Around 30 children from Bridge Learning Campus in Hartcliffe took a walk on the wildside on a Wednesday in June when they headed out on a unique "hedgerow safari" on an organic farm.
Not only did they get the opportunity to stalk voles, identify insects and brush up on birdlife, but the aspiring safari rangers were joined by Jim Parkyn from Aardman Animations who gave them a hands-on lesson in how to model their very own hedgerow inhabitant.
Organised by the Organic Milk Cooperative (OMSCo) and hosted by organic farming family, the Hurfords, on Hill House Farm in Dundry, the event elevated the humble hedgerow to a thrilling safari route for the children.
Experienced 'Safari Leader' Finlay McLaren took them on an exciting journey of discovery, identifying plants, looking for insects and hunting for signs of the many animals and birds that live in the organic hedgerows. There was even the chance to look at live small mammals including woodmice and bank voles.
OMSCo also invited Aardman Animations to attend the event and provide an additional artistic element to the day. Armed with modelling clay, Jim Parkyn showed the children how to create models of field mice, caterpillars and snails, some of which they had been lucky enough to spot on the morning's safari.
“Organic hedgerows are really important habitats and it's great to get kids out on farms learning all about them. Hedgerows provide shelter and food for all sorts of insects, birds and mammals, from squirrels to stoats, butterflies to beetles, robins to wrens and a whole variety of native British plant life," Finlay said.
Christopher Penny from the Bridge Learning Campus added: “For many of the children this was the first time they had actually set foot on a farm. They absolutely loved the Hedgerow Safari - especially the excitement of coming face to face with live hedgerow inhabitants such as woodmice and bank voles. They learnt loads about why hedgerows are important and what makes hedges on organic dairy farms so special. To top the day off with a hands-on modelling lesson from an expert at Aardman was an absolute bonus!”
Research shows over 1,500 insects, 600 plant species, 65 birds and 20 mammals have been recorded as living or feeding in hedgerows and they are the main habitat for at least 47 species of conservation concern in the UK - including 13 globally threatened or rapidly declining species.
The last 50 years have seen a dramatic decline in farmland wildlife due to intensive farming practices and the use of pesticides. However, a report by English Nature in 2004 reported that there are more birds, butterflies, beetles and bats on organic farms where the use of artificial chemical pesticides is banned.
“We only cut our hedges once every two years, which allows them to flower and fruit, providing food and cover for insects, birds and small mammals. Also, we don't cut them in the summer months when mammals, birds and beneficial insects such as ladybirds are breeding," said Lesley Hurford.
The Hedgerow Safari in Bristol was one of a number of events that are taking place across the UK. For more information or to book your school or children's group on their very own Hedgerow Safari, visit OMSCo's website.
Text and photos supplied by Kate Kerss June 2011
Make a comment here