One of our frogs posing for a photo Nest of hedgehogs discovered under a pile of old leaves .
The school is lucky to employ a designated member of staff to look after the school grounds. Having a paid employee means there is no reliance on volunteers and things don’t lapse after the novelty has worn off. I have seen many great schemes fail because the school has not continued to keep things going. We have a budget through school but have also made use of some free resources, eg. RHS School Gardening Scheme
, the Woodland Trust, the Yorkshire Agricultural Society
, the RSPB. There is a lot of advice and courses available for schools nationally but also locally. A local company, Outdoor Classrooms
, generously donated bark, log planters and den building equipment and gave us invaluable free advice.
There are problems trying to promote wildlife gardening within a school and sometimes compromises have to be made. The Head Teacher is keen for the children to discover wildlife and care about their environment but the main push is for healthy eating so priority is often given to growing fruit and vegetables. There is a new trend for forest schooling which is great as long as the teachers and children know that the pile of logs is there for invertebrates and not den-building!
There needs to be understanding and communication amongst all staff. The school caretaker has an agenda to keep the school looking neat and tidy and so frowns upon long grass and unpruned seedheads! The Council workforce has a mission to cut everything back “tidily” and spray everything in sight! Children seldom worry about what they tread on! I suggest that anyone setting up a wildlife area bears all this in mind and zones spaces to keep a happy balance. I did once try to make the whole school grounds a wildlife haven but have realised it is a battle and I have had to compromise on some things. I now find it is easier to have designated wildlife areas so that it is obvious to everyone that it should stay “messy”!
There have been a few obstacles in my path whilst trying to establish a wildlife garden.
The school expanded a few years ago, taking it from a Junior School to a two form entry Primary School. The necessary building works destroyed some beneficial habitats including stone walls, a good area of mature flowering ivy, a large shrub area, some of the field and our lovely Nectar Bar. Luckily I was able to move some of the smaller trees. However, every cloud has a silver lining and part of the build had to include planting new trees and adding to the native hedging which I had been trying slowly to take around the whole perimeter of the school grounds to create a wildlife corridor. An added bonus was a small garden area adjacent to the new Early Years classroom which meant that the younger children could have their own outdoor space. This has been developed to include a fruit and vegetable growing area, a bird-feeding area, a wildlife area, a small wildflower area and as many nectar-rich plants as I could fit in.
I changed the wildflower spiral area into a small orchard as the spiral became too difficult to manage. I have planted a tiny wildflower patch instead on poorer soil that the builders left behind! Instead of a designated “nectar bar” we try and use nectar rich plants everywhere instead and have a long succession of flowers throughout the year from early crocus, Hammamelis and Sarcococca in the Winter to Asters and Verbena in late Autumn and a huge amount in between.