Otters & Education Project
The Countryside Council for Wales (CCW) has been providing individual grant funding to the Rivers Trust movement for a number of years to support a variety of projects.The CCW funding is an important contributor towards facilitating the work of the Rivers Trusts as it enables aspects of their work, like Education and Community Involvement, which are otherwise difficult to secure funding for, to be delivered. In 2009-10 the grant had to be used for the delivery of a local rivers trust led community, environmental and conservation project and Pembrokeshire Rivers Trust elected to deliver an extension to their Interactive Education Programme focussing on Otters in Pembrokeshire.
The interactive education programme delivered by Pembrokeshire Rivers Trust in 2009 -2010 had two main areas of work, the first being the delivery of an educational programme and the second being the development of a proposal to utilise camera technology to monitor otter activity.
This year’s project was the second phase of an initiative that was trialled in 2008 and focused on building on the findings of the 2008 project and extending an education programme to a number of schools located within the area of the Milford Haven Waterway. The CCW grant for this project was match funded via a generous donation from South Hook LNG of £7,200.
In order to expand the education programme, schools were contacted to explore whether or not they would be interested in participating in the project. The schools were Milford Haven Juniors, Hakin County Primary, Herbrandston (Coastlands) County Primary, Lamphey Primary School and Cosheston Voluntary School.
Initial meetings were held with these schools to discuss the project, the most appropriate year group to work with and provisional dates for the delivery of their classroom and field visits.
The project was delivered in five local schools as follows:
- Herbrandston (Coastlands) County Primary = Years 3 & 4 (7-9 years) = 17 pupils
- Milford Haven Juniors = Year 5 (9-10 years) = 76 pupils (3 classes in the year group)
- Lamphey Primary = Year 4 (8-9 years) = 25 pupils
- Cosheston Voluntary School = One Class (7-11 years) = 26 pupils
- Hakin County Primary = Years 3 & 4 (7-9 years) = 30 pupils
Total number of participating children = 174
The education programme with each school was delivered in two parts. The first element involved a half day spent in the classroom. The format for the classroom work is an illustrated (PowerPoint) talk called “Why the Otter is a special animal” which introduces the children to the subjects of Otters, river and estuary habitats, adaptations, food chains /webs, pollution and invertebrates. Key points of information identified by the children are recorded on a white board to assist with paper exercises.
The talk is delivered in sections with the children completing an activity based on what they have just heard in between each one. The activities include completing mind maps to record the information they have learnt about otters, labelling the important parts of an otter to understand adaptations and filling out food webs linked to River wildlife.
The second half of the classroom work involves the children having the opportunity to study and identify invertebrates that have been collected from a local river. In this session an explanation is given to the children about why the invertebrates are an important part of the food chain, as well as being indicators of the overall health of the river. The children work in groups around a tray containing a variety of invertebrates, and use individual magnifying pots and keys to identify the different species / groups of invertebrates.
The second phase of the education programme is the field trips. Each school is taken on two full day field trips, one to a freshwater site and one to an Estuary site. At each site reference is made back to the classroom activities to reinforce the key learning points and the children get the opportunity to look for signs of otters (and other wildlife) and learn about the habitats that they can see. During the field visits the children are encouraged to think of themselves as scientists and to use all of their senses to study and investigate the place that they have been taken to. A risk assessment is undertaken for each field visit location and at the start of each trip a health and safety briefing is given to the children.
The freshwater site is St. Catherine’s Bridge at Camrose. At this site the children start the day with a guided walk along a stretch of the river to look at the habitat restoration work that has been carried out by the Rivers Trust to improve the site for wildlife and the in-river work undertaken for fish. The children work in pairs to list the types of habitat that they can see and the animals that would live in these habitats. The children get to explore two particular locations at the site where tracks, spraints and other signs of otter, fox, badger and owl activity can often be found, as well as observing niche habitats for other wildlife e.g. riverbank where kingfishers nest and woodpiles created for invertebrates and reptiles. Adjacent to this section of river is a house with an established garden containing a variety of habitats, which the children are encouraged to look at so that they can compare the garden environment with the other habitats in the “wild” landscape. A Garden habitat and food web is completed so that the children can make the links between the habitats and the animals that use them.
After lunch the children return to the riverbank where they are given a brief talk about river invertebrates and then they observe a kick sample being taken to show them how a river monitor would collect a sample of invertebrates for analysis. At this site there is a substantial island in the river close to the bank which is used to take the children (in small groups) down to the level of the river flow. From the island the children are able to use nets and sample pots to look for and study invertebrates and small fish. This exercise and the kick sampling enables the children to make the connection between the invertebrates that they studied in the classroom and the actual habitat that they live in naturally. Identification sheets and keys are used to correctly identify the invertebrates that the children find.
The estuary site used is Pembroke Ferry, adjacent to the Milford Haven waterway. This site is a rocky shore which exhibits a range of habitats from strandline and cobbles / boulders to seaweed beds and rock pools. This is an excellent site to use for educational visits as different habitats are exposed at varying states of the tide. At this site the children start by repeating the exercise of pointing out the different habitats that they can see and a discussion is held about how these habitats differ from those at the freshwater site and what adaptations the animals that live at this location would need to survive.
Once on the shore the children are shown examples of the different animals / invertebrates that they are likely to find and are told about the key features to look for to identify each species. The different types of seaweed are investigated and comparisons are made between where each one can be found on the shore and how it is adapted to anchor itself in place compared to the terrestrial and freshwater plants that were observed at St. Catherine’s Bridge. The children spend a considerable amount of time exploring the shore and using collection pots to closely examine the animals and plants that they find. The Rivers Trust project staff work amongst the children to answer questions, help with identification and point out key things of interest.
During the day the children are given an exercise to do and they work in pairs to complete a marine food web which helps them to make the links between the animals and plants that can be found in the salt water environment.
After lunch the children return to the foreshore, and as the tide has dropped back are able to investigate a new set of habitats – primarily the large rock pools that are present around the legs of the Cleddau Bridge! The exercise of searching for and indentifying new animals and plants is repeated in the rock pools where the children get the opportunity to find species of fish, anemone, crabs, sponges and bivalves. Any new species that are found by the individual children are brought to the attention of the whole class so that they all get to learn about each species, its adaptations and how it fits in to the food chain.
The combination of classroom activities and field visits has been extremely well received by all the children and teachers that have taken part in the project this year. The feedback from the schools has been very positive and all have stated that the children have thoroughly enjoyed each part of the programme. All the schools felt that the children have benefited greatly from the experience, which has complemented the work that they have to do under the National Curriculum and several of them expressed an interest in taking part in the programme again next year with their new classes if the opportunity was available.
The teachers have reported that many children have been so engaged by the activities that they have been doing their own research at home into otters and habitats and have been bringing in books and pictures to school to share with their class.
Several of the schools have reported that they have carried out further classroom activities based on the materials produced by the Trust in the weeks following the visits and have also produced displays of the children’s work in their classrooms. The children from Coastlands School decorated their whole classroom with the work that they produced on the project and several members of the class from Hakin School stood up at their school assembly to give a short talk about the visits they had been on and what they had learnt.
The format for this educational programme has been very successful and there is great potential for expanding it further with more schools should the appropriate level of funding be available.
Go to the “Otters on Camera” page to read about the proposal to utilise camera technology to monitor otter activity and find out more about Otter Cam!