Pupils explore the East Devon heathland and learn about biodiversity
Pupils and teachers from Newton Poppleford Primary School enjoyed an activity filled day at East Budleigh Common with staff and volunteers from Clinton Devon Estates. Pupils learned about the formation of the heathland, the importance of its biodiversity and how management is required to conserve this unique habitat.
The children from years 3 and 4 were split into three groups and accompanied to different areas of the heath to discover the species living in the habitat, the techniques used to manage the land and how thousands of years of human use have helped forge the current identity of this highly threatened ecosystem. In addition, the children were taught about sustainability and the importance of recycling.
The pupils also met Woody the rhynchosaur, an ancestor of the dinosaurs dating back 240 million years. Woody was an inhabitant of the Triassic era when torrential mountainous rivers would have eroded and shaped the pebbles forming the Pebblebeds upon which the heathland would later develop. Children were accompanied by a team of staff from Clinton Devon Estates, lead by Dr Sam Bridgewater, Nature Conservation Manager for the East Devon Pebblebed Heaths (EDPH).
Dr Bridgewater said "It is important for the children in this area to know about the history of the heath and the work that goes into maintaining its biodiversity. Lowland heaths are under threat with around a 70% decline in area in Europe over the last 200 years. What we do at Clinton Devon Estates through the work of the Pebblebed Heaths Conservation Trust, is manage and conserve this rare habitat for future generations and ensure continued public access and enjoyment of them. In the absence of management these heaths would revert back to woodland, with a loss of many unique species".
The heath is currently home to several rare animals such as the southern damselfly, the nightjar, the Dartford Warbler and the silver studded blue butterfly. The children were also taught about the Dalditch camp, an important army training base on the heaths housing over 2,000 people when it was in use around 70 years ago at the beginning of the Second World War.
Before lunch children were also given the chance to use some of the machinery used in the maintenance of the land such as a water 'fogger', a piece of safety equipment that ensures managed burns undertaken to create a diversity of habitat structure are adequately controlled.
School teacher Angela Stephen said "It's amazing. We've had so many wonderful opportunities. The children love using the equipment like the fogger but they are also learning lots about habitats. It's so important to learn about heathland and looking after the environment that is on our doorstep."
Madi, Katie and Abby (Year 4, Class AS) helped gather a range of different species of plants from the heathland. They said "We had to find lots of different plants and stick them on paper to see how many we could find. We learnt lots of plant names and that there are over 500 different types of plants in this area. We learnt where some plants like to grow. At first we weren't really interested in plants but now we are."
Harry, Benedict and Daniel (Year 4, Class CW) also helped to collect some plants. They said "We collected different species of plants and stuck them on card. This helped us learn how many plants are in this kind of habitat."
Gaynor Towers is a classroom assistant at the school; she said "It's lovely as they can be outdoors on their own doorstep as they probably don't even know it's here. It's great, they are so relaxed and they are safe. They take it all in because it's different from being in a classroom. I didn't even know it was all here and I live in Newton Poppleford - the children are learning and so am I!"
Budleigh Salterton and Otterton primary schools will also be spending a day on the heaths to learn about biodiversity and the tools used to maintain the heathland for a prosperous future. 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".
For more information visit www.clintondevon.com or call 01395 443881.