspect some of the machinery used in the maintenance of the land such as the fire fogger, a piece of safety equipment to ensure that managed burns, which are undertaken to create a diversity of habitat structure, are adequately controlled.
School teacher Mark Dinnin said: “This is so important. The children get to learn about the local environment they live in. They learn about the importance of the natural landscape and the environment that is managed and not just left. In doing activities such as this, the children learn not to take this countryside for granted and realise that to keep it like this, beautiful and accessible, it takes both money and a lot of work. Days like this teach them to be considerate of that. It’s great that they learn about the wildlife too. It’s like applied science and citizenship.”
Primary schools from across East Devon have been taking part in the activity days including Newton Poppleford Primary School, East Budleigh Primary School and Otterton Primary School. All the school pupils and teachers are being transported to the common in a coach funded by the Otter Valley Association.
The Pebblebed Heaths, which cover 2,800 acres and are estimated to be more than 240 million years old, are owned by Clinton Devon Estates and managed by the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Trust, a charity set up by Clinton Devon Estates.
The Heaths are located in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and have both UK and European designations, including a Site of Scientific Interest (SSSI), Special Protection Area (SPA) and a Special Area of Conservation (SAC).
Dr Bridgewater added "The heaths are very special, not only for the public open space used by many hundreds of thousands of people each year for walking, cycling, horse riding and bird watching, but also for the great wealth of rare flora and fauna just waiting to be discovered for those who take time to look".