An insect specialist brings a touch of adventure to the national curriculum. Carolyn O'Grady reports
When teachers at Ivydale primary school in the London borough of Southwark want to add the spice of adventure to a national curriculum topic, they call on Bugman Jones.
Dressed rather like his namesake of action film fame in safari jacket and large brimmed, brown hat, Bugman Jones, or Mr Bugman as he is called by the children, takes the pupils with teachers and parents on a safari to wild places. On the way they encounter many creatures, some magnificent, some with extraordinary lifestyles, all in a landscape full of sacred monuments.
Bugman Jones, otherwise known as Richard Jones, is an entomologist, and the safari he leads is a hunt for mini-beasts. The place is Nunhead cemetery in south London.
The story began last year when Richard approached Ivydale head Carol McBride to ask if he might be given storage space somewhere in the huge Victorian school. "Yes," she said. "But what can you do for us?" So a mutually satisfying arrangement was negotiated whereby Richard was given a tiny office in a school attic in return for work with the pupils. He speaks at assemblies, appearing recently with a stag beetle on his shoulder, and is so much a person-round-the-school that a specially-made device on a wall shows when he is there and when he is not. As he walks round the building he is constantly greeted with "Hello Mr Bugman".
But his main task is to conduct mini-beast safaris, linked to the national curriculum, in the nearby vast and unusual cemetery.
The All Saints cemetery in Nunhead was opened in 1840. It was then in the middle of the countryside and citizens would travel from London to stroll through its landscaped gardens and marvel at the elaborate mausoleums and gravestones.
It closed after the Second World War, and grave robbers and vandals raided the vaults and crypts and burned down the chapel. It was rescued in l975 by Southwark Council which bought it and, with the help of the Friends of Nunhead Cemetery, has begun to repair the damage. The council also maintains its 51 acres of woodland, flowery verges and overgrown clearings in which are dotted gravestones and partially ruined mausoleums.
It is here that Bugman Jones, dressed in his distinctive hat and safari jacket, leads school parties for their encounters with the local wildlife. This time it's a class of four and five-year-olds. He brings an insect net and gives each child a plastic tube. As the group walks along the grassy verges, Mr Jones sweeps his net through the bushes and produces, like a magician, a succession of creatures and transfers them to the children's tubes. Older children capture their own creatures, having been told how to nudge them carefully into the tubes. "It doesn't take them long to get their eye in. Children are very good at finding things," says Mr Jones.
By the end of the safari, each child has a captive creature. They include hoverflies, which pretend to be bumblebees to ward off predators, but can't sting; spiders; beetles, caterpillars and a red ant. He discusses each find with the pupils. By now it is the children who are pointing things out to him: "There's a fly on your hat"; "There's something in that tree"; "What's this?" At the end of the day, the creatures are set free - older children are allowed to take some home, but only if certain conditions can be fulfilled (see box).
But May is not the best time of the year. Later in the summer the cemetery will be full of butterflies and other larger insects. Last summer some children found a hornet, a truly spectacular find - "even the older ones, who like to look cool, were obviously awestruck," says Mr Jones. But there are always creatures to be found. Enthusiasm, he hopes, is his main gift to pupils.
Richard Jones can be contacted through Ivydale Primary School,Ivydale Road, London SE15 3BU.Tel: 0171 639 2702. His book, 'TheButterflies of Nunhead Cemetery', illustrates around 30 commonbutterflies and outlines the history of the cemetery. pound;3.85 from Friends of Nunhead Cemetery, 185 Gordon Road, London SE15 3RT. The Amateur Entomologists' Societypublishes a children's magazine.For more information contact the society at PO Box 8774, London, SW7 5ZG