10 June 2020

As we begin our own road to recovery, we are working with education experts to ensure we can also support recovery in our schools.

Our Curriculum Advisory Panel work with us to ensure our programmes for schools meet the needs of the education sector. This week we met to discuss the role of Chester Zoo in supporting teachers and pupils in the post COVID-19 world.

Once a term we come together with experts from across the education sector to discuss how our plans for working with schools will meet their needs. Our expert panel come from across EYFS, primary, secondary and FE colleges, and cover a range of areas of expertise between them including school leadership, animal management, biology, geography, psychology, school improvement, exam and text book writing, research and so much more. As a panel they enable us to stay up to date with what is happening across the education sector in England and Wales, and ensure that our programmes deliver on both the zoo’s conservation mission and the needs of the curriculum and exam specifications in schools and colleges.

There is no doubt that even as schools return to teaching in classrooms, things will be different for some time. Our normal engagement with them through school trips or outreach may be difficult to deliver due to social distancing measures and restrictions still in place. But as our panel confirmed, our role in supporting schools is more important now than ever. As children and teachers return to the classroom, the focus on mental health and wellbeing will need to be greater than ever before. Research tells us that fostering a connection to nature can support our own wellbeing, so we know we need to ensure we find new ways to deliver this with our schools. Resources for learning, like those we can provide at the zoo, that focus on empathy for others, for animals and for the environment could also play an important role.

We talked together about the recovery curriculum and the importance of inspiring pupils who may have disengaged during long absences from school life. Again there is certainly a role for the zoo here. Our 35,000 animals and plants all have a story to tell, one that is capable of inspiring and motivating some of the most disengaged learners. Our projects and programmes have often had the most impact on those pupils that might struggle more with traditional teaching and curriculum.  The types of experiences and connection a conservation or zoo inspired programme can deliver may also be helpful in aiding transition to high school, especially when so many primary pupils will have had positive experiences with the zoo in one form or another.

“The zoo plays such an important role in educating young people about the many threats that wildlife face and what we can all do to mitigate those threats. As a panel we are proud to support the inspirational Conservation Education team in ensuring that what they do meets the needs of schools and colleges, both practically and in terms of curriculum.

Bringing together the expertise of the zoo’s specialist team with the broad education sectoral expertise of the panel, enables us to help shape a service that is both innovative and relevant.”

Nicola Hawley, Chair of the Curriculum Advisory Panel

Education is a huge part of how we achieve our mission of preventing extinction. Through inspiring the next generation of conservationists, connecting children with nature and supporting young people to take action for wildlife now, we can mitigate some of the threats to the animal and plant species we care about. In the last few months, even with our schools closed, our online resources and virtual zoo days have provided lots of opportunities for this to happen. We know they have been used effectively by thousands of schools and families home schooling. Following the valuable guidance of our expert panel, we will be working on new ways to achieve our mission in the current circumstances, knowing that we will not only be supporting our own educational objectives but supporting the recovery of schools too.

On the same day we met, we also had news that the zoo will be able to reopen in the near future. Whilst this gives us some hope, we still have a long road ahead of us. But thanks to our panel we know we’re on the right path and we’ll continue to find new ways to ensure we can connect teachers and pupils with wildlife, to support them to deliver their curriculum and to engage learners with the wonders of the natural world.

20 May 2020

UK wildlife is in trouble. 56% of UK species are in decline. In the UK we have lost 97% of the wildflower meadows we had in the 1930s and hedgehog numbers have fallen from 30 million in 1950 to just 1 million now. 

There are hundreds of UK species that need our help so we’ve created this guide to help learners explore native species, their threats and ways that you can help to make small changes to your garden that will help UK wildlife. 

Follow our step by step guide to get your learners involved in our Wildlife Connections campaign. We’ve got over 30 different resources to support learning about UK native species and to inspire your learners to take actions to help local biodiversity.
20 May 2020

We worked with 146 people from 53 families and together took over 620 positive actions to support biodiversity at school and in the families own green spaces.

Our Wildlife Connections Campaign is all about bringing people together to create safe spaces for UK wildlife. By creating connections from one wildlife-friendly space to the next we can create wildlife highways through our neighbourhoods and protect the precious wildlife that we love.

Between October 2019 and February 2020 we set up Family Wildlife Clubs at five schools local to Chester Zoo, bringing together families to improve their school grounds and own green spaces for wildlife. Through this project we engaged new audiences within our local communities, providing opportunities for them to develop the skills and knowledge to be able to take action for UK wildlife and play their part in improving biodiversity.

The project was funded by the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) Nature Connects Grant which is awarded to international projects that aim to bring families together to experience their natural environment and take action for wildlife.

At each school site we planted mini wild flower meadows, planted trees, built giant bug hotels and made their school grounds a better place for people to enjoy. The families also made animal habitats to take home to make their green spaces better for wildlife, including making mini ponds, mini bug hotels, bat boxes and bird boxes.

