2017, FSC, Juniper Hall, Uncategorized

Spring on it’s way!

By Rowena

Spring is definitely on its way, with a delightfully warm weekend- barely even coat weather! We’ve been writing up our Spring Index here like last year to calculate when spring is starting. Last year the average index (which is across all the FSC centres) was the 26th April, which was the same as 2015. I think this year it might be earlier though, as we’ve already recorded quite a few early indicators!

Spring Has Sprung – Darcie Rian

We look primarily at 4 indicator species, although we’ve also been recording others as well- and important events such as first lunch outside (11th March), and first time wearing shorts (13th March). The 4 big ones though;

  • Swallow
  • Orange tip butterfly
  • Horse chestnut budding
  • Hawthorn flower

We’ve already recorded our first orange tip last week (27th March), a whole 18 days earlier than last year’s, which was on the 18th April.

Beyond the Human Eye: Orange-tip Butterflies - More Than Just a ...

Train ticket butterfly (Source: Beyond the Human Eye)

Last week brought the first house martin to Crossways Farm as well on the 31st March, an exciting spot by Jack on the coach back from the river. I got my first swallow yesterday on the 3rd April, although up in Hertfordshire, not in our area for the Spring Index, so the competition’s still going for the first spot for us in Surrey.

Barn Swallow in flight - Olympus UK E-System User Group

(Source: E-group.uk.net)

We’re still waiting for our horse chestnut and hawthorn, but no doubt they’ll be on their flowering way soon. The warm weather today rewarded a pair of slow worms under the reptile mats. No mammals, but the bees were flying from the apiary down in the meadow as well, despite the grey clouds.

Slow worm

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2016, Biology, FSC, Juniper Hall, Uncategorized

Bioblitz 2016

By Rowena

For half term, we ran our annual Bioblitz to record all the birds, bugs, plants and anything else on Juniper Hall’s grounds. In the weeks leading up, Daniel’s been busy handing out tons of flyers around Dorking and Leatherhead…

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So many leaflets!

Thankfully when the big day came the weather was kind to us! It all kicked off with opening our moth traps, which we had put out the evening before. Unfortunately there were only a few moths inside, as it’s getting to the time when they’re all tucked up and hibernating, but happily a few extras were brought along by the AES to admire as well.

Next we had Lisa and Saoirse open mammal traps in Templeton Woods. There were a couple of successes, with a water shrew, and then some wood mice later on in the ha-ha.

 Drawing quite the crowd

Later on in the lineup we had woodland and meadow invertebrate hunting. We got out the sweep nets, pooters and keys to see what we could find, scooping up grasshoppers, shield bugs, leafhoppers and moths. In the woods we had some fun charming worms too, making them wiggle to the surface to be identified.

The reptile mats didn’t reward any reptiles, but Lisa and a few families did find some hiding mammals and lots of insects- the ants just love colonising underneath the felting we’ve put down in our meadow.

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What’s Lisa found?

While Saoirse manned the ponds, looking for underwater critters, Rowena and Helen made some nettle tea with the kelly kettles, that took a lot longer than it should have…

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Putting on a brew!

Also throughout the day we had arts and crafts in the students’ common room, colouring moths and glittering invertebrates, and local societies joining us in the Templeton Room to promote bats, birds and bugs!

A big thank you to everyone that visited and helped, and to the lovely charities that attended; the Bat Conservation Trust, Surrey Bird Club, the Amateur Entomological Society and others!

We haven’t got final totals for everything we recorded on the day yet, but we’ll be sure to update once we do know what we managed to find.

2016, FSC, Uncategorized

Atmospheric Carbon over 400PPM

By Rowena

In the news last week, something that’s been creeping up for a while- Atmospheric carbon levels. It’s something I’ve been watching for the past few months, while I’ve been developing our new carbon day resources. The Guardian‘s released a new article (that’s all a bit doom & gloom) which states apparently, we’re never going back below 400PPM.

