Exercising mind and body with hands-on education of countryside biodiversity.

We are all familiar with the yellow arrows indicating the general direction of a footpath across a field. What we don’t know is what we are likely to encounter as we cross that area of land. If we are not sure where the true path runs do we walk around the perimeter or walk the quickest route across the middle? Are livestock grazing? Are the grass-like fronds a crop or are they weeds on fallow land? Should we care? After all, it’s not our land, but we have a right of way through it.

Yes, we should care. Our success as a species is inextricably linked with all others. The more diverse an ecosystem, the more chance we will have of adapting to climate change and all the challenges it brings.

COVID-19 is impacting us all, but especially parents who are learning, perhaps for the first time, how their children acquire knowledge through play and hands-on experience. By educating and engaging with their children, parents also seek to become better informed themselves. Let us use this opportunity of increased family activity outdoors to instil respect and wonderment of the countryside and all organisms that live within it whilst adhering to the country code to reduce negative effects on crops and livestock.

At each entrance gate/stile of a footpath a small information sign will inform the public what is being grown or grazed in the field. The route should also be named, or referenced by map references eg TQ 663 446 ‘River Walk’.

Placing upright wooden marker posts at strategic, visual points approximately 250 metres apart along the footpath will help direct walkers. If constructed within the path itself they shouldn’t impact on the farmer’s management of crops, but could be removed if/when necessary. Each post shall have its own unique reference or QR code.

On each of the post’s four sides, laminated inserts can be attached containing basic facts pertaining to the area around the post. For example:

Side 1 – WILDLIFE – Look for Grey wagtail (shallows), mink (under river banks). Observe birds circling in the sky and note tail shape – buzzard/ red kite. Watch for deer on woodland edges – roe/fallow deer.

Side 2 – BIOLOGY – Observe holes in sandy soil by path – home for mining wasps. Listen for buzz of bee fly. Find flowering plants – comfrey – observe small holes at base of flower made by short-tongued bees to access nectar. Observe which trees are flowering and look for pollinating insects. Listen and identify birdsong eg chiffchaff and blackcap. Feel the bark on the trees – which is rougher, ash or oak?

Side 3 – GEOGRAPHY – State longitude/ latitude and altitude. Name the geographical features observed eg meanders and soil type found

Side 4 – ENVIRONMENTAL – State ecosystem services of the nearest tree (Treezilla has an interactive website) – eg, this oak tree removes 57kg per year of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by photosynthesis and intercepts 7 cubic metres of water through its roots.

All factual statements will have a link to enable further studies. A website would be created that could eventually be connected to all regions of the UK. The information shown should be chosen at student level from primary through to GCSE and A-Level students.

It would be hoped that when out walking, information on the posts would be read and the posts reference number logged. Some parents would have prepared ahead to have information to hand, but the majority of families are likely to record the post number and explore what was found on their return home. For instance, a large bee fly – triangular in appearance, may have been observed by a mining bee’s entrance hole. Exploring the web page later that day would explain the action of the bee fly ‘kicking’ its eggs into the mining bee’s home. The next time the family go for a walk, their children will already be looking for more ‘cool’ insects!

Another example could be if a large bird was seen circling overhead. Observational skills will help identify it – a fork tail = red kite, rounded wings and tail = common buzzard, same size as buzzard but with a distinctive call in flight and black = raven. Checking on the website will indicate if any of those species have been logged at that location previously.

Using map references on the posts at each end of the field will also help with map reading skills, as the location can be verified if compass skills were used rather than just following the posts!

Schools could encourage pupils of all ages to become involved, through wildlife/environmental biodiversity clubs or utilising skills needed for exams in a number of subjects including IT, biology, geology and geography. Duke of Edinburgh and Scouts/Guides skills of compass and map -reading would also be covered!

All of these laminated information tabs can be replaced depending on the interest of those monitoring the posts. ‘Eco-warriors’ could decide what information to place on the posts. If other wildlife is observed, updates can be added to the website too.

Farmers will benefit as walkers will stick to the footpaths, especially if keen to see the information on the next post. The visitors will gain a greater understanding of nature and of its interconnections with farming practices eg pollination of crops and fertilization of soil. Children will learn through use of all their senses, expanding their horizons beyond their smart phones. Walking with mum and dad will be more fun and will instil confidence if they can educate their parents with the information they have gleaned about the bugs and plants they find on their walk. Greater knowledge of the countryside around them will create a desire to protect and preserve the natural environment promoting continued enjoyment of the local footpaths for years to come, knowing it is the responsibility of us all to maintain biodiversity and preserve the countryside by taking home only memories, not mementoes.

 

 

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