By taking these actions to make more and better connected wildlife friendly spaces we can help to combat the threats faced by UK Wildlife, including the loss of suitable habitats and loss of connectivity between habitats. At each school we did basic wildlife surveys before taking action and will support the schools to monitor changes over the coming years and to promote biodiversity on their school grounds and surrounding communities.

The Family Wildlife Clubs brought intergenerational groups together to gain the skills and knowledge to make positive changes for local wildlife. As well as supporting skill and knowledge development, the experience also benefitted the participants personally and in their family relationships.

“I enjoyed spending time outdoors with my son and the group”.

– parent from Sandy Croft School

The knowledge and skills gained through the session encouraged people to take action in their own green spaces too.

“Using knowledge of different habitats we have implemented some of the practical habitats in our gardens.”

– parent from Liscard Primary School

30 April 2020
Our education programmes are an important part of our mission of preventing extinction. They inspire people to care about and, more importantly, take action for the natural world. We deliver a lot of our education activities with people when they visit the zoo, but we know not everyone is able to come to us. 

To achieve our conservation mission, it’s important that we reach as many people as possible. So, in 2009, we took the zoo on the road and launched our free Safari Ranger outreach service, taking zoo education workshops out to schools and community groups in our local area.

We started with one Safari Ranger and a handful of workshops for primary school aged children.  Over the last decade, our offer and team has grown hugely. We now work across the North West of England and into North Wales. In 2019, we delivered a huge 2,500 workshops engaging almost 80,000 participants ranging from early years groups through to university aged students, and everything in between.

 

Whilst Safari Ranger workshops can be booked by any school within a 60 minute drive of the zoo, we have particularly focused our projects on those schools who might face additional barriers to visiting.  We aim to work with schools who have had limited previous engagement with the zoo and who have high numbers of pupils eligible for free school meals. Projects are linked to one of our main conservation campaigns and aim to empower pupils to act for wildlife, as well as generating learning across the curriculum.

Since the pilot phase, 100s of schools have been involved in taking action for our Sing for Songbirds campaign, our Sustainable Palm Oil Challenge and more recently our Wildlife Connections campaign which focuses on the threats facing UK Wildlife. Each project involves multiple visits from our team to the school and a trip to the zoo. In some cases, families from those schools are also supported to visit the zoo with free tickets and resources linked to their children’s learning.

 

29 October 2019

Autumn is a brilliant time of year for spotting garden wildlife. Why not have a go at your very own Autumnwatch and let us know what you’ve seen. We want to know about anything you’ve seen – common and unusual, even if you’re not sure exactly what it is you can send us a photo and we’ll find out for you.

26 September 2019

We’ve been working with Ignite TSA and 45 schools across the region to place conservation at the heart of school curriculum, empowering the conservationists of the future.

04 September 2018

Our Nature Reserve is already home to a wide range of incredible local and national wildlife, and with our recent expansion we hope to see even more incredible species visit the site.  The Nature Reserve has also provided a boost to British wildflowers, as they’re important to healthy habitats but sadly, one-in-five of Britain’s wildflowers is threatened with extinction.

Trevor Dines is also a Botanical Specialist at Plantlife; below he tells us why wildflower meadows are so important:

HERE ARE SOME OF OUR HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE NATURE RESERVE SINCE WE EXPANDED IT IN MAY

So far in the coronation meadow we’ve found more than 70 types of native plant!

Black tailed skimmer dragonflies have also appeared for the first time at the zoo near one of our new ponds!

The kingfisher has been seen regularly fishing for sticklebacks from our new viewing hide.

Kingfisher

This spring we’ve planted more than 400 more native shrubs and trees including the rare wild service tree and alder-buckthorn for brimstone butterfly caterpillars.

We’ve also spotted a family of foxes playing, badgers foraging and stoats skulking through the hedgerows!

Red fox caught on camera trap

The bare patches in the new meadow are perfect for the green-tiger beetle too – which is another first for the Nature Reserve!

25 April 2018

We rely on many UK species for our food and even the air we breathe. From the tiny bugs to the bigger mammals; they all contribute towards a healthy environment that is vital for our survival. It’s like a jigsaw; if one piece is missing it just won’t work properly.

But how do we know if we’re losing a certain animal or plant? This is why it’s so important to record what wildlife we see throughout the year! The information collected helps conservationists to spot any changes or decline in species and to take action before it’s too late.

Knowledge is a vital tool for conservationists; the more information we have about our local habitats and the species that live within them the more we can do to protect them; especially those living within a built up area. If we don’t know what we’ve got, how do we know what’s missing or needs help?

We’ve been recording animals and plants on the Nature Reserve since the very beginning, even before the reserve was there!  Recording wildlife is really important so that we can see what has changed and which species we’re helping.

