The starlings have been keeping us on tenterhooks for the past few weeks, frequently flying straight over Leighton Moss in search of a place to rest their weary wings. This week, however, they’ve been showing promising signs of their return to our reedbed. Despite still arriving in smaller, fractured groups on Thursday afternoon, a gathering of over ten thousand birds flocked over Causeway before heading down to roost toward Island Mere. On Friday, several thousand engaged in an impressive murmuration over the reserve before eventually drifting off. We hope that this signals a change in behaviour and that soon they will all be retiring to the Leighton Moss reedbed to roost! 

Thick fog blanketed the reedbed at the beginning of this week, but as the days have rolled on, we have witnessed some rather unseasonal balmy weather. After the warmest New Year’s Day on record, January has continued to be quite unpredictable - even the wildlife is confused! Like we have mentioned in previous weeks, bearded tits are still frequenting the grit trays; it’s very unusual behaviour for this time of year here at Leighton Moss. But the most notable news of this week has to be the premature vocal warm up from the bitterns. Our warden team have heard a number of pre-boom grumbles rumbling through the reeds. Bitterns boom to establish territory throughout breeding season but the mild weather seems to have lured these reedbed recluses into tuning up early.

Otters are still being regularly reported as you look across from Causeway towards Lower Hide. On a clear day, you can even see views of them breaking the surface of the water from the Skytower so make sure to get your bins out!

This week, we are catching up with our Learning Officer, Carol, who is celebrating fifteen years of service with the RSPB! What an achievement! In previous blogs, we have chatted about the importance of connecting children to nature and here at Leighton Moss, we frequently host school visits to ensure as many pupils have access to nature as possible. Carol takes care of the schools and organised youth groups when they visit the reserve. As a trained teacher, specialising in outdoor learning, she has an abundance of experience when it comes to delivering nature-based education.

 Carol began her career with the RSPB as a Local Groups Officer, a job which gave her good grounding and a wider perspective of the society itself. She ventured on to the Ribble Discovery centre (now known as Fairhaven Lake) as a field teacher, maintaining her connection with outdoor teaching. This role developed her understanding of the RSPB’s educational aims and values, all whilst set against the sand dunes of the Fylde coast. 

With the concerns around 'stranger danger', the increase in traffic on the roads, and the draw of the screen for young people, Carol is keen to ensure that the next generations of children aren’t missing out on experiences that she had in her youth; a study in 2016 found that children are generally spending half as much time outside as their parents did in 1975 (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jul/27/children-spend-only-half-the-time-playing-outside-as-their-parents-did)

Some of Carol’s formative memories as a child involved wading through rivers and discovering the wildlife – these, she believes were the catalyst for her passion for geography and nature in later life. 

Here at Leighton Moss, she believes that her role is to create an environment that teachers can relax in the comfort of knowing that their students are experiencing nature safely. She’s eager to provide tailored experiences to school groups, so that their visit is a holistic part of their learning, not just a standalone school trip. She encourages teachers to participate and to help steer the direction of the sessions, so the school is getting the most from their visit.

 A typical school visit usually starts with a liaison with the teachers from Carol. Here, a timetable is developed for their visit based on the sessions that are most appropriate to support their classroom learning. Some examples include Brilliant Birds, Pond Minibeasts and Land Minibeasts for Key Stage One, whilst Key Stage Two have topics such as Habitat Studies or Rocks and Soils on offer.  After they’ve arrived on the coach, they meet Carol and her volunteer team, and begin to immerse themselves in the variety of habitats that Leighton Moss has to offer.

Leighton Moss works closely with The Areti Charitable Trust, a local organisation who provide funding for disadvantaged primary schools in the Lancaster, Morecambe and Heysham area, to connect their children with nature. They’ve supported almost 2,000 visits to Leighton Moss in the past four years, but their work throughout the pandemic is one of Carol’s most proud moments throughout her entire year career. Watching children return to the outdoors, experiencing the fresh air with their friends after eighteen months of lockdowns, moved her: “It was the best season for school visits because it was so needed. It was our small act in helping the country’s recovery”.

“Here at Leighton Moss, it’s all about sowing the seeds and giving children a taste of nature being fun and enjoyable”. Post lockdown, there has almost been a shift in Carol’s aim – it’s now as much about reconnecting children with nature after so much time indoors. She’s now even more determined that Leighton Moss’ educational offerings reach as many children as possible. If you’d like to get involved with our volunteer learning team then click here to find out more.

Beth 

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