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Northumberland National Park joins schools moorlands project

Other posts by  |  Frances Whitehead on Google+ |  May 19, 2012 | 0 Comments
Year 7 students from Dr Tomlinson's Middle School Rothbury monitor the health of the bog

Year 7 students from Dr Tomlinson's Middle School Rothbury monitor the health of the bog

A new, country-wide scheme has been launched to help school students living near the county’s beautiful peat moors and mires understand why bogs are important – and Northumberland National Park is a participant.

Moorland Indicators of Climate Change Initiative (MICCI) is a scheme that helps teachers apply a range of scientific techniques from the curriculum to collect important data from the field. Teachers can then follow this up with practical experiments in the classroom.

Led by fieldwork providers Albion Outdoors, and helped by third-year students from Newcastle University’s Geography department, the children collect data that is fed back to Moors For the Future. Moors is a partnership of agencies that is collating information about the peat moors for the whole country.

Pioneering Rothbury School

Children from Dr Tomlinson’s Middle School in Rothbury have been lucky enough to pioneer the MICCI scheme in Northumberland.  National park staff visited Year 7 to teach the pupils about the plants and animals that rely on this habitat, and the impact on downstream populations and their drinking water  if the peat soils are damaged.  Birds are an early indicator of ecosystem change as they can quickly change their habits.  For example, when ground-nesting birds such as grouse and curlews decline, it means that a big change is taking place.

Following this the children set off with their science teacher, Vicky Sharkey, to Steng Moss near Elsdon to undertake core sampling, vegetation surveys and investigate the physical factors vital for healthy bogs.

“These field visits are an excellent way of seeing at first hand how scientists work. To be part of this national project and actually collect data for them is a valuable experience for the pupils. They have also learnt how climate change is affecting local habitats and how important it is to preserve them.”

Albion Outdoors director Deborah Brady said:  “The children were fascinated – they could touch bits of wood preserved in the peat that were there in Neolithic times and get up close to some amazing plants. It really got them thinking differently about the open moorland around Rothbury. They felt the importance of looking after what we have now.”

Peat soils develop very slowly through a build-up of dead spaghnum moss at a rate of only 1 millimetre a year, so it takes a thousand years to produce a metre of peat.  The children’s imaginations were well and truly captured by taking cores of 6 metres and more and understanding that they were touching something that was 6,000 years old.  The cores showed what the climate was like during different epochs and the amazing capacity of bogs to capture and store carbon.

“When we think of carbon capture our thoughts often turn to distant rainforests but peat covers roughly 15% of the UK and holds about 2300 megatonnes (million tonnes) of carbon, Northumberland National Park holds about  40 megatonnes,” says Deborah.  “This environment is very vulnerable to changes in management practices, such as field drainage, and to climate change.”

Back in the classroom, the children used the collected data to do a bog health check on Steng Moss. This will help the National Park work with the land owner to manage this piece of moorland well.

Mandy Roberts, Engagement Officer at Northumberland National Park Authority, who is organising the scheme amongst schools in and around the National Park, said:  “MICCI offers schools the opportunity to be directly involved in learning about and monitoring our bogs. We hope that schools will become familiar with particular areas and will wish to ‘adopt’ a particular bog and survey it regularly.”

Albion Outdoors was set up by two teachers to create more opportunity for outdoor biology learning within Northumberland. Working in partnership with bodies such as Northumberland National Park Authority, Forestry Commission,Wildlife Trusts and Red Squirrels Northern England, they offer fieldwork opportunities in a wide range of habitats – enabling children to learn about the flora and fauna of Northumberland. Planned and designed by teachers, the activities meet syllabus requirements at all levels – making it easy and appealing for schools to join in.

“We want to get more young people outdoors learning about, connecting with and being fascinated by nature,” explains Deborah. “With partnerships such as MICCI or the red squirrel surveys the students start to see the wider importance of scientific research – tackling global issues on a local level.”

Albion Outdoors offer day visits and residential fieldwork based at Otterburn Hall in Northumberland National Park.  With a recent funding award from Northumberland National Park’s  Sustainable Development Fund, they are able to offer free and subsidised activities to all schools.

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