Below are some of the ways we monitor the wildlife on the Nature Reserve…

Camera traps

We often place camera traps around the reserve to see what wonderful wildlife has been visiting! Here are a couple of our favourites:

Red fox caught on camera trap

Small mammal survey

We’ve been surveying the range of small mammal species in different habitats throughout the Nature Reserve to help inform future management so that they can thrive there. Along with widespread species such as wood mouse and bank vole, we’ve also found a resident population of the secretive water shrew, who rely on good quality habitat.

We survey small mammals using our own Longworth traps and use grain and casters to encourage the animals into the snug nest box which is lined with hay. There’s always plenty of food to last the animals a couple of hours, until we check the trap. When we come to see what’s in the traps, we carefully place the animals in a clear bag, and gently work out the species, age and sex.

At the reserve we’ve left wide rough-grass margins on the mounds and along the edges of the meadow so that a variety of small mammals can make burrows and find plenty of food.

Other management is taking place in the Nature Reserve’s wet meadow to ensure that there are enough long stems for harvest mice to make their nests and plenty of overhanging growing vegetation in the ditches for water shrews. By repeating surveys over time we can build up a picture of how the management is helping small mammal populations in the long term. These animals are important in their own right, but they will also support larger mammals such as foxes and weasels, birds of prey including kestrel and buzzards and of course our local barn owls.

Harvest mouse. Photo credit: Natasha Murwill

Butterfly Surveys

Based on the Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (BMS) methodology of surveying butterflies – we’ve recently set up a butterfly transect in the Nature Reserve. The route meanders past the woodland, down through the new meadow and into the wet meadow.

In 2017, we recorded 16 butterfly species with over 50 butterflies recorded on each visit! We know that the wet meadow is particularly good for orange tip and green veined whites that are attracted to the cuckoo flowers in spring, and then later in the season, the numerous thistles.

With further survey efforts we think that we should beat this species total in 2018 and it’s hoped that, as the meadow develops, we will attract even more species and higher numbers in future. By walking the same route each year, using a standard survey technique we’ll gradually get a long term picture of how butterflies are doing locally. There can be big fluctuations from year to year due to weather conditions and other environmental factors, but a general increasing trend over ten years provides good evidence that the reserve is having a positive impact.

Photo credit: Leanna Dixon

Wildflower Monitoring

It’s not only important to monitor the mammals and insects that visit the Nature Reserve – it’s also important to monitor the floral diversity and structure of plants across the site. We use 4m2 quadrats that are placed at regular intervals along a set route. A quadrat is simply a square frame that is placed either randomly, or along a transect (line across the site) and then all of the plants that fall inside the frame are recorded. We’ve followed a ‘W’ shaped transect across the meadow with set ‘stops’ along the route.

At each stop the quadrat frame is placed randomly – not scientific normally by closing your eyes and throwing it a short distance – and the plants are then recorded. Our quadrat is separated into 9 sections and in each section we record the presence of all species of wildflower and then other factors such as ratio of grass to wildflowers, general height of the vegetation and the amount of bare ground. We also record the number of plant species that can be negative indicators of meadows such as nettles, spear thistle and bramble (these of course will be encouraged in small doses on the reserve).

Quadrat wildflowers survey

Another way of monitoring plants is to create an entire site list of all the plants found over the whole meadow, with abundance scores for each species to see how plant composition changes over time.  This method is quite intensive, needs an expert botanist, and takes a couple of days each year, but the results can be essential in understanding how best to manage the reserve.

Birds

We have records of over 80 bird species spotted in and around the Nature Reserve. The area is particularly good for warblers, with six species in residence each summer. We have already seen large groups of swallows and house martins using the new meadow pond to drink and catching numerous flies that gather above the meadow.

A new bird survey was started last spring based on the British Trust of Ornithology’s common birds’ census technique; which gives a good indication of breeding bird populations on a small site. The idea is to walk the same route on ten separate occasions throughout the bird breeding period; generally late March to mid-July depending on the year and species. All birds encountered visually or through their song are recorded onto maps using special symbols for each species.

Photo credit: Andy Harmer

Additional information is gathered such as where the bird was seen in flight, singing, showing signs of territorial behaviour or actually on a nest.  Most surveys are carried out just after dawn, but two are done in the early evening to pick up other species that may be more active at that time of day.  At the end of the season all of the maps are transposed onto a single map for each species, showing all of the records from across the ten surveys.

Analysing the maps gives an idea of how many individual pairs of each species have bred at the zoo’s Nature Reserve.  We’ll use this to make management recommendations and to provide conditions which are suitable for a wide range of species.  The mosaic of reedbed and wet meadow and scrub at the reserve is particularly important for reed bunting, reed warbler and grasshopper warbler, and a kingfisher now regularly hunts for minnows in our wet meadow pond. Here’s a link to a reed bunting call so you’ll know what to listen out for next time you visit!

02 October 2017

Our team not only work with schools and communities in the UK, they also support our conservation partners around the world working with them to provide training, capacity building, ideas for learning resources as well as research and strategic planning for the educational elements of the projects.