RSPB Phoenix

Rainow School University
assisted by Macclesfield RSPB Wildlife Explorers.

September 2010

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At Rainow School's University children chose an area of interest to study in more detail.
The Woodland Explorer Group looked at the habitats and wildlife in the school grounds and made a Hibernation Hotel to benefit creatures over the autumn months.


Week 1 - Habitats

The Woodland Explorers comprised of 10 enthusiastic junior explorers, ably assisted by Macclesfield RSPB Wildlife Explorer leaders.

Our first mission was to identify the habitats in our school grounds.

What is habitat?
Natural environments for wildlife including:
  • Hedges
  • Compost heaps
  • Ponds
  • Rivers
  • Grassland
  • Marsh
  • Meadow
  • Woodland/forest


  • What do the different habitats offer wildlife?
  • Shelter
  • Space
  • Food
  • Water

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    Rainow University(02)



    To help us understand how looking after habitats is important we played a game.

    ‘Oh Deer!’

    This game showed us the importance of the four main components making up a habitat:
  • food
  • water
  • space
  • shelter
  • and that animals can only survive
        if all their needs are met.
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    Knowing what we were looking for we set off to map the different habitats in the school grounds
    and to collect boxes of natural treasure!
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    We found moss, stones, twigs, seeds, berries, and leaves, to name but a few. Lots of things that make the different habitats in Rainow school grounds good for food and shelter.

    When we were in the woods we listened to all the different sounds we could hear and made sound maps.
    We could hear birds singing, the river flowing, the wind blowing and children playing in the playground.
    We also heard some traffic on the road.


    Week 2 - Signs of Wildlife


    Once we knew the importance of the habitat in Rainow School grounds we wanted to know what wildlife might live there or visit. We decided to investigate and looked for signs of the creatures, animals and birds that spent their days or nights in the grounds. We had set some trays of sand the night before in places that we thought animals might cross.

    We had been lucky and found that there had been some nocturnal visitors!
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    We also found footprints in the mud!
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    We used ‘Tiger tracers’ to draw around the prints to help us to identify them later.


    We compared the shapes of the prints to our charts.

    We found footprints from badgers, rabbits and birds.

    We also found human boot prints and bicycle tyre marks!
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    We found other evidence that rabbits,
    badgers and birds visited.

    Holes in the ground and, oh no, poo!
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    We came across a ‘thrushes anvil’.
    This is where a Song Thrush brings snails
    to a stone to crack them open for their lunch!

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    There were also lots of worm casts,
    so plenty more food for the birds!

    We wanted to see what tiny creatures might live in the trees,
    so we all stood back whilst Tina gave a tree a shake over a white sheet!
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    Lots of different tiny creatures fell to the ground and we could see them easily against the white background.

    Carefully we put them into our magnifying pots to look at them in more detail and to try to identify them.
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    We found tiny beetles, ladybirds, earwigs, flies, caterpillars and harvestmen.
    We learned that insects have 6 legs and that spiders have eight legs.
    We found out that a harvestman has eight legs, but these are longer and thinner than those of spiders.
    We also learned that an earwig uses its pincers to unfold its wings before flying!

    Whilst we were doing this we were under the watchful eye of a spider in her web!
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    Weeks 3 & 4 - Hibernation and Migration


    Small tortoiseshell butterfly

    We started our session in the outdoor storytelling area and learned that lots of insects and small mammals tuck themselves up to keep warm and save energy during the winter, such as, toads, hedgehogs, butterflies and ladybirds.

    We also learned that some birds and butterflies migrate south to warmer countries when it is our winter and that some mammals grow warmer coats for the winter time such as foxes.

    We decided that although Rainow school grounds is rich in terms of habitat we wanted to improve it further by building a Hibernation Hotel for all the small creatures that wanted to stay warm and safe over the winter months.
    We decided to place our Hotel in semi shade under a tree where is would stay cool and we started with a framework made out of old pallets.
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    We then went for a walk around the woods to collect things that our creatures might like to help make their home comfortable. We collected sticks, leaves, moss, stones, bark and any other interesting natural material that was on the woodland floor.
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    We were all busy filling in the different rooms of our hotel for the many and varied visitors we were hoping it would attract. We rolled corrugated pieces of cardboard around pieces of bamboo canes for solitary bees and lacewings to nest in. We put in lots of sticks and dead wood for centipedes and woodlice and for adult ladybirds to hibernate over winter.

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    We used stones for amphibians such as toads as they like cool damp areas.

    Some rooms had straw in for invertebrates to burrow in and stay safe until the spring.
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    Our Hibernation Hotel is 'Open for business'.


    Week 5 - Feed the Birds!


    Once all the autumn berries and fruits on the trees have been eaten it is important to help the birds by providing food for them throughout the winter. Small birds increase their chance of finding food by searching in groups, which is why it is good to put out different seeds and nuts in your garden.

    We learned that birds digest food very quickly so that they can turn the food they eat into fat rapidly to help them survive cold winters. Birds don't have teeth, they just drop the seeds down their throat directly to their stomach. Some birds have a 'crop' where they store their food for later when they are in a safer place to eat.

    We wanted to make some different bird feeders to place around the school grounds to help our birds.
    Firstly we squashed fat with nuts and seeds in and around pine cones. We added a string to be able to hang them from the trees.
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    Then we squashed some more fat together with seeds into holes in small logs to attract great tits and great spotted woodpeckers.
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    We also filled some traditional seed and nut feeders with peanuts to hang from our bird feeding station.
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    We gathered together all our different feeders and set off for a walk around the school grounds to find places to hang them up.

    We put the feeders outside the conservatory,
    on our feeding station.
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    We also hung them from branches
    in our woodland area.
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    We finished our session with a story runaround game in the sunshine!


    Week 6 - Tree-mendous!


    Trees give us oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide, so looking after our woodlands and forests is really important. We also know that trees are an important habitat for lots of creatures.

    This week we wanted to celebrate the wonderful habitat that is Rainow School grounds and what better way than to do 'Tree Dressing'. We learned about the Green Man, a mythical figure portrayed as a mask made entirely of leaves. In pre-Christian religions, trees were sacred and forest groves were dwelling places of gods and nature spirits.

    We decided to theme our tree dressing on woodland spirits so that we could use our imagination to create Rainow's woodland spirits!

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    After lots of fun with clay, leaves, conkers and twigs here are our creations!

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    With thanks to Macclesfield RSPB Wildlife Explorers and Rainow Primary School
    for a wonderful 6 week project.
    Clair Arnold. October 2010