Rich pickings in the forest

21st May 2004 at 01:00

Carolyn O'Grady takes a look at versatile forestry resources for KS3

When children from an East Anglian school visited three Thetford Forest sites they thought they were seeing three different species of tree.

Actually, all were Scots or Corsican pines at different stages of life: very young trees, 10-year-old trees in a large thicket and a thinned plantation of trees in their late 70s. The 10-year-old trees, they thought, were Christmas trees - now almost a generic term for pine trees of a certain age.

To correct such misunderstandings and provide a resource on biodiversity, the Forestry Commission at Thetford Forest has produced a comprehensive key stage 3 science project. The three sites, together with a small woodland area are a teaching resource for the project. This month a teaching pack has been published which can be used with the Thetford sites but "which is versatile enough to be used by any school within reach of a forest as well," says Mary Russell, Forest Education Initiative (FEI) co-ordinator for Suffolk and Norfolk. "It would also be useful as a model for a project on alternative sites, for example, arable land, grassland and woodland, and could also be a primarysecondary school bridging project."

Funded by the commission, the FEI and Suffolk County Council Education and Business Partnership and other educational bodies, the project aims "to show how the forest is managed in a cycle which creates special conditions for biodiversity". That biodiversity includes safeguarding - so far successfully - the endangered nightjar, a bird with very specific requirements. It likes recently felled trees on forestry plantations as nesting sites.

"Children have got the idea that all cutting down of trees is wrong," says Sheila Adams of St James CEVA Middle School in Bury St Edmunds, who devised the pack with fellow teacher Hannah Reed. "What they don't realise is that the forest is managed to encourage bio-diversity."

As well as information on different sites within the forest, the pack covers a number of national curriculum targets to do with habitats, food webs and adaptation.

Pupils could use the forest to understand and work safely with living organisms in the field; make comparisons between living things in different habitats and improve their understanding of how organisms in habitats are affected by environmental factors. Activities described include assessing the physical characteristics of different sites by, for example, collecting and testing soil samples and measuring light intensity; observing and recording organisms; identifying trees and their age; and working out food webs. Result sheets, resources lists and cards which they can use to make a food web are included, as well as a list of associated websites and other useful information.

Forest Management for Biodiversity CD-Rom and website is free to schools from the Forest Education Initiative

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