Ridgewood school lockdown wildlife project and the UK's very first Wild Challenge electronic accolade 

 Click here to find out more about schools Wild Challenge.

Ridgewood High School in Lancashire are the first school to be awarded our new electronic accolade for achieving Gold Wild Challenge award. Now, any school who achieves Gold can share their success with others by including the Wild Challenge roundel on their website, letters and email footers or anywhere else you share your school's awards. 

In this blog we hear from Mr Loughlin and Mr Clegg about their class's incredible efforts to transform an unused area of the school grounds into an outdoor learning environment through the Wild Challenge award and their curriculum in their own words. So grab a cuppa and see how their project could inspire one in your school grounds..

"Our reaction to the Covid crisis

When our new class teams and students were announced at the end of Summer term 2020, like every other school in the country, Ridgewood CHS, a secondary SEND school, was in the midst of the Covid pandemic and its’ associated lockdowns. We discussed the impact of this new way of life on our school community and were concerned that already our young people’s mental health, social interaction and general life skills were being adversely affected by spending so much time indoors. So, in September, against a backdrop of the new normal of reduced class numbers, social distancing and no off-site Duke of Edinburgh trips, 11B staff came up with something meaningful which would at least allow our students to actually get out of the classroom.

Woodland area development

Our school, situated in the industrial town of Burnley in East Lancashire, is lucky enough to have access to a large area of playing fields. We used the first week or so to evaluate the outdoor space available and discovered a relatively small, overgrown corner of left-to-nature, unmaintained land. This area had been mostly taken over by brambles, weeds and saplings. We discussed the possibilities as a class and decided that we would transform this neglected area. Students pointed out that the space wasn’t accessible! They suggested that we could clear the dense wall of brambles and overgrown shrubs to create a pathway.

The project soon got underway with our class quickly learning how to use shears and secateurs with great effect. By the end of week one, students had cut, clipped and hacked a passageway. This stimulated discussion and soon students were heavily involved in the planning of the next phases of development. The impact of ‘outdoor learning’ was clearly making a significant contribution to the mental health of our students, there was a new ‘buzz’ amongst the students and they were determined to make the most of this opportunity.

11B had grown in confidence and independence in such a short space of time, successfully getting ready for outdoor learning. Organising and arranging their waterproof clothing and protective footwear, transporting equipment to the woodland area. Each student would be given something to carry and volunteers were never in short supply.

 Over the next few weeks, the wildlife area started to take shape, students were thoroughly motivated and took part in all tasks asked of them (even in the harsh weather conditions). As the project had no actual budget, part of the problem was trying to find funds for the various things needed such as wood chippings for a path, plants, shrubs and trees, a bird table etc. Whilst staff were happy to send out emails and contact firms to see if they were able to donate (in the most part, very successfully), we felt it important to involve the students in showing our appreciation and suggested that they design and write inside individual Thankyou cards for each firm or person who assisted us. This ended up as a competition to design the best card, with everyone wanting their effort to be used!

 

Trail camera and wildlife

Whilst we were not allowed off site and therefore not able to work towards the usual D of E bronze award, we looked into whether there was some way of rewarding the student’s endeavours. We soon came across the RSPB Wild Challenge for schools, which was an instant hit. We sat down with the students and sought their views as to whether this was a worthwhile goal to aim for. Everyone in the class agreed, we set about gathering evidence for some of the tasks required to complete the Bronze award. As part of our wildlife area we had previously set up a trail camera and had some remarkable successes, including woodpeckers, jays, red breasted finch, squirrels and even a badger! These successes made interest in both the wildlife project and also the RSPB Challenge easy to maintain. So, when the RSPB Birdwatch 21 was announced, we decided to organise ourselves to take part. Students had shown a keen interest in wildlife and couldn’t wait to check the camera footage on Monday mornings. As a result of capturing a badger on film, during the course of the last few months, our class have been in contact with Lancashire Badger Group and their staff have visited the school and carried out a Zoom Q and A with the students.



Habitat research and construction

Students were constantly referring to RSPB, in lessons, at break and dinner times and in class discussions. We soon decided to complete the tasks on Friday mornings, as this was designated as our D of E time. As we completed each of the units, the students became more involved and were pleased to see the progress they had made, visibly determined to produce a good level of work. It soon became a regular Friday morning routine, to check the newly constructed, various animal homes, mini pond, insect hotels, log and stone piles and nest boxes for any signs of habitation. One notable success was captured on the trail cam when both a squirrel and the badger were sited exploring a lean-to shelter built from branches, moss and leaves, much to the obvious joy of those responsible for its construction!

We found that the different components of the wild Challenge tied in nicely with lots of aspects of our curriculum: Birdwatch incorporated counting, graphs, pie charts and other maths skills, while Wild Writing and Weather Wizard were both completed as part of our English lessons and a number of the other tasks involved computer and IT skills as well as drawing.

One of the Challenges above all the others seemed to resonate with the students was Habitat Explorers. We utilised the RSPB down-loadable score card, together with a printed Google Earth photograph of the school and grounds. This proved to the students how much of a massive difference to the locality and wildlife, building and creating new and diverse habitats in the wildlife area had made to our school once they totalled up the scores for the different areas. By far the highest scoring part of the school grounds was the recently transformed wildlife area! This tied in all the hard work of the class and provided an opportunity for students to celebrate the positive steps they had taken.

Successful project!!!!!

 

From the start of the project in September to achieving Gold in mid-March, it has been an amazingly successful and enjoyable journey. To see how our students have developed both emotionally and physically, they now have a new appreciation of the world around them. Students have learned how to work cooperatively, built positive relationships, problem solved, resolved problems and disagreements. The whole outdoor learning experience has benefitted our students and has undoubtedly equipped them with various new skills. The RSPB challenges have strengthened and focused our project, offering a manageable and clear structure for us to follow. The whole school community have been inspired by our efforts and have asked to work with our class. Students in our class have now become ambassadors, taking other classes on tours of the woodland area. It is clear to see the change that working with and for nature has brought about in all of the students involved.  When we look back at the photographs of the wildlife area at the commencement back in September and compare these with the most recent pictures. It is clear to see that 11B have created a lasting legacy for both the school, but more importantly, local wildlife, that will be looked after and nurtured in years to come."

Pupil Comments

“All the work we did making animal homes made me feel really happy” – T. C.

“We saw amazing animals like badgers, deer and woodpeckers” – A.J.

“I found a ladybird, some worms and a caterpillar. They all really cheered me up” – S.E.

“Planting bulbs and seeing them turn into flowers was unbelievable!” – C.H.

“It was really good building homes for all the animals. I enjoyed the RSPB work” – L.F.

“I loved seeing the badger swinging on the bird table – so funny!” – B.D.

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