So what does that number even mean? NASA puts it best, so I’m going to quote them;

Data are reported as a dry air mole fraction defined as the number of molecules of carbon dioxide divided by the number of all molecules in air, including CO2 itself, after water vapor has been removed. The mole fraction is expressed as parts per million (ppm).

Carbon dioxide levels have been increasing over the past 50 years, from around 319PPM 50 years ago, to 386PPM 5 years ago, to the current number of 402.25PPM. Quite the exponential increase. If you’re anything like me, those figures are easier to imagine as a graph;

The inexorable rise of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

Graphic from NASA

September should have a low atmospheric carbon number because plants have been photosynthesising away all summer, removing carbon from the atmosphere. During winter there’s still some photosynthesis (evergreen plants, and plants in the Southern hemisphere), but not quite as much- because the Southern Hemisphere has a lot more ocean surface than the Northern Hemisphere, so it doesn’t have quite as much effect on carbon levels.

How does atmospheric carbon affect us?

  • Global warming (more carbon, more warming, more ice caps melting, and positive feedback loops)
  • Sea level rises (due to that ice cap melting)
  • Species & habitat loss

All a bit depressing, really. The Guardian have gone a bit dramatic with their headline…

The world passes 400ppm carbon dioxide threshold. Permanently.

It’s probably not permanent. Although we’re at 400ppm for now, there are loads of ways to reduce it- and atmospheric carbon levels fluctuate yearly. Next year, there’ll be a whole different number on the table. Countries all over the world are trying to reduce carbon production by reducing food waste, charging for plastic bags, banning single-use plastics and improving public transport, transferring to renewable energy. Environmental companies and charities are springing up all over, offering eco-friendly resources. Ecosia is a new search engine that plants trees as you search the web (my new favourite!) So maybe it’s not so bad after all.

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2016, Biology, FSC, Uncategorized

30 Days Wild & other exciting things

By Rowena

June is fast approaching (somehow!) and is the month for biodiversity, it seems. This morning I’ve been doing a little bit of research to promote three different fantastic biodiversity projects in June, and made ourselves a board with loads of information and resources for the coming month.

30 Days Wild- All of June

Set up last year, 30 Days Wild is an awesome drive by the Wildlife Trusts to get more people outside and interacting with nature. Individuals can sign up here for a pack, which contains things like a calendar for the month, stickers, a badge, and some ideas of what to do! There are loads of free activities that the Wildlife Trusts are putting on too, which is pretty cool as it means people really have the opportunity to get out and explore.

They also have an app, which you can download for some quick ideas to get outside in nature. I’ve not downloaded it yet (too many other recording apps!) but from a quick glance, it looks pretty fun.

 

National Insect Week- 20-26th June

National Insect Week is a bi-annual event run by the Royal Entomological Society promoting insects. There are tons of events occurring during the week all over the country, which is pretty cool really, as insects are sometimes undervalued- especially the ones that aren’t “pretty”.

The section of NIW’s website I like the best is the Learning Resources area (I guess that says a lot…)- there are loads of activities and things to do; worksheets and things to read, lesson plans, podcasts and websites. Fantastic!

 

Great British Bee Count- 19th May- 30th June

Run by the Friends of the Earth, the Great British Bee Count mostly revolves around an app used to count bees. When I first downloaded it only 10 bees had been counted- now it’s over 18,000! When you spot a bee, you can record it on the app. There are handy pictures too, which makes it easy to work out what you’re looking at. It even has a few non-bees that look like bees (like wasps and bee-flies).

Record all of the bees

You can also do a timed count, watching a 50cm area for 1 minute and recording all the bees that visit the flowers you’re watching.

Putting together all these cool biodiversity projects into one board was a bit of a challenge, and I might have gotten overexcited… But there’s so much to look forward to in June!

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So much biodiversity!

2016, Biology, FSC, Uncategorized

Seeds from SPACE

By Rowena

Last week, we had a very exciting delivery through the post- seeds from space! Daniel spotted the RHS Campaign for Gardening was giving away seeds that have been taken up to space by Tim Peake.

