‘Life on the Hedge’ was a winner for Willowbank School in 2017 Kingfisher Award Scheme

By Crediton Courier Newspaper in Local People

THE Kingfisher Award Scheme has been involving primary school children in their local environment since 1992.

It was first launched in Devon by the late Poet Laureate Ted Hughes and friends.

The scheme is an educational initiative of the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group South West, a charitable organisation working to promote sustainable agriculture and wildlife on farms.

Each year it runs field days, where children visit a farm to study the selected theme of the award scheme for that year, after which the children return to their classroom and complete studies and projects which count towards the award.

A picnic and presentation of the classroom studies and projects from the Devon schools is held annually at Newton St Cyres Recreation Ground and this year there were many school entries on display.

This year the competition concentrated on Hedges and Field Margins.

The Devon hedge is unlike any other hedge in Britain as it is planted on an earth bank and field margins are the areas of uncultivated land that often adjoin them. Hedges were created as boundaries to enclose property, to control and provide shelter for stock.

Field margins originated from the strip left to allow horse drawn implements to turn and are generally the least productive part of the field. Both are extremely important to wildlife.

Hedges, weeds and grasses that are left uncut, produce supplies of seed, fruit and cover for small animals and beneficial insects that over winter there. These insects move into the crops in early spring, to consume large numbers of cereal aphids. Field margins also act as wildlife corridors linking several species’ habitats.

In the last century, many hedges were taken out, to enable larger crop areas and with the advent of hydraulic lift implements, farmers were able to plough much closer to hedges so doing away with field margins.

This caused a dramatic decline in habitat for wildlife but in recent years farmers have been encouraged by several conservation agencies and the government, to re-instate hedges and provide field margins to try and redress this imbalance. The children studied how important these areas are for the animals that make up the food chain.

They studied hedges, looking for different species of trees, plants and shrubs and what birds they support. Looking at the history of the hedge, how they have changed and how to calculate its age (Hooper’s Law).

They also studied which small mammals we expect to find in a hedge including voles, shrews and field mice.

They then looked at wheat growing in the adjacent field and studied aspects of wheat seed, grinding it to make flour and dough.

Farm visits were the first part of the studies and these took part at Home Farm, Newton St Cyres, courtesy of the Quicke family, before the project studies in the classroom and preparation of a display which was then exhibited at Newton St Cyres Recreation Ground, where a picnic was also enjoyed and the exhibits were judged.

The children were inventive with their displays, talking to the judges with enthusiasm about the subject.

Willowbank Primary School from Exeter was judged the winner and recipient of the Kingfisher Award with Broadclyst Primary School placed second and Thorverton Primary School placed third.

Other primary schools which took part included Cheriton Fitzpaine, Newton St Cyres, St Thomas, Stoke Canon and Chagford.

Each of the winning schools received prizes for each of the children and the winning schools also received prizes.

The Kingfisher Award Scheme operates in Devon, Cornwall, Somerset and Wiltshire and is run by a management committee.

Each county has a co-ordinator who plans field days, liaises with schools, farmers and volunteers and organises the picnic and award.

Penny O’Connor is the Devon co-ordinator of the award scheme which is an educational initiative of South West Farming Wildlife Advisory Group, which is also supported by CPRE Devon, the Quicke family, RSPB and other organisations and individuals.

The Kingfisher Award Scheme is entirely reliant on sponsorship money, charitable donations, and volunteers. If you would like to make a donation or offer your time to help please contact Penny O’Connor on: 01647 433372 or email: poconnor1@btconnect.com .

Alan Quick

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