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Tree sparrows in Salford

There are fairies living beside the A580, a busy road that connects Liverpool and Manchester. The children at Summerville primary in Salford know they're there, in woods planted 20 years ago to give the inner-city school some respite from the traffic. They seek them out as they wander new woodland pathways, sit on quiet benches or crawl through sapling tunnels, all courtesy of Salford university students - and Fiona Stanley.

"The children here don't really get out much at home," says Fiona, whose seven-year-old daughter attends the school and who is the school's volunteer eco co-ordinator. "You ask them in literacy hour what they did at the weekend and they'll say, 'watched telly'. But if you take them into the woods and say, 'let's find a leaf cruncher', you get wonderful essays. It's a real boost for the imagination."

Fiona has been hard at work on Summerville's grounds for the past few years, assisted by the university students who are involved in an Urban Nature project. In 2004 they dug a pond and created a wildlife area hung with bird-feeders. "Last month we had waxwings visit. We've had tree sparrows, which are endangered, dunnocks, and little Jenny wren. I looked out the window this morning and saw five types of bird - and this is inner-city Salford next to a major road. It's wonderful."

The 200-pupil school has a 10-acre field, a huge resource that's virtually out of bounds because it is too expensive to fence it off from the A580.

And it costs a fortune to cut so they've let it grow wild, a decision which delighted the infants who, earlier this month, watched a fox with her cubs trail through the long grass. The field is waterlogged, so Fiona has planted four weeping willows. They're cheap, she says, they'll do the job and in three or four years' time they'll be beautiful.

Fiona describes Summerville, built in 1953, as "a long corridor with legs off". Between the legs are sheltered bays. In one she's created a sensory garden for the youngest children to play in. It's full of herbs, flowers, onions, garlic and Brussels sprouts. Carrots with their ferny foliage grow in window boxes mixed with geraniums and pansies. Another bay is devoted to vegetables. "We've grown peas, carrots and potatoes. There's lots of excitement about potatoes, especially if you grow them in tyre towers. You just pull the tyre off and the potatoes fall out. You're supposed to say, 'put your gloves on children', but, hell, they just dive in and grab. It's amazing, and not just for children." naturelearningsummerville.htm

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