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In September 2015, 2kg of seed was sent up to space to the International Space Station and stored there until Spring 2016, when they returned to Earth. They now have been distributed in packets of 100 to schools around the country to be grown alongside control seeds. There is a packet of 100 red seeds, and a packet of 100 blue seeds. We’re not sure which seeds are control and which have been to space, so the experiment is to see if, when they grow, a difference can be seen between space seeds and Earth seeds!

British astronaut Tim Peake

We have seeds from one of those packets! Actual space stuff!

As according to the instructions, we planted the seeds (thematically, rocket seeds) in boxes of soil, gave them a good water, and filled in the poster we had to record our results on. At the moment they’re being kept in the soon-to-be new library, but will be moved to East and West classrooms in due course, to be monitored by visiting schools and staff.

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Carefully brushing the soil over the seeds

So what’s the point of it? Well, the experiment will show whether seeds are affected by being stored in space- which will be vital to know if we want to grow seeds on other planets one day. There’s a rigorous method that we had to follow so that our experiment is the same as everyone else who’s planting them. For the students planting seeds, this is a great opportunity to learn how to follow methods and justify why things are being done the way they are.

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Sarah waters the seeds

Every few days we have to count how many seeds have germinated, and measure the height. At the end of the 6 weeks that the experiment is running over, our data will get put into a national database, and the results can be analysed. This data will be published to the public as well, which is very exciting.

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The first few seeds have germinated already, so we are busy watering and waiting for the rest to sprout as well. Hopefully they’ll soon grow big and we can see if there are differences between the two packets!

 

2016, FSC, Uncategorized

Wild Art

By Rowena

Wednesday of Real Family Holidays found us making wild art in Templeton Woods and on the lawn. We started off with nature’s palettes, finding the different colours of spring…

Nature’s palettes

With all the colours of the rainbow found, we took inspiration from Andy Goldsworthy to create our own sculptures using what we could find on the grounds.

Fabulous sculptures on the lawn and in the woods

Beautiful!

2016, FSC, Juniper Hall, Uncategorized

Spring is coming…

By Rowena

Spring is definitely on its way, and more boxes are getting filled in on the Spring Index sheet in the tutor’s office! I took a walk up Juniper Top last week one evening, and there was so much birdsong in the air. Almost the first bird I spotted was a blackcap, its squeaky sharp call drawing my eye. First one of the year, perched on a branch of a hawthorn. I paused to admire him and the view before heading further up the hill.

Coal Tit

Blackcap, image source: british-garden-birds.com

The grass is peppered with yellow meadow ant nests as you walk up, huge grassy knolls that would be teeming with life if you were to peel away the vegetation from the top. Not a wise idea, unless you really like ants! In Ants, by Derek Wragge Morely, Lasius flavus’ nests are called “climbers’ compasses” by the author, as;

“…climbers who are lost in a mist or fog can nearly always establish their compass points by observing the way in which the nests of the Yellow [Meadow] Ant are built.”

The steep side of a nest nearly always faces east- and this is the case on Juniper Top!  Along the path, there was a surprising lack of nests, when there were so many further away.

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View to the west

Heading into the woods, the quiet of the open meadow was broken by a thrush, singing from a high-up branch. Another spring tick!

He was overshadowed by a chorus of blackbirds belting out alarm calls as I went further, each surprising the next with their loud chuk-chuk-chuk. A squirrel was surprised too, complaining from the undergrowth as I came to Box Hill viewpoint. It was too late to stop off at the National Trust cafe, so I kept walking down the Burford Spur now, heading back towards Juniper Hall. Dorking was glowing with streetlamps as the light dimmed, the church just about visible along the High Street, a train speeding along the railway tracks towards London. The valley was full of mist hanging low to the ground, Denbies Vineyard and Norbury Park dim outlines. By the time I was back to Juniper Hall, it was dark enough for the goats to have already been put away for bed. A bat zipped across the front lawn as it decided it was nighttime and safe to come out!

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